BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Cheesecake For a Sweet New Year

Even to the seasoned eater approaching new cuisines with an open mind, it can still be difficult to fully embrace something that falls well outside of established norms. Far beyond unexpected flavor combinations or uncommon ingredients, raw “uncooking” essentially turns the entire concept of hot food preparation on its head. Largely due to a lack of exposure, the concept remains abstract at best for most of the world, which I’m quickly learning is a real shame. Working with the incredibly talented Gena Hamshaw on her upcoming cookbook has open my eyes, radically changing the way I view raw foods in general. Rather than the crazy gourmet raw foods we so often see in fine restaurants, the heart and soul of raw edibles is more about ease and straight-forward ingredients that are manipulated as little as possible. Inspired by her revolutionary recipes, I couldn’t stop thinking in the raw when it came time to craft my annual Rosh Hashanah dessert.

Apples and honey, the symbol of a sweet New Year, are almost painfully common flavors for the occasion, but a fresh approach to the presentation makes it taste new and exciting once more. Building the dessert on a crust made of dried apples and nuts, the apple flavor is intense, concentrated down into a small package, and packing a huge punch in even tiny wedges. For the honey component, it may or may not pass the scrutiny of the raw police, but nothing can even touch the floral sweetness of Bee-Free Honee. I had the pleasure of reviewing it for Laika Magazine a million moons ago, or so it feels, and have been hooked ever since. Dark agave can substitute in a pinch, but nothing else comes close to the incredibly accurate flavor that this honee bears, without the input of a single bee. Besides, what could be better for the holiday than a “honey” that is in fact made out of apples? There’s something quite poetic about that synchronicity.

As for the topping, well, that’s a case of “do as I say, not what I do.” Walking in the door of my Nana’s house with cheesecake in hand, everyone who laid eyes on the original presentation feared that I had topped my treat with slivers of raw red onion. Immediately scrapping that concept and grabbing the first green apple I found, thin half-moons were much more visually pleasing, and the different color helped erase that initial unsavory impression. As I’ve now learned, this is an opportunity to leave the fancy garnishes at home- The rich flavors will speak for themselves.

Raw Apples and Honey Cheesecake

Apple-Pecan Crust:

1 Cup Chopped Raw Pecans or Walnuts
1 Cup Dried Apple Rings, Firmly Packed
2 Large Medjool Dates, Pitted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Honee-Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Filling:

1 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
1 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
3 Ounces (6 Tablespoons) 100% Pure, Food-Grade Cocoa Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Bee-Free Honee
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Whole Vanilla Bean

To Finish (Optional):

1 Large Green Apple
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

For the crust, start by tossing the pecans or walnuts into your food processor with the s-blade installed. Pulse thoroughly until the nuts are mostly broken down into a fairly fine but coarse powder. Add in the dried apples, dates, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse again to incorporate. Continue processing until the fruits are blended in, no large chunks remain, and the mixture sticks together when pressed. Transfer to a 9-inch round springform pan and use your hands to press it firmly and evenly across the bottom. If it proves too sticky to easily handle, lightly moisten your hands before proceeding, or use the bottom of a flat measuring cup to help achieve a smoother surface. Stash the pan in the fridge while you move on to the filling.

Thoroughly drain the macadamias and cashews before placing them in either your blender. A high-speed blender is definitely recommended to achieve the smoothest texture, but with a good bit of patience, a standard blender can suffice. Add in the melted cocoa butter, bee-free honee, and lemon juice. Because I’m lazy, I tend to just chop up my vanilla beans into inch-long pieces and add the whole pods in as well. If you’re using a lower-powered machine, you should go the more traditional route of slicing them down the center, scraping out the seeds with the side of your knife, and adding those to the mixture. Save the spend pod for another use, such as vanilla sugar.

Turn on the blender on low to start chopping up the nuts, and slowly increase the speed until you’ve reached the highest setting. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister as needed, until completely silky-smooth. This could take as long as 5 – 10 minutes depending on your machine, so be patient. Pour the resulting filling over your prepared crust, tapping it gently on the counter to knock out any air bubbles. Smooth over the top with your spatula before returning the whole assemblage to the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 3 hours before serving, for the cheesecake to fully set to a slicable consistency.

If desired, cut in half, core, and thinly slice a green apple and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. Arrange the slices artfully across the top right before serving. Slice into thin wedges with a sharp, and keep chilled for the best texture and flavor.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Messing with Perfection

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Being so wholly resistant to change, it would seem completely the antithesis of my typical modus operandi to keep on tinkering and messing with a recipe so beloved as the chocolate chip cookie, and yet, I can’t keep my paws off of it. Though friends and family would have me on criminal charges if I ever presented them with something other than my Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies, I still feel as though there’s so much more that this humble morsel can offer. But what on earth could be done to improve upon alleged perfection? Well, how about adding another “perfect” dessert into the mix?

