Canada Day may have come and gone, but it still lives on in my heart…and stomach. If you’ve been following along, you’ll recall that I made Nanaimo bars a few weeks ago for a Canada Day celebration. Well, at this shindig, I found out that one of my very favorite Canadian persons, Peter, like-likes Nanaimo bars. It just so happens that I like-like Peter so, of course this news was exciting. It also “just so happens” that the past few Saturday nights have become dinner date nights and, since both Peter and I are vegan and like to cook, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to try and impress each other food-wise. I don’t know how or why I ended up being the baker, all I know is that it’s quite the challenge. So, with the new information that Peter really, really likes Nanaimo bars, I started scheming and decided to make him a Nanaimo bar cheesecake. Sometimes, I can be a sweetheart, I guess.
This recipe is a bit time consuming — I’m just going to put that out there, nice and honestly. If you want to make something quick for dessert, make Nanaimo bars or cookies. But this is also delicious and pretty. So, really, you get a lot out of it. And, you get to show off a vegan cheesecake. That’s bound to drop some jaws. You will have to make the cashew cream for this. Cashew cream is very easy to make and can be used in many recipes, but it requires soaking cashews for several hours or overnight. Like I said, this recipe is involved. But it’s worth it, trust me. I also really recommend using Mori-Nu Firm Silken Tofu if you can find it at a natural foods store or in an Asian market. It really does wonders for consistency. If you can’t, any other brand is fine as long as it’s silken tofu. Other brands may not be as firm and may have a higher water content. This will just mean that you may have to bake it longer and that the consistency will lean more towards a custard type of cake. It will still be very good (and likely, smoother) so don’t worry.
According to Peter, a true Canadian, what makes Nanaimo bars what they are — which is indulgently delicious — is the middle vanilla layer. So, you want this to be very vanilla-y. I do recommend using a vanilla bean, as directed below, but they can be kind of expensive so, if you can’t afford it, just use as much extract as you need to to make up for it. What I really like about Nanaimo bars is the coconut-chocolate crust. Please, use Newman O’s or any other “Oreo” type cookie that is explicitly vegan and unsweetened coconut flakes as these don’t contain refined sugar. If you really like coconut, you can even add an 1/8 of a teaspoon of coconut extract to the crust. I bet it would be delicious!
Whatever happens, indulge, enjoy, and keep eating until it’s all gone! Vive le Canada!
(makes one 9 inch cheesecake)
2 cups crumbled Original Newman O’s (2 rows of a 13 oz package)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance Butter, melted
*If you are using a pie dish, you will only need these amounts. If you are using a standard 9 inch spring-form pan double this recipe — but you will have to bake it longer.
8 oz plain vegan cream cheese (Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese or Galaxy Nutritional Foods “Vegan” or “Veggie” Cream Cheese)
12 oz firm silken tofu (light or regular) *See note in post intro
3/4 cup organic sugar
1 tbsp agave nectar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup vegan vanilla pudding powder (Dr. Oetker is vegan)
1 and 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
beans of 1/2 of one vanilla bean pod (optional)
Chocolate Sauce Topping
6 oz vegan chocolate (3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips are fine)
1/2 cup cashew cream with 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.
First, make the crust. Crumble the cookies by putting them in a heavy duty ziploc bag and either crushing them with your hands or banging them with a pan. I find that mashing them with the flat end of a meat tenderizer (Yes, a meat tenderizer! Every vegan baker should have one!) works best. You don’t want to pulverize them, just crumble them. If there are some big chunks, that’s ok. Combine the cookies with the coconut and nuts in a large bowl. Pour the melted butter over them and combine all ingredients well. Pour this into your spring form pan and press it very firmly into the bottom of the pan with your hands. You really want this to stay together so the more you press, the firmer the crust will be. If you’re using a pie dish, press the cookies up the sides of the dish as far as they will go — it doesn’t need to be uniform or perfect! Chill the crust in the refrigerator until the cheesecake filling is ready.
Now make the cheesecake filling. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend well. If you are using an 8 cup food processor and making this in a spring-form pan (and thus, making a bigger cheesecake as pictured here) you will need to do this step in two parts. Pour the filling evenly over the cookie crust, making sure to heap it in the middle. If you are using a pie dish, bake it for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or mostly clean and warm. If you are using a spring form and the double recipe, bake it for about one and half to two hours. I baked mine in a spring form for one hour, then checked it every 20 minutes until it was done — it took a little under 2 hours. It’s important to keep a timer on it and test the center with a toothpick every so often to avoid over cooking. Remove from oven and set aside to cool, preferably on a wire rack, for at least half an hour. Chill in refrigerator for 4 hours, but I very highly recommend overnight, especially if you’re using a tofu with a higher water content (e.g.: not Mori-Nu).
To prepare the chocolate topping, use a double boiler (if you have one) or simply place a 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan and place a small metal bowl over it so that the small bowl is just resting on top of the pan, not touching the water. Melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning the chocolate. Once it is completely melted, pour the cashew cream in in small batches and fold it into the chocolate, again, stirring constantly. Once the cashew cream is fully incorporated, spread this over the cheesecake, smoothing it over the cake with an off set spatula or the back of a spoon. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes and serve chilled.