Baked Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake
I gave you a taste of baked vegan cheesecake last month with my Baked Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, but this month I'm going in for a traditional round-shaped cheesecake and one that is perfect for the December holidays. This is one of my favorite desserts in recent memory, and I am so excited to share the recipe with you.
I served it at Thanksgiving this year (yes, I skipped the pumpkin and took a non-traditional route in the Thanksgiving dessert department), and it was such a hit. My bf’s father couldn't believe it was vegan, even though he knows I've been vegan for several years. And his friend's jaw literally dropped as he devoured his slice and insisted that I start selling my cheesecakes to Whole Foods.
Does it sound like I'm bragging? Maybe. But only because I want to emphasize how much your family and friends will love this cake, including the omnivores! The holidays can be a stressful time of year for us vegans, as most people want to indulge in traditional dairy-laden side dishes and main courses that feature animal carcasses. To avoid such stress, I try to be the chef in charge, or at least one of a few chefs in charge. That ensures that there are at least a few dishes I can happily enjoy, but also that the omnivores in my life will be happily surprised with delicious plant-based alternatives to holiday favorites.
I promise you that this Baked Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake is one of those crowd-pleasing recipes that everyone in your life--from the strict vegans to the carnivores--will love. It's rich and dense and creamy, just like traditional New York style cheesecake. But the richness of this chocolate cheesecake is well-balanced by the tartness of the cranberry-raspberry topping. And like any good cheesecake, this cake has the perfect sweet-tangy contrast. Oh, and did I mention it’s gluten-free? Yep, it is!
The crust is inspired by my favorite condiment from my pre-vegan days, Nutella. Luckily, it is easy to make a healthier, dairy-free version of Nutella, and this crust reminds me of that. It features toasted hazelnuts that get blended with cocoa powder, maple syrup and a pinch of salt for a delectable and rich crust.
As with my baked vegan pumpkin cheesecake bars, this cheesecake filling has three main components: raw soaked cashews, coconut cream, and store-bought vegan cream cheese. I've done a lot of cheesecake recipe testing over the past year, and this triple threat combination works the best for achieving the rich creaminess, dense texture, and tangy taste of traditional cheesecake. For vegan cream cheese, my recommend brand of cream cheese is Tofutti. I recognize that I haven't had dairy cream cheese in a few years, but I honestly cannot tell the difference between (I actually like Tofutti more than I used to like regular cream cheese).
For an ultra decadent cheesecake filling, I use melted dark chocolate instead of cocoa powder. I prefer using a 70% dark chocolate, but if you like things a little sweeter, feel free to use a 60% dark chocolate (just make sure there’s no added milk). To enhance the chocolate flavor, I add a bit of espresso powder because coffee has this magical way of bringing out the chocolate flavor in baked goods without making them taste like coffee.
And now for the cranberry-raspberry compote, which is what brings this cheesecake together. Believe it or not, but I got the idea from a four-year old. Earlier this year, I made a gooey fudge cake for friends and garnished it with fresh raspberries. My friends loved it, and fed it to their four-year old son. The boy child also loved the cake, but he made it a point to ask for more raspberries because the chocolate cake was so rich. This mini chef-in-training was onto something, and from now on, whenever I make a rich chocolate dessert, I make sure to pair it with something acidic or tart. In this case, a cranberry-raspberry compote because it's the holidays! The compote recipe is really quite simple, and if you have leftovers, I recommend serving it over waffles/pancakes/French toast or on top of some vegan vanilla ice cream.
Finally, a few technical tips for baking this vegan cheesecake. First, you will need to do some advance planning: (1) refrigerate the can of coconut milk for at least 24 hours to solidify the coconut cream and (2) soak the cashews for 8 hours or overnight.
Second, this recipe calls for a 7-inch springform pan. If you don’t have a 7-inch springform pan, you can easily buy one on Amazon :) But you can also use the handy cake pan conversion formula listed at the very end of this blog post to increase the amount of ingredients to fit an 8-inch or a 9-inch springform pan. Another option is to stick with the listed amount of ingredients and use a larger or smaller springform cake pan. If you are using a larger cake pan (i.e., 8 inches tall), the cake will be shorter and therefore will need to be baked for less time; if you are using a smaller cake pan (i.e., 6 inches tall), the cake will be taller and therefore will need to be baked for more time. However, I haven’t tried this method so I can’t prescribe a certain bake time, but my guess is that you would bake the cake for approximately 5-10 fewer minutes.
Third, I wrap the bottom of the cake pan in aluminum foil and bake it in a water bath, which is the recommended method for baking traditional cheesecakes to ensure even cooking and prevent cracks. Usually, eggs are the culprit behind a cracked cheesecake, and since this is an egg-free cheesecake, the water bath might feel a bit unnecessary. However, as a food photographer, I didn't want to risk having a cheesecake with any cracks. So, if you are focused on presentation, I recommend taking the extra step of making a water bath (and wrapping the cake pan in aluminum foil to prevent any leaking). As you can see in the photo directly below, the surface of my cheesecake came out perfectly smooth without any cracks!
