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
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