Cherry cheesecake with sweet + salty crust
DAIRY FREE CHEESECAKE, Y’ALL. But not just ~any~ dairy free cheesecake: dairy free cheesecake that tastes like the real deal. I swear it.
If you didn’t know by now, one of my main objectives with nearly every recipe I develop is for it to be indistinguishable from its egg and/or dairy-containing counterpart. I don’t want anyone to be able to tell if I used coconut oil instead of butter. If I swapped the eggs with tofu. Or if I replaced the heavy cream with full fat coconut milk. I just don’t. Part of it is a personal thing (the look on people’s faces when they find out something doesn’t contain milk/butter/eggs/etc. brings me deep satisfaction) but the other part of it is the fact that I share a life with a human who loves eggs and dairy and, as a result, is highly critical of the things that come out of our kitchen. Which can sometimes be the bane of my existence (I don’t even want to talk about the coconut crème brûlée recipe I’ve been working on), but always ends up making me a better recipe developer (and for that I am thankful).
I’ve been working on cracking a proper dairy free cheesecake (cashews in the filling does not = proper, BTW) - off and on - for upwards of three years. Three years! But it wasn’t until I dedicated a substantial amount of time to studying cheesecake that I got the end result I was looking for. I devoured (not literally) recipes from Ina and Alton and Martha, focusing specifically on cheesecakes made with dairy because if you’re trying to imitate something, that something needs to be your focus. I watched cheesecake technique videos on the ‘tube until it felt like my eyeballs were going to fall out. And then, when I was so close but not quite there, I turned to my most trusted source of all: Wikipedia. I use Wikipedia for any/all recipes I’m not familiar with; I just feel more comfortable knowing the history, general technique, etc. And when I read a line about cheesecake basically just being custard pie, everything clicked. Custard! Something familiar! I KNOW HOW TO MAKE CUSTARD. Within minutes, I had the basic outline for the recipe below. And four days later, I cracked the code on cheese-less cheesecake.
Speaking of cracking, the WWW seems to be terribly concerned with cracks in cheesecakes. General consensus is that cracks are the worst thing that can happen to your cheesecake (you know, because it makes it seem like you’re a shit baker) (POINT TAKEN) so I made it a priority to avoid cracking at all costs because I REFUSE TO BE PERCEIVED AS A SHIT BAKER. To save you the time and effort I had to put in to uncover all of this anti-cracking information, I’m going to boil everything down to a handful of sentences. First step in avoiding cracks is to turn the inside of your oven into a 350˚F sauna. You can do this by 1) setting your oven to 350˚F and 2) putting a tray of water inside. Second step is to be able to tell when your cheesecake is finished baking. This one is pretty tricky but once a 2” thick ring around the edge of the cheesecake is set, you’re good to go. Third step is to let the cheesecake cool inside the oven, with the oven door cracked (and the temperature off, duh). Fourth and final step is to let the cheesecake cool to room temperature before you put it in the refrigerator. Like, let it cool completely. C O M P L E T E L Y. Doable, yeah?
Onto another important topic: pans. I am a removable bottom pan loyalist (and anti-springform) for a few reasons. First of all, I’ve found it can be difficult to get springform pans completely clean. And if I do attempt to get it even close to completely clean, I’ve got to spend a solid five minutes picking at the damn thing with a toothpick. I don’t know about you but I do not have the time to spend five minutes trying to clean a single pan. Then there’s the fact that if you don’t dry springform pans fast enough/properly, they start to rust. Not in a year or two, in a month or two. Which brings me to my third and final issue with springform pans: they eventually loosen up and malfunction/break which, honestly, is reason enough to avoid them like the plague. Removable bottom or bust, babes. There are fewer moving parts (and crevices) and it’s why I’ll choose them over springform for as long as I live.
That’s all from me. Go make some cheese-less cheesecake. <3
Notes: THIS IS A DAIRY FREE CHEESECAKE SO IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT YOU PROBABLY SHOULD NOT MAKE THIS CHEESECAKE AND GO MAKE ONE OF INA’S INSTEAD. The sweet and salty crust is so lovely but if you want to stick with the traditional graham cracker crust, replace the pretzel crumbs with an equal amount of graham crackers (by weight). For a vegan egg replacer, you can use 9 tablespoons (110g) of well blended soft silken tofu (the kind in the aseptic packaging). It works lovely but I prefer the version with eggs so.. that’s the version I’m sharing. ;) I used gluten free graham crackers and gluten free pretzel sticks because that was all the grocery down the street had in stock but you can totally use regular and the crust will turn out just the same. If using regular graham crackers, 10 sheets = roughly 160g. Feel free to swap the cherries with frozen raspberries, blueberries, etc. Or feel free to swap the fruit altogether and top the cheesecake with peanut butter hot fudge sauce, salted caramel, etc.
