Guest Chef Nick Sokol Presents: Vegan Blueberry Bliss Cheesecake

The Goal: Delicious, sinfully creamy cheesecake.

The Source: Vegan Pie in the Sky by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Cookbook, full recipe at end of post)

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Cheesecake is a decadent dish that, as the mores of culinary tradition would have it, has always epitomized the sacrifice of bovine decency for the sake of human indulgence. One only has to consider an establishment such as The Cheesecake Factory to conjure up images of bloated cows in rows of exiguous stalls churning out cheesecakes in rapid succession. Well I say, no longer! We hold these truths to be self evident that all men (and cows) are created equal; that they are endowed… Okay I may be getting a little carried away listening to the Hamilton musical soundtrack lately. But who says I can’t bake a vegan pie while listening to a black guy dressed up like Thomas Jefferson rap about the Reynolds Pamphlet? What could be more American than that? So, in the spirit of liberty, gratuitous grandiosity, animal rights, and delicious food, I give you: vegan blueberry bliss cheesecake!

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Perhaps the reason I felt the need to dress up this post with so much colorful language is that the recipe itself is so easy. I went with a recipe from a book called Vegan Pie in the Sky. Besides the fact that you have to start with cashews that have been soaking in water for two hours, it doesn’t take very much time or effort to make. For those of you who are seasoned bakers, it may be telling that I find the graham cracker crust to be the most difficult part of this recipe. I’m not sure why exactly, but I’ve had problems with every such crust that I have attempted. My efforts have either been too loose, failing to coalesce properly, or too wet, hardening into a calcified crust. For this reason, I often rely on the surprising deliciousness of the pie itself to mesmerize my guests into missing the tell-tale store-bought graham cracker crust beneath. However, the time has come for me to leave Keebler and its mediocrity behind, and attempt to produce a better quality crust. I mean, for God’s sake, this is a food blog and we have to have some standards.

For the crust, I decided to go with the recipe out of the same cookbook the pie came from. I attempted to correct all of my supposed previous failures by using a food processor to grind the crackers very finely, using melted margarine (rather than coconut oil), and measuring out all my quantities precisely. Then I pressed the whole mixture into the bottom of a spring form pan. The spring form pan is a classic choice for cheesecakes, but it was especially attractive to me because the crust does not have to be pressed over the shape of the sloping sides of a traditional pie pan (which would have tempted me to facilitate the process by adding extra moisture). After putting the crust in the oven, I asked my roommate (a seasoned cook in her own right) how to tell when the crust was finished. She said that it would achieve a nice golden brown color. I said thank you, but secretly wondered if she was aware that graham crackers are already golden brown in color. In any case, I managed not to burn it, and at that point I was pretty confident that I had made something that was at least better than a pre-made crust. Success!

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At the risk of overcomplicating a simple recipe, I’ll mention a general principle that guides how I mix the ingredients for the filling and topping. You see, when I present someone with a veganized version of a favorite food, I always project my own hypercritical nature onto them and imagine that they are looking for something weird in the dish – that one oddity the betrays its vegan-ness. Of course the truth is that a cook can screw up any recipe in a number of ways, but vegans aren’t just providing a meal. Every dish is part of a PR campaign in which the well-being of all non-human animals hangs in the balance! Okay, I’m clearly going off my rails again, but the point is, it has to be perfect. As long as you added all the right ingredients, I promise you the flavor will be awesome, that’s not where my worry is. My main concern is that the final product is neither grainy nor runny. These are totally preventable issues that can be preempted by using a good quality food processor or blender and running it for a long time to ensure smoothness. Also, I always add just a little extra cornstarch to avoid any danger of a runny texture.

I have made this recipe several times before, but this was the first time since the start of blueberry season, so I was able to use freshly picked blueberries from our backyard. [Perhaps you haven’t heard about our blueberry patch before, so I’ll describe it for you. I’m lucky enough to live in a house that has a veritable forest of a blueberry patch in the back yard. If you’re not careful you could lose a child in its brambled depths. We’re considering taking applications for a new colony to be established therein this spring, and it will be called Blueberia.]