Like a cookie monster’s dream come true, the base of this cheesecake is not the same old graham cracker mush, but straight chocolate chip cookie dough, baked to crisp perfection on the bottom, yet still soft and chewy throughout. If there was ever a way to make something as untouchable as the classic CCC’s even better, I believe it would have to be this.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Cookie Dough Crust and Topping:

1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
4-6 Tablespoons Soy Creamer
1/3 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips, or Finely Chopped Semi-Sweet Chocolate

Cheesecake Filling:

1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
2 8-Ounce Packages Vegan “Cream Cheese”
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Dash Salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease and flour a 9-inch round springform pan.

In your stand mixer, beat the margarine briefly to soften before adding in both sugars. Cream together thoroughly, until smooth, and then add in the flour, baking powder, and salt all at once. Mix on low speed to begin incorporating the dry goods, add in the vanilla, and slowly drizzle in the soy creamer, one tablespoon at a time, just until the dough comes together. Continue mixing until homogeneous, if necessary, and finally work in the chocolate chips, beating just until the pieces are evenly distributed throughout. Measure out 1/2 cup of the dough and set this aside for the topping.

Press the remainder of the dough into the bottom of your prepared springform pan, smoothing it out into an even layer, and bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown all over, and set aside to cool. Lower the oven to 325 degrees.

Moving on to the filling, drain the tofu of any excess water and blend it in your food processor or blender until completely smooth. Add in the “cream cheese” and blend once more. Scrape down the sides and blend again, ensuring that no lumps remain. Incorporate the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Scrape down the sides once more, checking for any pockets of unincorporated ingredients. Blend thoroughly to create a homogeneous mixture, and pour it on top of your cookie crust. Tap the whole pan on the counter lightly, to even it out and eliminate any air bubbles. Smooth the top with your spatula.

Take out your reserved cookie dough, and roll it into small, marble-sized balls. Drop the dough balls randomly around the edges of the cheesecake before transferring it to the oven. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the sides begin to pull away from the pan and the center still appears to be rather wobbly when tapped. Be careful not to over-bake, as it will become firmer as it cools.

Let the cheesecake cool completely before moving it into the refrigerator, where I suggest you let it chill for at least 12 to 24 hours before serving. This will allow the flavors to fully develop and intensify. If you can’t wait, give it a minimum of 3 hours to reach the proper temperature.

Makes 12 to 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Flourless and Fancy-Free

Never has it been accused of being a particularly fun occasion, but Passover can be an especially loathsome event for those who already must seek alternatives to mainstream fare. After one dreadful and nearly deadly week of subsisting on nothing but cardboard incarnate matzo smothered in sticky peanut butter many years ago, the ritual simply became too much for me to bear. Yes, I’m a bad Jew, and I don’t observe Passover beyond the initial sedar. I now know that there are plenty of good eats to be had for Jewish vegans during this period of repentance… But not so much here. That isn’t to say that it’s a meaningless date to me in the least, and I do at least try not to tempt my slightly more pious family with my typical barrage of wheat-filled baked goods. At the end of the day, it’s simply a matter of favoring health, rather than adhering to a tradition that doesn’t quite resonate with me, and to each their own.

To that end, it was a matter of luck that one of the most recent recipes that ended up being cut from Vegan Desserts fits perfectly into the requirements for this wheat-free holiday;  The fact that it happens to be delicious for the remaining 51 weeks of the year is an added bonus.  Combining simple but pleasing flavors, easy to whip up, and the perfect size to feed a small dinner party, the recipe could also be doubled to accommodate a larger crowd… Or so that you can freeze leftover mini cheesecakes to snack on throughout the week.

Being a non-drinker myself, I could have easily gone years without even knowing about the astringent citrus liqueur known as limoncello, had it not been for a friend’s request to make something with it. After doing a bit of research, through both reading and tasting, it turned out to be a whole lot like concentrated lemon juice with an extra kick. To allow this spirit to shine, a blank canvas like cheesecake seemed to be an excellent fit, and by making it into small bites, you can enjoy a little burst of flavor whenever you please.

Limoncello Cheesecake Bites

Almond Crust:

1/2 Cup Almond Meal
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Flour
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted

Limoncello Filling:

8 Ounces (1 Cup or 1 Container) Vegan “Cream Cheese”
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch [Not Appropriate for Passover] or Potato Starch
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Limoncello (Homemade Version on Page __* of Vegan Desserts)
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*I’m not sure of the page number yet, since I haven’t seen the finished book yet! As soon as I get my first copy, this will be updated.

Preheat your oven to 350 and lightly grease and flour 12 mini muffin cups.

For the crust, simply combine all of the ingredients to form a moist but crumbly mixture, and firmly press 1 tablespoon of this into the bottom of each mini muffin cup. Stash the pan in your freezer while you assemble the filling.

Beat together the “cream cheese,” corn starch, and sugar in your stand mixer on low speed, or with a wide spatula, until smooth. Pour in the limoncello and vanilla, mixing until thoroughly combined. Distribute the filling between all of your crust-lined cupcakes, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Like a standard cheesecake, they will seem very loose when fresh out of the oven, but continue to firm up as they cool, so be careful not to over bake them. The cheesecake bites will puff significantly in the oven, but will fall as they cool.

After chilling in the fridge for at least an hour, slip a thin paring knife down the sides of each cheesecake bite and use it as a lever to remove them. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 12 Cheesecake Bites

Printable Recipe

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