Blueberry Cheesecake

 
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I remember making cheesecake when I first went vegan. This was before blogs really existed and I found a bourbon pumpkin cheesecake recipe. (It actually was really good even though vegan cream cheese in those days tasted pretty awful!) I can’t seem to find that page anymore (this was early 2000s!) but I will always remember that recipe fondly. It wasn’t until about a month ago that one of my oldest friends, Maggie, texted me asking if I would make the cheesecake for her again, after all these years! I knew exactly what she was talking about and it lit a fire underneath me. Alas, this recipe was born.

I scoured through all of my cookbooks and watched dozens of YouTube videos to find the perfect vegan cheesecake. After a full day of research, this recipe, by Vegan as Fork, stood out to me like a sore thumb! You should watch it because when you see the results, you’ll understand exactly why I had to make it immediately. Not only does it have current-day vegan cream cheese (I like the almond-based kind), but there’s also rich and decadent coconut cream which I think takes this recipe to the next level.

Of course, I had to doctor it up because y’all know I can’t sit still. I added oats and vegan butter to the crust for extra flavor and texture. I doubled the batter for a more impressive thick result (think like a restaurant cheesecake). I also added blueberries to the mix because it’s summer and that’s what you do when you bake. Lastly, I cut back on the sugar from the original recipe because I don’t like things too sweet. Let’s talk some more about it because we’re both here:

If I had to pick one of my favorite desserts, I think cheesecake might just be #1… I know, it’s a tough decision and a bold statement, but I’m serious. And if I had to guess why, it would be for two reasons: 1) It has a crust. 2. It’s not that sweet. If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you know that I don’t come out with too many dessert recipes. That’s because I’m a salty, savory kinda guy. So if I’m going to share a dessert recipe with all of you- you know it has to be good.

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Full disclosure! Although this recipe is easy to make, it is quite finicky. There’s a few very important steps that need to happen for it to be successful. For instance, it must chill in the fridge overnight. You also have to let the cake cool in the oven, with the door cracked and the oven turned off. Drastic temperature changes cause cracking, so letting it cool very slowly prevents this from happening.

Lastly, this recipe is expensive. I’m not going to even try to deny it. I blame the almond-based cream cheese. Sure, you could use another type that’s made from soy and is cheaper, but I only use the best over here. That said, I do have some tricks for making it cheaper. Check out the tips section below.

Before diving in, I just want to say that even though this cheesecake might be pricey and finicky, it’s award winning. It may not be a weekly recipe, but it’s definitely a 2-3x a year kind of gig. Special occasions, holidays (swap out seasonal fruit for festivity!), or birthdays. What I need you to also understand is that I have served this cheesecake to multiple non-vegans and they all told me it was one of the best, if not the best, cheesecakes they have ever had. Vegan or not. So there you go- nothin’ but net.

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First, you are going to need to get your hands on some fresh blueberries. We’ll be blending them up in the cheesecake mixture. And I like to throw some on for garnish. A sprig of mint looks cute too but I quite like the monochromatic palette that you see below.

In regards to coconut cream, this can be tricky. I find that the best source is from the Whole Food’s brand, 365 Full Fat Coconut Milk. Once you place the can in the fridge for an hour or two, the cream rises to the top and hardens. Then you can scoop it off and drain the remaining liquid. That’s what you want to use for this cheesecake as it provides a thick, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Be forewarned, some brands of full-fat coconut milk do not set. I’ve also seen cans of actual coconut cream- some set beautifully while others do not, which is terribly annoying. The point I am trying to make is, if you cannot access coconut cream that is thick and scoopable, this recipe won’t work. First, I would make sure that you have coconut milk that is behaving correctly before making the recipe. (Also, if you watch the YouTube video from the original recipe, you’ll see the texture we’re looking for.)

As for the crust, that’s easy. Simply find some classic, old-school graham crackers. All of the organic brands have honey (at least, that’s what I noticed) but Nabisco’s crackers are vegan. Once again, I prefer the almond-based cream cheese, but do what you will. Lastly, please scan the recipe thoroughly before making so that you are ready to go.

