Vegan Cheesecake with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
A creamy dairy-free cheesecake set atop a healthy, homemade graham cracker crust. Serve with strawberry rhubarb sauce and fresh berries. Tastes like the real deal! Refined sugar free. Vegan & Gluten Free. <jump to recipe>
My grandma is the baker in the family. Whenever we pay her a visit, I always know to expect three things: vintage Tupperware full of cookies sitting in cupboard, an epic dessert tray sitting in the fridge, and heaps of back-up pies stashed away in the freezer. It's like clockwork. After all these years, the chocolate mint cookies still go in the green Tupperware container. And if you're craving butterscotch, check the orange one. While some say variety is the spice of life - when it comes to my grandma’s baking, I hope these rituals don’t change anytime soon.
All her goodies are baked with love. So much love that they even have this whole-grain-loving-processed-food-avoiding person (hi!) digging into. Because, life. Of all her desserts, my absolute favorite are these addictive squares made from graham crackers, a tangy whipped cream cheese center, and a sweet layer of fruit on top. There's something so delightfully simple about it. Yet, it's glorious in every way. A perfect childhood dessert that I'll clearly never grow out of.
I was flipping through one of my recipe folders last week, and I stumbled across the recipe I’d copied down for these "Magic Cherry Squares". It's written in my elementary school handwriting, and I'm pretty sure the "magic" part was my own addition (although perfectly fitting). In contrast to its stark white page, the original recipe is written on a yellowed and wrinkled cue card. Stained from little drops of oil and sticky from sugar - a sign of hard earned battle scars after years in the kitchen. Mine isn’t nearly nearly as vintage. And frankly, it’s because I’ve never made it myself. For a moment I considered it was time to replicate this recipe – with my own healthy twist. But I quickly decided against it, for fear of losing that “magic” that makes the recipe so special.
So instead, I decided to make a vegan cheesecake! It's a nod to my grandma's splendid dessert, but in no way an attempt to re-create it. And when something's this good – it should stand on its own. This cheesecake has a quick and easy crust that tastes deceivingly like graham crackers. And it's filled with a tangy and creamy filling that even my dairy-loving grandparents’ would love. The sweet, vibrant strawberry rhubarb sauce is the icing on the (cheese)cake. It adds a bright, fruity element and it’s so good I've been eating it with a spoon – straight out from the jar.
If you've never had vegan cashew-based cheesecake before, you're definitely in for a treat. It's unbelievable how much this filling tastes like real cheesecake. Just 7 ingredients + a high speed blender, and you've made your own dairy-free cheesecake filling.
But let's talk about this crust. We’ve been eating our way through A LOT of cheesecake this week - primarily so I could get the crust just right. I wanted it to taste like graham crackers, but without copping out and buying a box to chuck in the food processor. I've yet to find a brand of graham crackers with an ingredients list I'm pumped about, so I was determined to go the homemade route. For a hot second I was even considered baking gluten free and vegan cookies only to pulverize them in the food processor…but something just felt so counter-intuitive about the whole thing. That, and I'm lazy. Instead, this crust is made from a combination of oat flour and almond flour. Cinnamon, nutmeg and a final touch of some molasses takes the crust into graham-cracker-like territory. I started shipping off slices to my family (for fear I'd myself turn into a giant cheesecake), and they were shocked that the crust wasn't in fact crushed up grahams! Mission accomplished.
And this fruit sauce. It's beautiful way to celebrate the abundance of seasonal fruit that's starting to fill our markets. I chose a classic combination I love: bright red rhubarb and juicy berries. The cheesecake is great on its own – but I love it so much better with fresh fruit piled high and this fruity sauce drizzled on top. Because who can resist something as pretty as this? And since it's so simple to make, you kind of have to make it.
Like many vegan cheesecakes, this one sets up in the freezer. After 3 ½ - 4 hours it’ll reach a nice cheesecake-like consistency and can be served immediately. Otherwise, you can choose to store the cheesecake in the freezer for longer. Just simply allow it soften on the counter or in the fridge before serving. The ratio of cashews, coconut cream and liquid help the cheesecake keep its form out of the freezer. Once fully frozen, the cheesecake can sit on the counter for ~1-2 hours and keep its shape - and much, much longer in the fridge. When ready to serve, pile high with fresh berries and serve with a generous side of strawberry rhubarb sauce.
VEGAN CHEESECAKE WITH "GRAHAM CRACKER" CRUST
Makes 1 (8-INCH) CHEESECAKE, SERVES 12 (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)
1/2 cup oats
1 cup almond flour
1 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted*
3/4 teaspoon molasses
2 cups raw cashews, soaked (6 hours or ideally overnight) and rinsed well
1/2 cup coconut cream**
1/2 cup maple syrup
6 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Fresh strawberries, sliced
Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Process oats in the blender until pulverized into a fine oat flour. Add oat flour, almond flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt to a medium-sized bowl. Stir to mix. Add maple syrup, melted coconut oil and molasses. Stir well until all the liquids (particularly the molasses) are evenly distributed.
Line the bottom of your springform pan with parchment. Use the back of a spoon to press and smooth the crust into the bottom of the pan. Use a fork to gently poke 15-20 holes in the crust. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the edges begin to turn golden brown. Set the crust aside to cool for 15-20 minutes, until the pan is cool enough to handle with your hands.
Rinse your blender to remove any leftover oat flour. Then add in soaked cashews, coconut cream, maple syrup, lemon juice, melted coconut oil, vanilla extract and salt. Blend on high speed until the mixture is smooth. Once smooth, blend for another 30 seconds or so to ensure the mixture is light and airy. Pour filling over top of the crust. Place in the freezer (uncovered) for 3 1/2 - 4 hours. Remove from freezer. Top with fresh strawberries and serve with strawberry rhubarb sauce.
Leftovers may be stored in the fridge or freezer (covered). If cheesecake has been in the freezer overnight, allow it to soften on the counter before slicing and serving (30 minutes - 1 hour).
*You may wish to opt for deodorized coconut oil for less coconut scent / flavor.
**You can either buy canned coconut cream, or use a full fat can of coconut milk where the solids have separated from the liquid. Some brands of canned coconut milk (e.g. Whole Foods 365) tend to have the coconut solids already separated in the can. Otherwise, put the can in the back of the fridge overnight to allow it to separate. Scoop out 1/2 cup of coconut cream (i.e. the white solids) for this recipe. Boxed nut milks (including coconut) don’t have enough fat to solidify for this recipe.
STRAWBERRY RHUBARB SAUCE
(VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)
1/2 lb rhubarb
3/4 lb strawberries*
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Remove the ends off the rhubarb and cut stalks into cubes. Add the cubed rhubarb and water to a saucepan over medium. Cook uncovered for ~10-15 minutes until the rhubarb is soft. Stir regularly to prevent it from sticking, and reduce heat if necessary.
Roughly chop 3/4 lb of cleaned and hulled strawberries. Add them to the saucepan with the rhubarb and cook for 5 minutes or until they begin to release their juices.
Pour the fruit mixture into a blender. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Blend until smooth. Transfer sauce to a sealed container and store in the fridge until cool.
*Fresh strawberries are highly recommended. Otherwise, you can substitute for frozen.