May 5th, 2009

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake

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I always say that I’m not a raw person but that isn’t exactly true. When I’m in SF I’m practically tethered to Cafe Gratitude and one of the best meals I had in LA was at Cru. Brooklyn used to have a hole in the wall (almost literally) restaurant where I would enjoy soggy dehydrated pancakes. Yeah, I said soggy and enjoy in the same breath.

I think I just don’t have the patience for the preparation techniques, like dehydrating and spiral slicing. And while raw is all wonderfully healthy, I’m not positive that cooked spinach is going to kill me, despite the wacky emails I get from time to time. Luckily for us vegans, raw food is almost exclusively free of animal products and so that opens up a whole world of experimentation. I love, for example, using soaked cashews to create creaminess. In fact, many of my favorite vegan desserts have been raw. I’m just not into that vegan cheesecake, loaded with telltale, groan-worthy tofutti and confectioner’s sugar. My favorite cheesecake from Cafe Gratitude contains coconut, dates and Irish Moss. So gather your ingredients and…wait. Irish Moss?

Yeah, so I wanted to make a minimum hassle recipe that was easy enough to create from ingredients you could procure from any health food store. I scoured the internet for hints on how to go about it and I decided on my beloved soaked cashews and coconut oil. The oil is solid at room temperature so ensures that everything stays together. No special equipment needed, this cake came together in a snap. The only prep you need to do is to remember to soak the cashews in advance. Also remember that the cake will need at least 4 hours to set.

The end result was a really, really rich and creamy cake. And you’ll believe me when I say I am not rich-dessert phobic, but the cake really does serve 16. It’s got plenty of strawberry flavor and a little tang from the lime. It needed a little extra strawberry blast at the end, so I threw together a quick strawberry sauce. The crust was modified from the Cafe Gratitude desserts cookbook. I Am Pilfering. To melt your coconut oil place it in a small covered container and place that in a bowl of very hot water. Melt it right before using so that it doesn’t solidify.

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake

Serves 16

1 cup pecans
1 cup almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 medjool dates, pitted and chopped

3 cups raw cashew pieces, soaked overnight (or at least 3 hours)
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (alcohol free is preferred for raw desserts)
32 oz strawberries (reserve 9 for decorating), hulled and halved – about 4 cups
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted

Raw Fluffy White Frosting Recipe
1/2 cup raw cashew pieces, soaked overnight
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons agave syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (alcohol free is preferred for raw desserts)
1/4 cup raw coconut oil, melted

Strawberry Coulis (Coulis is a fancy word for pureed sauce)
2 cups chopped strawberries
3 tablespoons agave syrup

Lightly grease a 9 inch spring form pan with coconut oil and set aside.

To prepare the crust, pulse nuts and salt in a food processor fit with a metal blade. When nuts are fine crumbs, add the dates and pulse until the dough holds together when squeezed between your fingers. Firmly press crust into the bottom of prepared cake pan. Set aside.

To prepare the filling, pulse cashews in food processor until crumbly. Add agave, water, lime juice and vanilla and puree until very smooth, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula to make sure you get everything. Feed the strawberries through the top of the food processor and puree until incorporated. The filling should turn a pretty pink. With the processor running, add the melted coconut oil in a steady stream.

Pour the filling into the cake pan. It will look like a smoothie and you’ll think no way it will set, but it will! Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to set. Make sure it’s level so that your cake doesn’t come out wonky. Let set for at least 4 hours.

Prepare the frosting in basically the same way as the cake. Pulse the cashews in the food processor until crumbly. Add the water, agave and vanilla and blend until smooth. With the food processor running, stream the coconut oil in through the top until combined. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until set, about 2 hours.

Prepare the sauce when you’re close to serving. Just mash the strawberries up with the agave until it’s all red and syrupy.

To assemble
Release the cake from its springform prison. Use a mini scoop to place 8 mounds of icing around the perimeter of the cake and one in the center. Slice the tops off the reserved strawberries and gently smush them upside down into the frosting mounds. If you don’t have a mini scoop, just use a spoon and make them as pretty as you can, they’re gonna get smushed anyway.

To serve, place some Strawberry Coulis on the plate and serve the cake over it. Dig in!

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