Blueberry Cheesecake   

serves 8

1 package graham crackers
½ cup oats 
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
2 cups raw cashews 
2 (8 oz) packages almond-based, vegan cream cheese (16 oz total), room temperature
2 cups of coconut cream (2 cans full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated, then liquid drained off)
1 cup organic sugar (or vanilla infused sugar)
1 lemon, zested and juiced 
2 tablespoons vanilla 
2 tablespoons cornstarch 
½ teaspoon salt 
1 cup fresh blueberries


Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place a round piece of parchment paper in the bottom of a 9” springform pan to prevent sticking.

  2. Pulse graham crackers and oats in a food processor until small crumbs, transfer to a bowl and mix with coconut oil and vegan butter. Press into the bottom of the springform pan and refrigerate for about an hour. No baking required!

  3. Put raw cashews, vegan cream cheese, coconut cream, vanilla sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, cornstarch, salt, and the blueberries together in a high-speed blender (if you only have a regular blender, soak the cashews in boiling water for 10 minutes, drain and add). Blend until very smooth, making sure the cashews are broken down and creamy. Start on a slow speed and, once ingredients are well-blended, scrape down the sides and blend on high. 

  4. Remove crust from fridge, spray the sides and bottom of your springform pan with a neutral cooking oil spray, and pour in the filling. Drop gently, a few times, on the counter to release the air bubbles. Bake in oven for 50 minutes or until the top is slightly browned and the cake is firm. If you gently shake the cake, the center should jiggle. Bake for an additional 5 minutes, if needed.

  5. Once done, turn off oven, crack open door and let cheesecake cool inside the oven for about 45 minutes. This prevents the top from cracking as it cools. Then transfer to the counter until cooled completely. Finally, refrigerate overnight (at least 8 hours).

  6. Run knife around outside of cake, if needed. Gently remove outside ring of springform pan, slice, and serve! To garnish, sprinkle with fresh blueberries.

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tips, tricks, & other tidbits

Coconut cream: I have worked with a straight-up coconut cream from Trader Joe’s. I find that the texture isn’t quite as smooth and creamy as the Whole Foods brand, but I think it would be ok to use. I’ve also had success with Thai Kitchen’s full-fat coconut milk, in the red can.

If you don’t have a Vitamix (or other powerful blender), you could soak the cashews first. Simply pour some boiling water over them and let soak for 10 minutes. Drain and use. When purchasing cashews, make sure they are raw.

To make this recipe cheaper, buy raw cashew pieces. They are cheaper than the whole variety and, since you are blending them up, it doesn’t matter.

Another trick to making this recipe more affordable is by halving the recipe. The cheesecake won’t be quite as thick and impressive, but it would still be great! If you decide to do this, you can make it in a smaller springform pan so it still looks thick like my pictures. I would also reduce cooking time to 45 minutes.

Tips to prevent cracks:

1. Avoid overmixing batter - it incorporates air bubbles. Similarly, make sure to drop it on the counter before baking to get rid of the air bubbles. I drop mine a good 5-6 times.

2. Let cool in oven that is turned off with door cracked. Rapid cooling creates cracks.

3. Don’t overbake it! It should be jiggly in the center with a slightly firm top. If you bake for too long, it will dry out and crack.

4. If you try all that and you still get cracks, simply cover them with berries and whip cream - it will still be amazing!

If you’d like to transfer the final cheesecake to a cake stand, you will have to flip the cake. Here’s how I do it: once the outside ring of the springform pan is removed, place a large ziplock bag or piece of plastic wrap over the top of the cheesecake. Gently flip the cheesecake onto your palm with fingers spread out and remove the bottom of the springform pan. Gently place the cake stand over surface of the bottom of the cheesecake and carefully flip it, setting everything upright on the counter. Here is a video of my favorite food stylist doing a similar motion to give you a visual. Best of luck! ; )

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