“But they’re really more like suggestions than hard and fast recipes….”
Once again some friends were telling me this week that I needed to write a cookbook….. And once again, as I thought about it, I realized that the problem with a cookbook is that it presumes you believe your recipes should be followed…. And I don’t!
I personally never follow recipes. Even the ones I put on this blog, I’m always re-creating to see if I can either make them better or differently. To me the goal of this blog is to give folks enough tips and techniques and knowledge that you can then be as creative as you want. My recipes are supposed to be jumping off points, not “hard and fast, you must follow this to the T” types of experiences. That’s why I write at length about the “how’s” of each recipe I give, and it’s also why there are so many posts on this site which give no recipes and only “techniques”.
To illustrate my point today, I thought I’d use no bake cheesecakes: Right now they’re all the rage because they’re versatile and summery without the use of an oven. I could certainly give you a recipe for a no bake cheesecake but the fact is that there are so many different ways to make them that I’d hate to limit you to just one recipe.
The crust: For a no bake cheesecake, you can use just about any type of crust you’d like: a crust made from graham crackers, cookies (any type there is from ginger to lemon to sandwich cookies to chocolate chip to oatmeal to you name it!), pretzels, crackers,coconut, goldfish, vanilla or chocolate wafers, nuts, etc…. What type of crust you’ll make will depend on what you’re making for the filling. If you want a traditional cheesecake, use graham crackers. If you’re making a cheesecake with chocolate in it, you might want to use chocolate wafers or a cookie with chocolate pieces. Maybe you’re making a lemon cheesecake which might go well with lemon or vanilla cookies. You can experiment and see what tastes you prefer. If you have allegies, you can use allergy friendly versions of all the above which you can now find in any supermarket.
What’s key is that you should process whatever you’re using into fine crumbs and mix them with a binder such as melted butter or vegan substitute or coconut oil or a nut oil or plant oils such as olive or safflower. Rule of thumb: about 1 1/2 cups of finely processed crumbs will cover the bottom and sides of a traditional pie pan. How much binder you use depends on your tastes and health: I tend to use a low amount, about 2 tablespoons, just enough to moisten the crumbs so they’ll adhere to one another. Many recipes will call for 4 to 6 tablespoons. You can also begin with two and add more if you think it’s needed. What you use can depend on your tastes and health and allergies. If you’re allergic to dairy or have health issues, you may opt to use a plant oil instead of butter. Or maybe you want just the taste of the cookies you’re using to come through, so you might use a more neutral canola oil. Or maybe your cheesecake will do well to have the complementary flavor of a nut oil.
Whatever you choose for the crumbs and the binder, for a no bake cheesecake, the crust should be made first. You then can either pop the crust into the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes or put it into the fridge for an hour or two. Either way, you want the binder to get cold enough to keep the crumbs together so it won’t crumble when you cut into your cheesecake. So, make sure the crust is solid before making and adding your cheesecake filling.
If you’re looking to make things even easier, you can use store bought crusts. Now they even make gluten, dairy, nut free versions which you can purchase at the regular grocery stores.
The cream cheese: For folks with no allergies, regular cream cheese is what most cheesecake recipes call for. if you’re trying to watch the fat, using a light or fat free version of the cream cheese is acceptable. If you have dairy allergies, you can use the Tofutti vegan cream cheese. If you’re allergic to soy, you can puree tofu or soaked cashews to replace the equivalent 16 oz of cream cheese. What’s important is that if you’re using cream cheese, any version, you should bring it to room temperature so it will blend more smoothly without chunks. If you’re using the tofu or soaked cashews, make sure to puree them completely so they’re as smooth as they can be. For a traditional pie pan, two packages of cream cheese or two cups of a replacement is enough to fill the pie pan once you’ve added the rest of the ingredients.
The sweetener: Most no bake cheesecake recipes call for the use of either sugar or powdered sugar in quantities ranging from 1/2 to 1 1/2 cup. You can use either, varying the amount to your particular tastes. If you’re like me and don’t use sugar, you can substitute coconut sugar or stevia or agave which usually require half to less the amount you’d use of sugar. I’d suggest beginning with 1/4 cup and tasting to see if you need to add more. What’s important to know is that no matter what you use for the sweetener, you should add it immediately after you’ve creamed your cream cheese smooth, and you should combine the sweetener well so the cream cheese is not grainy. If you using Agave, keep your mixer going on low while you slowly pour the agave in a little at a time.
