It may sound a little cliché, but many of my California friends are vegetarian or vegan and it can often be a challenge to prepare a menu that still tastes great for everyone. I’ve managed to come up with a few winning main course recipes – like hearty veggie chili with gluten free corn bread topping – but desserts have been a bit more difficult – until now. I was searching the web for a nice fall dessert when I stumbled on a site called Minimalist Baker (https://minimalistbaker.com) authored by wife-husband team Dana and John Shultz who are based in Portland, Oregon. They share incredibly delicious, simple recipes that are mostly vegan and/or gluten free. I found a recipe for vegan pumpkin cheesecake that looked too good not to try. I adapted the recipe slightly to reflect the spices that I use in my own pumpkin recipes, so feel free to make adjustments to the spices. Cashews create a creamy filling and slightly tangy flavor that give it that “cheesecake” taste and texture. You can make this in a 9” springform pan, or in a cupcake tin, but I used Chicago Metallic mini cheesecake pan (http://bit.ly/1kEx3sn). The coconut cream topping is easy to make and gives them a great finish.
FOR THE CRUST
1 cup packed medjool dates, pitted (about 20 dates, pitted before measuring)
1 1/2 cups (180 g) raw walnuts or almonds (I toasted them for 5 minutes in a 375 degree oven)
½ teaspoon cinnamon or pumpkin spice
Pinch sea salt
FOR THE FILLING
1 1/2 cups raw cashews (soaked in very hot water for 1 hour)
1 lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup light or full fat coconut milk (or sub unsweetened almond milk)
3 tablespoons olive oil (or melted coconut oil, though it will add coconut flavor)
1/2 cup grade A pure maple syrup or light agave nectar, plus more to taste
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons freshly grated gingerroot
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or favorite combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg)
1 teaspoon vanilla, optional
COCONUT CREAM TOPPING
14-ounce can organic coconut cream
1/4 - 3/4 cup powdered sugar (use organic to ensure vegan friendliness)
Optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Cover cashews with boiling hot water. Let rest, uncovered, at room temperature for 1 hour. Then drain thoroughly and set aside.
2. In the meantime, add dates to a food processor and pulse until small bits remain, or it forms a ball, about 10 one second pulses. Remove and set aside.
3. Add nuts, spice and salt to processor and process until finely ground, stop before it turns to butter! Add dates back in and process until a loose dough forms - it should stick together when you squeeze a bit between your fingers. If too crumbly, add a few more dates. If too sticky, add more crushed walnuts. Set aside.
4. If using a springform pan, line with parchment paper. If using ramekins or muffin tins, cut parchment paper into circles the size of the base of your ramekins or muffin tins. Also, cut out two long strips of parchment paper per ramekin and lay them in an "X" shape at the base. Top with circle shape. This creates little tabs that make removing the cheesecakes easier to pop out once set. (For muffin tins, you can also just use cupcake liners.) If you have the Chicago mini cheesecake pan, no additional prep in needed.
5. Divide crust evenly among ramekins or tins (or springform pan), and press down with fingers to evenly distribute. Use a pastry tamper, or a small glass wrapped in parchment paper, or the back of a spoon, to press down firmly, allowing some crust to come up the sides. Set in freezer.
6. Once cashews are soaked and drained, add to food processor (or blender) with remaining filling ingredients and puree until very smooth – 3-4 minutes. If it has trouble blending add a touch more coconut milk (or almond milk). Taste and adjust flavor/sweetness as needed.
7. Divide filling evenly among the ramekins or tins (or pour into a parchment-lined springform pan). Tap a few times to release any air bubbles, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and freeze until firm - about 4-6 hours, depending on size of dish.
8. Once set, run a butter knife along the edge and gently remove by tugging on the tabs in an upward motion. They should pop right out. If they aren't quite set, pop them back in the freezer until firm. If using a springform pan, simply pop open and remove cheesecake.
9. Serve with a touch of coconut whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg.
10. Store leftovers in the freezer for 7-10 days, though best when enjoyed within the first 3-4 days. Let thaw at room temperature 15-20 minutes before serving for best texture
FOR THE COCONUT CREAM
1. Chill your coconut cream or coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight, being sure not to shake or tip the can to encourage separation of the cream and liquid.
2. The next day, chill a large mixing bowl 10 minutes before whipping.
3. Remove the coconut cream or milk from the fridge without tipping or shaking and remove the lid. Scrape out the top, thickened cream and leave the liquid behind (reserve for use in smoothies).
4. Place hardened cream in your chilled mixing bowl. Beat for 30 seconds with a mixer until creamy. Then add vanilla (optional) and powdered sugar and mix until creamy and smooth - about 1 minute. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed.
5. Use immediately or refrigerate - it will harden and set in the fridge the longer it's chilled. Will keep for up to 1 - 2 weeks