There is no vegan cheesecake

Vegan pride and why it should not stop at the wording

Three tips on how to get rid of animal-based terms

  • Correct names raise correct expectations. For the vast majority of foods, you will find the right terms fairly easily. A yoghurt made of soy is a soy yoghurt, so why should a ball made of chickpeas not be called chickpea ball? Yes, ‘vegan’ plus animal-based, well-known food is good for clicks, good for understanding what you’re aiming for, but it’s little more than a lie about the most important characteristic of food: its taste. Start right and you will help establish real vegan foods with the right expectations.
  • Celebrate the difference in flavour and make vegan foods strong on their own. Tweak your message. People should not try out a vegan recipe because they want to eat an animal-based dish with plant-based ingredients. Rather, vegan dishes open up a new world of taste and creative ways of using known ingredients. If I choose an almond drink instead of cow’s milk, it’s because I want that almond flavour, not because I need ‘vegan milk’.
  • If there are similarities, name them-and only them. This is another way of expectation management, but with a gentle way to connect to familiar foods if you so wish. If your ‘vegan cheesecake’ has a similar texture to the product you derived this name from, you might want to say that your ‘vegan cream cake’ is just as creamy as a real New York Cheesecake (and you will still get to put in your well-clicking keywords, too). That’s totally fine because it’s true. Just don’t claim it will taste like one, because it won’t. And that, too, is also fine and should be celebrated!

Recipe: 80/20 New York Cheesecake

  • Gluten-free if you use gluten-free cookies
  • Vegan if you use dairy-free alternatives
  • Egg-free if you simply leave out the eggs
  • Nut-free

Ingredients

  • 200 g / 7 oz of buttery cookies (substitutable with: gluten-free, full grain, cocoa or any other cookies)
  • 90 g / 3 oz of butter (substitutable with: vegan alternatives like margarine or any oil of your choice)
  • 600 g / 21 oz of cream cheese (substitutable with: ‘vegan cream cheese’, e.g. based on almonds, or canned coconut cream)
  • 200 g / 7 oz of sour cream (any kind around 20% fat, can also be substituted with any vegan alternative)
  • 150 g / 5 oz of (raw cane) sugar (or regular granulated sugar if you want your cream to be pure white)
  • 1 tbsp. of vanilla essence (or vanillin sugar; can be left out if you’re not into vanilla)
  • 2 eggs (can be left out, but gives the cream stability)
  • 2 tbsp. of cornstarch (substitutable with: full grain, gluten-free or regular flour)
  • 1 tsp. of lemon zest (can be left out, but really adds to the taste)
  • 1 tbsp. of lemon juice (can be left out, but really adds to the taste and also the texture of the cream)

Steps

  1. For the crust, you can use a few seconds of a mixer or simply your hands to mix the cookies in crumbs with the butter or oil and press the homogenous mass into a 26 cm or 10 inch springform pan, lined with parchment paper.
    Note: If you substituted the cookies, the taste will naturally be different. Some gluten-free variants are little or not sweetened and might need some added sweetener. Melted butter and oils are fluid and will make the crust too soft, you may try adding a smaller amount first. And last but not least, you can increase the amounts to make the crust thicker.
  2. For the cream, simply mix up all the other ingredients until creamy and slightly foamy. In 80/20 baking, the order of ingredients won’t make any substantial difference. If you do want to surpass those 80%, mix the cream cheese first until fluffy, then add sugar, one egg after another, the aromas and the cornstarch last; each ingredient very well mixed in before moving to the next. This is for extra creaminess.
    Note: If you left out the eggs, the cream will come out wobbly and unstable and needs extra time in the fridge; you might want to increase the amount of cornstarch for added stability, but not too much lest you lose the creaminess. Vanilla and lemon add to the taste and you can freely experiment with other aromas, such as some alcohol of your choice if that’s your thing. Lemon juice also helps with the creamy texture, so consider putting in a small amount even if you don’t care for its taste.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 360 F (180 C). Pour the cream into your springform pan and shake it a little bit to even out the surface. Bake the cake for 40 minutes and leave the oven closed for another 10–15 minutes afterwards. This is to prevent the cake from cracking.
    Note: This is the most important difference in 80/20. If you really want to prevent those cracks and make the cheesecake extra creamy, you will have to put the springform pan into a water bath (cover the bottom of the pan with aluminium foil if necessary to keep the water from getting in) or add a tray of water below the springform pan before the oven is heated. Humidity is the key. Pouring some water into the oven when heated is also a small help.
  4. With both eggs and cornstarch, you can have a slice when the cheesecake is fresh out of the oven. Most will prefer more stability, though, so let the cake cool down for about 15 minutes before putting it into the fridge for a few hours. If you protect it with cling film, put it directly on the surface to keep out humidity. The wobblier your cream is, the longer it should stay in the fridge-up to 18 hours.

Pimp your recipe

  • Add different aromas: I have mentioned this in the steps above. Your cheesecake can be an Irish cream cake, a chocolate cheesecake or any other variant you can think of. Taste and texture change so try out small amounts first. For vegans, extra vanilla and lemon zest both work well as enhancements, but also the right selection of your cream cheese substitute: an almond-based variant or perhaps coconut cream.
  • Sour cream topping: Use a generous amount of sour cream and mix in a few tablespoons of sugar. Vegans can use coconut cream here again. Have a small taste to check if it’s sweet enough for you, but also still sour enough to balance out the rest of the cake. Then pour onto the cooled cheesecake and put it in the fridge for another few hours.
  • Chocolate topping: Heat up chocolate and whipped cream in the microwave until melted (perfectionists use a water bath), then stir well and pour the fluid mass onto the cooled cheesecake. Amounts depend on how hard and how thick you want this layer to be. As a rule of thumb, use the same amount of dark chocolate as whipped cream, less if it’s milk chocolate and even less if it’s white chocolate. Alternatively, if you prefer a raw or vegan variant, you can mix cocoa, powdered sugar and a dash of water OR cocoa, maple syrup and a bit of coconut oil. Both won’t taste like true chocolate, but both are less unhealthy and also faster to make.
  • Fruit topping: Personally, I find that heating up a good amount of berries, mangos or another fruit of your choice and then pouring it as a puree onto the cheesecake more than sufficient and stable enough if cooled well. If you used sour fruits, you can also add some sugar, but I personally like how the sour taste evens out the heaviness of the cream. And finally, if you want the layer to be firmer, make sure the stove is off, then mix a bit of cornstarch with a dash of water and stir it into the puree, boiling it up for a second before cooling it down again. Oh, and: This is vegan. Obviously!

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Lana

Lana

Happily juggling my roles of working full-time in the media industry and resisting the urge to micromanage my two kids. Perfectionist, yet in love with 80/20.