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Blueberian colonial tribute… let’s hope they never declare independence

After putting all the ingredients in the blender and running it for a paranoid amount of time I had finished the crust and the filling without a hitch. Then I promptly poured the batter into the springform pan and realized that I had forgotten to grease the sides. It wasn’t a fatal error, but I worried that it might cause cosmetic issues when it was taken out of the pan the next day.

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The next day, I found my worries to have been specious. After sliding a knife around the edge of the cheesecake, the springform pan separated perfectly. The only small issue was that I had covered the pie with plastic wrap before it had completely cooled, so there was a concerning amount of moisture collected on top. However, it seems not to have affected the texture of the dish greatly. The filling was smooth, but firmly set and the topping had achieved a light and pleasantly gelatinous texture. The crust was just right also, with a rich caramelized flavor that I didn’t even realize had been missing from the store bought crust. In the future, I would make it earlier in the day, so that I could let it cool for an hour or two before putting in the fridge.

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I’ll conclude by pointing out that there are a lot of great reasons to try this recipe, even if you are not a vegan. For one thing, as far as desserts go it has a relatively small amount of refined sugar. I know we’re not supposed be counting calories when it comes to comfort food, but it is a matter of fact that this recipe is much less calorically dense than your average cheesecake. If nothing else, it may reduce the guilt factor. But the main reason to make this dish is that it tastes so damn good. This potluck favorite historically disappears at a disconcertingly fast rate. If you’re still not convinced, I’ll provide the testimonial of one particularly satisfied potluck-goer (not my mom) who once said, “I like this better than regular cheesecake!” I rest my case.

I’d like to thank head chef and literary guru Sarah for inviting me back on the blog. And until next time, I wish everyone a fond Blueberian farewell.

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The Recipe – Graham Cracker Crust: 

  • 1 3/4 C finely ground graham crackers
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons melted nonhydrogenated margarine, melted coconut oil or canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon plain soy milk or almond milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the graham crumbs and sugar. Drizzle in the oil or melted margarine. Use a spoon to blend the mixture thoroughly to moisten the crumbs, then drizzle in the soy milk and stir again to form a crumbly dough.
  3. Pour the crumbs into the pie plate. Press crumbs into the sides of the plate first, then work your way down to the bottom. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until firm. Let the crust cool before filling.

Yield: Makes one 9-or-10-inch pie crust.

The Recipe – Cheesecake: 

Blueberry Bliss Vegan Cheesecake Filling

  • ½ cup whole unroasted cashews, soaked in water for 2 to 8 hours or until very soft
  • 1 (12–14 ounce) package non-GMO silken tofu, drained
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup mashed banana (about 1 medium-size banana)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
Blueberry Topping
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon non-GMO cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Instructions
Blueberry Bliss Vegan Cheesecake Filling
  1. While the crust bakes, drain the cashews and pour them into a food processor or blender. Add the tofu, blueberries, sugar, banana, lemon juice, coconut oil, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt. Puree until very smooth; this could take up to 5 minutes depending on your blender.
  2. Pour the filling into the pan with your baked crust.
  3. Bake the cheesecake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top is lightly puffed and the edges of cake are pulling away from the pan. Remove it from the oven and let cool on a rack.
Blueberry Topping
  1. As the cheesecake cools, combine all the topping ingredients in a small saucepan. Stirring often, bring the mixture to a boil, so that the blueberries burst.
  2. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 5 more minutes.
  3. Remove the topping from the heat and pour it over the cheesecake.
  4. Let the cake cool until it’s okay to handle, about 30 minutes, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Place it in the fridge to set for about 2 hours.
  5. Once completely set, release the springform and slice the cake with a sharp knife dipped in cold water.

 

 

 

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