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 Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
Graham Cracker-ish Crust
- ½ cup rolled oats
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1¾ teaspoons cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil (see note 1)
- ¾ teaspoon molasses
- 2 cups raw cashews, soaked and drained (see note 2)
- ½ cup coconut cream (see note 3)
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil (see note 1)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 Pinch fine sea salt
- Fresh strawberries (for garnish)
Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
- ½ lb rhubarb, chopped
- ¾ lb fresh strawberries, chopped (or frozen)
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat: Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line the bottom of 1 (8-inch) round springform pan with parchment.
- Mix crust: Add oats to blender, process into flour. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in almond flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add maple syrup, coconut oil, and molasses. Stir until evenly mixed.
- Bake crust: Transfer mixture to the prepared pan. Use the back of the spoon to pack mixture into a firm, even bottom crust. Poke with a fork (about 15 times) to let steam escape. Bake until edges are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool until the pan is warm (not hot) to the touch.
- Blend filling: Meanwhile, rinse blender to remove stray oats. Add soaked cashews, coconut cream, maple syrup, lemon juice, coconut oil, vanilla extract, and salt. Blend on high speed until smooth. Then, blend for another 30 seconds to ensure its light and airy.
- Combine: Pour filling over crust. Freeze (uncovered) until firm, about 3½ hours. Once firm, cover the cheesecake in the fridge or freezer to keep it fresh.
- Cook sauce: Combine rhubarb and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft, 10 to 15 minutes. If the rhubarb starts sticking, reduce heat. Add strawberries, cook until they release their juices, about 5 minutes.
- Blend sauce: Transfer fruit to a clean blender container. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.
- Serve: Garnish cheesecake with fresh strawberries and serve with strawberry rhubarb sauce. See note 4 for storage tips.
- Coconut oil: Use deodorized / refined coconut oil if you want to impart less coconut flavor.
- How to soak cashews: Cashews should be soaked until soft when squeezed between your fingertips. To soak cashews, either cover them with boiling water (soak for about 30 minutes) or cover them with room temperature water (soak for 6 to 8 hours).
- Coconut cream: Either from a can of coconut cream or the solids scooped from a full fat can of coconut milk. For some brands, the coconut solids may have already started to separate in the can at room temperature. But to maximize separation, place cans in the back of the fridge overnight (or ideally 24 hours) before using. Do not substitute with boxed nut milk (it doesn't have enough fat).
- Storage tip: Leftover cheesecake can be stored, covered, in the fridge or freezer. For longer storage, use freezer. If cheesecake has been in freezer overnight, allow it to soften on the counter, about 30 minutes before serving.