I’ve always been a bit partial to a slice of deliciously creamy cheesecake. Before I went dairy-free and plant-based my favourites were the ones you could buy frozen (I never tried to make my own!). Super-sweet crunchy biscuit base, thick and creamy filling then finished with a colourful layer of blackcurrants or strawberries, coated with more sugar of course. It hit all the pleasure buttons in one go!
When I went dairy-free, cheesecake was off the menu until I discovered the raw version – not quite so super-sweet but still delicious. I loved experimenting with different flavours – there are two amazing ones in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie that are a winner every time.
As a rule, raw cheesecakes have coconut milk or cream as the key filling ingredient. It’s rich, creamy and sets solid when chilled allowing the cheesecake to firm up and maintain its structure. It has some healthy properties to it when consumed in moderate amounts (although no fibre, so coconut flesh is more nutritious). It’s also deliciously fatty due to its high concentration of saturated fats. And that’s a problem when saturated fats are off the menu.
I now follow the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis protocol, an evidence-based diet and lifestyle programme designed to optimise health and well-being for people with MS and even promote recovery (note I don’t say ‘cure’ here, that’s not an option just yet….). Research suggests that saturated fats are involved in the MS inflammatory process that damages myelin, the fatty protective sheath that surrounds the nerves. So a diet low in saturated fats, and high in anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fats, along with other elements like stress reduction and meditation, can help promote recovery.
As I was already following a mainly whole-food plant-based diet, the changes weren’t too difficult for me – except for coconut, as I love it! But if it means that I can control my MS, it’s worth it – it’s weighing up the cost vs benefit (see this old blog post for more about this).
I’d been mulling over how to make a plant-based cheesecake without coconut for a while. It still needed to be creamy, but not collapse as soon as it came out of the fridge. After a few experiments, I found a combination of cornflour (or arrowroot) and agar agar, an algae-based gelling agent, worked the best. Actually, it works really well!
The other thing I miss following the OMS programme is chocolate. Due to the high saturated fat content of cocoa butter, it’s also not on the menu. But cacao and cocoa are (thank goodness!). In fact, cacao is thought to be beneficial for people with MS as it contains powerful anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. So I’ve included an extra layer of decadence with a chocolate topping, as strawberry and chocolate are such an awesome combination. In fact there are so many nutritious goodies in this cheesecake it makes dessert a health food, my ultimate aim in life (ha ha)! You can of course omit this layer if it seems too much like hard work, and just go for the plain fruit topping.
I like to make my own cashew cream as it doesn’t contain any unwanted preservatives, but if you don’t have time, then Oatly cream (black cartons only for OMSer’s – no palm oil) or soya cream both work well.
Unless it’s the middle of strawberry season, I would recommend using frozen strawberries to make this cheesecake. Out of season, strawberries can be watery and flavourless (and covered in chemicals). Frozen strawberries have a more intense flavour and mean this can be readily made all year round. And of course, you can always use other fruit, not just strawberry. I’m looking forward to making a mango and passion fruit one soon.
Don’t be put off by the number of stages involved in making this cheesecake – it’s much easier than it looks at first glance! The only potential issue is knowing when to stop heating the mix and trusting it will set. It’s a leap of faith, but I’ve not be let down yet………
So if you fancy a plant-based cheesecake without the coconut, then why not give this one a go. And if you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on. I’m really happy that my recipe is up on the OMS website too. If you are looking for more OMS-friendly recipes (apart from here on my blog!) then have a look at their website here.
Strawberry and chocolate 'cheesecake'
For the base:
- 110 grams almonds
- 75 grams oats
- 115 grams dates
- pinch salt
For the filling:
- 200 grams strawberries fresh or frozen
- 400 ml cashew or other dairy-free cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 40 grams cornflour or arrowroot
- 1 gram agar agar powder
For the chocolate topping
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
- 30 grams raw cacao powder
- fresh strawberries or raspberries
- You will need a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin. A springform tin is best.
To make the base:
- Place the almonds into the food processor and pulse a few times to break down. Add the oats and dates and blend until everything is broken down. If your dates are soft, the mix will start to form a dough. If not, add a tablespoon or two of water to bring it together into a mouldable dough.
- Press the dough onto the base of the cake tin, spreading it out with your hands to make a flat, even crust. Place the tin the freezer whilst you make the filling.
To make the filling:
- Wash the food processor bowl. Add the strawberries, dairy-free cream, vanilla essence, maple syrup, cornflour and agar agar. Blend until smooth. Pour the mix into a saucepan over a medium heat and gently bring it to just boiling point, mixing with a whisk. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes until the mix starts to coat the whisk. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes.
- Take the base out of the freezer. Pour the strawberry filling mix into the tin, then pop it back in the freezer for 1 hour to set. After 1 hour, remove from the freezer and place in the fridge for an hour to help it finish setting (you don’t want it frozen).
To make the chocolate layer and decoration:
- Add the vanilla essence, maple syrup and cacao powder together in a small bowl and mix hard to combine – it takes a couple of minutes of hard stirring to bring it together into a thick paste. If the paste is too thick, add a little water. You need it to be spreadable – jam consistency.
- Remove the cheesecake from the fridge and carefully spread the chocolate layer over the top. There is enough for a thin layer (it’s intense so you don’t need much). Decorate with additional strawberries or raspberries and place back in the fridge if you are not going to serve immediately.
- Gently run a sharp knife around the edge of the cheesecake then loosen the side of the tin (if it has a spring). Push the bottom of the tin up and away from the sides but leave the cheesecake on the base. Cut into slices and serve.
Have you got your copy of Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie yet? It’s a great guide to eating a whole-food plant-based diet with easy to understand science plus over 100 recipes to get you started on your plant-based journey. Available on Amazon in paperback and on kindle now.