Focus on Food

Mama Don’t Bake

A simple cheese-less cheesecake

Story and Photograph by Rose Shewey

I talk about diet and nutrition as much as I talk about politics and the weather. Practically never.

To be honest, diet-talk is a regular snoozefest, in my book. But aside from lacking entertainment value, arguing diet- and nutrition-related issues is a no-win undertaking. Having self-studied nutrition for over a decade, I have come to understand that opinions, as well as science, vary tremendously on the subject and — as anybody who survived the great margarine craze knows — change fundamentally from time to time. Throw in body image and weight loss issues, and you’re in for some potentially awkward discussions. No thanks.

Still, despite all the controversies, can we agree that nutrient-dense foods are an excellent choice? I wouldn’t do this cheesecake any justice if I didn’t touch on the fabulously valuable ingredients this recipe calls for. I am talking about chia seeds, dates, almonds and cashew yogurt, as well as blackberries and even agar. For most health-minded chefs, particularly in the plant-based kitchen, there is something incredibly satisfying about adapting and healthifying conventional recipes. Substituting less nutritious ingredients with nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods to create a dish that looks, tastes and feels like the original is uniquely rewarding.

Take cheesecake, for example. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with regular cheesecake. I’ll be the first to grab a slice off the dessert buffet, but if I can have something of equal quality made with more wholesome ingredients, I will choose the more nourishing version every time.

So, does this cheese-less cheesecake taste like, well, cheesecake? It does. The yogurt gives it that tangy flavor, the texture is creamy and lush but firm enough to maintain its shape beautifully. On a scale of New York-style cheesecake to thick custard, this falls somewhere in the middle. And the proverbial cherry on top? This is a no-bake cake.


No-Bake Blackberry Chia Cheesecake

Crust

90 grams (8-10) dates, pitted

100 grams  (1 cup) ground almonds, blanched

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Cake

340 grams (12 ounces) yogurt — I used store-bought cashew yogurt

55 grams (5 tablespoons) chia seeds

70 grams (about 1/4 cup) maple syrup, or more, to taste

1 can (400 milliliters) unsweetened, full fat coconut milk

3 tablespoons agar flakes (not powder)

300 grams (2 cups) blackberries, fresh or defrosted

Soak dates in boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Line the bottom of a 6-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Drain dates and squeeze out any excess water. Place all ingredients for the crust into a food processor and blend. Scrape down sides frequently while blending until you have a sticky, slightly coarse paste. Press the crust evenly into the bottom of the springform and set aside.

Mix yogurt with chia seeds and maple syrup and refrigerate. Stir the mixture occasionally to maintain an even texture. Pour coconut milk into a small saucepan, add agar flakes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 6-8 minutes (or according to package instructions), stirring frequently. Meanwhile, add berries to a high speed blender and puree. Transfer berries to a large bowl and add coconut agar mixture, whisk to combine, then quickly incorporate the chia yogurt. Taste for sweetness; you may want to add more maple syrup if you like sweeter cakes, and promptly pour cheesecake mixture into the springform. Transfer cheesecake to the refrigerator and allow to set and chill for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight. Serve with fresh fruit or coconut cream.  PS

German native Rose Shewey is a food stylist and food photographer. To see more of her work visit her website, suessholz.com.

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