The Dairy-Free Cheesecake Trials - Part 1

 Strawberry Cheesecake with Mint Pearls
"They actually don't use soy or tofu--at least in the ones I tried. They get the creamy texture from cashews that are soaked and pureed and mixed into the other ingredients." 
It was Deb's intriguing response to a comment, on her recent product review of Earth Cafe's raw, vegan cheesecakes, that started my quest for the perfect, homemade, dairy-free cheesecake. I didn't so much care if it was raw or not. It could have tofu.  Rich, yes. Tasty, hopefully. Then, weirdly enough, there were tofu cheesecakes popping up, just about everywhere online.  For most of them, though, the recipes included creme fraiche, heavy cream, cream cheese or all of the above. I ask you, what is the point of having tofu in there if you're going with all that lovely, heart-stopping fat?? Yes, I know, I know, there's LESS of it. But, you see, I want it all. Cheesecake with all the unctuous, creaminess, and no dairy. It's called having your cake and eating it too. Because we're being more careful around here these days about excess cholesterol.

So, the trials began, with my now ancient (circa 1975), now duct-taped together, The Book of Tofu, as a start.  Would you believe a crunchy granola crust?  But, that was the era.  All things do come full circle, I guess. Even Mark Bittman is into homemade granola now.  However, I opted for a more traditional graham cracker crust.  OK, so all right, if you want to be strictly non-dairy, then you'd have to use hydrogenated fat margarine.  Sorry, but, Yuck.  So, I didn't, and used yes, BUTTER.  So hit me.  You could use an oil based pastry crust. Or, granola.  Other options are available out there on the interweb.  Their recipe (Book of Tofu) also called for tahini or sesame butter, as well as minced walnuts, and thinking those flavors and textures might be a bit intrusive, I substituted the raw cashew mixture, mentioned above.  One nut for another.  For trial #1.

 The first thing was to cover with water and soak cashews overnight.  Then to grind them smooth with the tofu and flavorings.
I bet ya'll  (as Nancy would say) wish you too had such a good sous chef.  Unfortunately, this one is not always available.  Here she's working on the graham cracker crust. Appropriate, since this is dessert for her mothers birthday dinner.

Strawberry Cheesecake with Mint Pearls
Adapted from The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

18 oz. soft tofu
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup agave nectar or honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons butter (or oil) to coat pan (I used a 7 inch spring form tin)

 Preheat oven to 350 F.  Combine all filling ingredients in food processor or blender and pureé until smooth.
Make your preferred crust, spoon in the filling and smooth surface.

  Bake for about 30 minutes or until surface is lightly browned.  Allow to cool for at least 6 to 8 hours before serving. We refrigerated it over night.

Now while that's chilling, you can focus on a topping.  We opted for strawberries, but wanted to include some of those trendy little flavored "pearls."  Kealani and I picked a bunch of mint, washed and separated the leaves, blanched them, then put into an ice bath.  Next the mint was whirred in the processor and strained.  What a flop.  Wrong method I guess.  So, don't tell anyone, but we added a tiny drip of green coloring, and a wee bit of mint extract, to enhance the weak taste and color we had ended up with.  Still wasn't happy with the color though. But, the pearl making was fun.  You put drops of your flavor pick, in which agar agar or gelatin has been dissolved,  into icy cold canola oil, then strain, rinse, and voila.  I recommend experimenting with straight juice first.  And, maybe sticking with that.
 The reviews were all favorable.  And, they didn't guess it was tofu (except for Sunny). Bob thought it was rich, creamy cheesecake.  I enjoyed it, but of course, being the cook you tend to pick things apart.  I would add more agave nectar or honey, lemon juice and zest next time.  This is reflected in the ingredients above.  Also, I want to experiment with a higher proportion of cashews to tofu.

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