The flavor: A no bake cheesecake can be whatever you want it to be: chocolate, lemon, mint, berry, peanut butter, etc…. What’s important to keep in mind is that whether the flavoring is an extract or peel, or chunky like chopped chocolate pieces or mint cookies or pureed strawberries, or if you opt to use jello or pudding mix for the flavoring (see below), add it AFTER you’ve made your cream cheese or substitute smooth and after you’ve added the sweetener. The first thing you always do with a no bake cheesecake is to make the cream cheese smooth. Then you want to add the sweetener, and then you can add the other ingredients, with the binder being the final ingredient.
The no bake filling binder: When making a no bake cheesecake, you don’t use eggs which is what usually helps to solidify the cheesecake as it bakes. What you can use in the place of eggs varies, though. Some recipes use heavy cream. Others use a combination of sour cream and whipping cream. Some use condensed sweetened milk. Others use whipped topping. Still more use pudding mixes or jello/gelatin or even marshmallow creme. This is why I’d rather not give you a recipe, because you may want to use one or the other depending on tastes, allergies/health, and/or what you have in the house.
What I can give you, though, are tips and information to help you: So, for example, if you are going to use heavy cream or sour cream or whipping cream or whipped topping or marshmallow creme, the ratio is usually two 8 oz containers of cream cheese to 3/4 to 1 1/2 cups of whichever you use. What’s important is that they should be added at the end after you’ve mixed the rest of your cheesecake ingredients, just before you put the cheesecake into the fridge. The quantity will depend on the type of consistency and taste you want for your cheesecake: the more you put in, the airier, lighter and less cheesecake-tasting the cheesecake will be. The less you put in, the more dense cheesecake-like and tasting it will be.
If you choose to use gelatin or pudding mix, the ratio is usually two 8 oz packages of cream cheese to one package of jello or pudding (3 oz size) or one envelope of unflavored gelatin. What’s important is that if you’re using jello or pudding mix, you have two options for how to use them. One is to simply mix it in really, really well with the cream cheese so it’s smooth. Another is to make up the jello or pudding and let is slightly set before mixing it in with the cream cheese mixture. If you’re using an unflavored envelope of gelatin, the gelatin needs to be dissolved according to directions (usually a couple of minutes over a tablespoon of cold water and then stirred with a tablespoon of hot water until dissolved) and added to the cream cheese mixture at the end.
For people with allergies, So Delicious makes a whipped topping out of coconut which you can substitute for whipped topping. To substitute for heavy cream you can puree an equal amount of silken tofu; or mix 2/3 cup soy milk with 1/3 cup melted vegan butter for one cup of heavy cream; or use coconut cream in a one to one ratio; or make a cashew cream (soak cashews for a day and puree really, really well) where about one and 1/4 cups of soaked cashews purees into one cup of cream.
The topping: A no bake cheesecake can be simple with just the above ingredient choices mixed together and poured into a crust, but you can also jazz up the cheesecake with toppings. You can pipe whipped topping in designs. You can melt chocolate and drizzle it over the cheesecake. You can chop up cookies or chocolate and carefully place the pieces on top. You can chop berries and put them on top. You can spread jam on top. You can cook a fruit compote and pour it over the cheesecake. The ideas are endless. Let your creative side have fun.
For folks who do like a recipe, below is one a version I made recently. It does have coconut and soy, though if anyone has allergies to either, you can substitute with anything I’ve written about above!
Lemon Blueberry No Bake Cheesecake
1 1/2 cup gluten, dairy, nut free graham cracker crumbs (I pureed Midel graham crackers)
2 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
two 8 oz containers Tofutti vegan cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup coconut sugar (I like things tart; you may want to sweeten it more)
one tablespoon lemon juice (Meyer lemons are sweeter)
one tablespoon lemon peel (optional, grating fresh lemons are better; store bought dried peel can be bitter)
one teaspoon gluten free vanilla
one cup So Delicious dairy free Coco Whip
one cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup water
one tablespoon Agave
one tablespoon cornstarch
one tablespoon water
- Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and mix until the crumbs are completely moistened. If you need to add a bit more melted butter, do so. Carefully press the crumbs in a glass pie pan to cover the bottoms and sides. Place into the freezer for half an hour.
- In a mixer, blend the cream cheese until smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottoms.
- Add the coconut sugar and blend for a couple of minutes until completely smooth and not grainy.
- Add the lemon juice, lemon peel, and vanilla. Mix well.
- Add the Coco Whip, and mix just until blended. Pour into the prepared crust.
- In a small saucepan on the stove top, mix the blueberries with the water and agave and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Once boiling, mix the cornstarch with the water and blend until smooth. While stirring the blueberries, add the cornstarch mixture and keep stirring until the blueberries thicken. Remove from the heat.
- Carefully places spoonfuls of the blueberry mixture on the top of the cheesecake. Use a knife to run through the berries to create a pretty pattern and to mix the berries a bit into the top layer of the cheesecake.
- Refrigerate for at least four hours.