CHERRY CHEESECAKE WITH SWEET + SALTY CRUST
GRAHAM CRACKER + PRETZEL CRUST
18 (160g) gluten free graham crackers
1 cup (35g) gluten free pretzel sticks
1 tablespoon (12g) cane sugar
6 tablespoons (65g) refined coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons (28g) unsweetened almondmilk
CREAM CHEESE FILLING
2 packages (16 oz) dairy free cream cheese
1 cup (180g) cane sugar
3 large brown eggs
1/2 cup (115g) dairy free sour cream
2 teaspoons (12g) pure vanilla extract
TART CHERRY TOPPING
1 bag (10 oz) frozen tart cherries
1/2 cup (95g) cane sugar
2 tablespoons (20g) potato starch
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean powder
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a round 8" cheesecake pan (or springform pan) with parchment paper and grease with oil; set aside. Add the graham crackers, pretzel sticks, and sugar to a food processor fitted with the S blade. Blend on high speed until the mixture is super fine, about 1 minute. While the food processor is still running, drizzle in the coconut oil followed by the almondmilk and mix just until combined. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan and about 1 1/2” up the sides (don’t worry about this being perfect). Press the crust some more (seriously, you’ve got to pack those crumbs tight). Using a toothpick or fork, poke holes in the bottom of the crust and press firmly one last time to ensure everything is packed in there. Bake at 350˚F for 9-10 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Lower the oven temperature to 325˚F. Create a sauna-like environment in your oven by placing a baking sheet on the bottom rack and filling it with half an inch of water; this is going to create an ideal baking condition for your cheesecake (FINGERS CROSSED NO CRACKS).
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar on high speed until super smooth and creamy; 1-2 minutes. Make sure you scrape down the sides (and paddle) frequently. Reduce speed to medium and add the eggs - one at a time- then beat for 30-45 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract then beat the mixture for 1 minute, just until the sour cream is fully incorporated. DO NOT OVER MIX. Pour mixture into the prepared crust and bake at 325˚F for 45-50 minutes, or just until the outermost 2” of edge is set and the center is still a bit wobbly. When the edge of the cheesecake is set, off the heat and crack the oven door; set a timer for 60 minutes and don’t remove the cheesecake from the oven until the hour is up. When it’s finished, cool the cheesecake on a wire rack *completely* to room temperature then refrigerate for at least 12 hours before serving. If you put the cheesecake in the fridge before it finishes cooling to room temperature, it will sweat which will create puddles on top. No big deal since you can blot them away, but it could adversely impact the texture of the cheesecake so don’t rush that shit. Cheesecake will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days, or in the freezer for upwards of one month (just make sure you wrap it really well).
Just before serving, make the cherry topping (you can make it before you start the cheesecake but I prefer it to be a little warm) (cold cheesecake + warm topping = magic). Add the frozen cherries to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, until they release a good amount of their juice and the juice starts to simmer. While the cherries are cooking, combine the sugar, potato starch, and vanilla bean powder in a small bowl; whisk until combined. Once the cherries have been on the heat for 5 minutes, add the sugar mixture and stir frequently (every 30-60 seconds) for 4-5 minutes. The cherry mixture should thicken considerably during this time but you’ll want to cook it for 1-2 minutes more, stirring constantly until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Once that happens, remove from heat, stir in almond extract, then set aside to cool. When the cherries have cooled, transfer to a glass jar and refrigerate until ready to use. Cherry topping will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.
When you’re ready to serve the cheesecake, remove it from the pan. If necessary, loosen the edges from the side using a small, straight spatula (I used a razor blade but would not recommend it even though it was excellent at removing the cheesecake from the sides of the pan) (also would not recommend using a butter knife as it’s too thick and may tear the cheesecake). When the edges are loose, place an upside down glass on a flat surface then place the cheesecake on top; slowly lower the ring until it’s completely removed. Place the cheesecake on a small platter then slice it into 12 slices. Top each slice with a spoonful of cherry topping and enjoy.
Yield: 12 slices
Pumpkin cheesecake - Use 1 cup of pumpkin puree + 2 tablespoons potato starch (whisk the starch into the sugar to ensure it combines evenly with no clumps) (nothing worse than biting into a clump of starch). May need to bake for 5-10 minutes longer.
Banana pudding cheesecake - Swap the graham crackers and pretzels for vanilla wafers. Mix 1 cup super ripe banana puree (it needs to be completely smooth) into the batter with the sour cream. May need to bake for 5-10 minutes longer.
Crème brûlée cheesecake - Add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean powder to the cream cheese filling. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of sugar over the top of the baked and chilled cheesecake then take a torch to it.
Chocolate cheesecake - Melt two 70% dark chocolate bars (180g) and mix the melted (and cooled) chocolate into the batter with the sour cream. Serve with salted hot fudge sauce.
Coconut cream cheesecake - Add 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract to the cream cheese filling. Finish the baked and chilled cheesecake with coconut whipped cream (then chill some more). Top with toasted coconut flakes and serve with coconut sugar syrup.
Chocolate mousse cheesecake - Top the baked and chilled cheesecake with a batch of chocolate mousse. Finish with a dusting of cacao powder.