Speaking of that cranberry sauce, are you curious about it? Well, I made a double batch of the cranberry-raspberry compote and then I blended half of it until it was puréed and then strained the juice using a fine mesh sieve. Why did I do go through all that extra effort? Simply for the sake of taking a photo that showed off the sauce’s beautiful red color. For eating purposes, it is totally unnecessary, as I prefer the whole, chunky version of the compote, both
taste- and texture-wise.
If you make this Baked Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake this holiday season, be sure to leave me a comment below!
What you need to make this recipe
Baked Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake
1/2 cup (~70g) hazelnuts, lightly toasted
2/3 cup (~75g) almond flour or almond meal
A pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup (~20g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons (~22.5 mL) pure maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons (~22.5 mL) melted refined coconut oil
1 1/4 cups (~150g) raw cashews, soaked in water for 8 hours or overnight
1/2 cup (~120 mL) solidified coconut cream*
8 ounces (227g) vegan cream cheese, softened** (Tofutti brand recommended)
1/2 cup (~120 mL) pure maple syrup
7 ounces (200g) of 60-70% dark chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons (~15g) arrowroot powder or cornstarch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground espresso powder or instant coffee powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
*To solidify the coconut cream, refrigerate a 13.5 ounce can of full-fat coconut milk. for 24 hours or more. Most cans will yield 1/2-3/4 cup of solid coconut cream. You can also buy canned coconut cream separately.
3/4 cup (~95g) cranberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted
3/4 cup (~85g) raspberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted
1/3 cup (~64g) organic cane sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C).
Line a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Lightly grease the sides with refined coconut oil or another neutral oil.
Make the Crust: To toast the hazelnuts, place them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Toast in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the skins are lightly blistered and browned. Wrap the warm hazelnuts in a clean, thin dish towel and cover for 1 minute to steam. Then rub the wrapped nuts vigorously to loosen the skins (not all of the skins will come off). Place the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Add the almond flour, sea salt and cocoa powder and blend until the mixture is mostly pulverized. With the motor running, pour in the maple syrup and melted coconut oil, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Once you have a slightly sticky texture that you can press together, press it evenly and firmly along the bottom of the prepared pan.
Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 15 minutes in order to firm it up. Set aside.
While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Wipe out the food processor bowl and add the soaked cashews and solid coconut cream. Blend until the mixture resembles ricotta cheese. Add the remaining Cheesecake Filling ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides as needed. It will take a few minutes for the cashews to get fully pulverized. Pour the cheesecake filling over the baked crust.
Wrap the bottom of the springform pan in two layers of aluminum foil. Place the wrapped pan in a roasting pan or shallow baking pan large enough to hold the springform pan. Then pour hot water around the bottom of the pan, taking care to not get any water in the cheesecake batter. This is a water bath and it will prevent the cheesecake from cracking in the middle.
Bake the cheesecake in the water bath in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until it looks a bit dry on the edges and jiggly but not wiggly in the middle. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven for 30-60 minutes or until it’s come down to room temperature. Allow to cool slightly and then refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving. When ready to serve, top with the Cranberry-Raspberry Compote.
Prepare the Cranberry-Raspberry Compote (it can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator). Place the raspberries, cranberries, sugar, and orange juice in a saucepan, and cook on medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes, gently smashing down the berries as the mixture cooks. Allow the mixture to simmer for an additional 10 minutes until thick and jammy.
HOW TO CONVERT CAKE PAN VOLUMES
V= H x Π x r2
V = volume of the pan, in cubic inches
H = the height of the pan (measure on the inside of the pan from the bottom to the height you would fill it)
Π = the constant 3.14
r2 = half of the diameter of the cake pan
For a pan that is 9 inches in diameter and 2 inches tall, the volume will be:
Volume = 2 x 3.14 x 4.5 x 4.5
Volume = 127.17 cubic inches (rounded to 127)
So if you want to use a 9x2” springform pan instead of the 7x2” pan, you would calculate the Volume of both pans. For the 9x2” pan, it’s 127 cubic inches; for the 7x2” pan, it’s 77 cubic inches (2 x 3.14 x 3.5 x 3.5 = 76.93).
Then, divide the volume of the cake pan you are using (127 cubic inches) by the volume of the cake pan called for in the recipe (77 cubic inches). The result is 1.65. Round that to the nearest common fraction, and you get 1.666667, or 1 2/3. That means, if you are using a 9x2” springform pan, you would multiply all of the ingredients by a factor of 1 2/3 or 1.666667.