Monday 9 December 2019

Hibiscus Poached Apple Cheesecake | Gluten-Free, No-Bake, No Refined Sugar

Gosh, it's been a hot minute since I've made a vegan cheesecake. When I worked as a chef at a raw/vegan restaurant back in 2016, we made these virtually every other day. The flavours tended to be the same - strawberry or zesty lemon or mixed berries. We went through more bags of cashews and dates and coconut than you could possibly imagine.

A small part of me is a little fearful of no-bake vegan cheesecakes, mainly because there's always a small chance that it won't set properly or the filling will be too grainy. With the experience I have of making them though, I've picked up a few key tips that I'll be sharing throughout this post so that you can avoid any major pitfalls and kitchen fails.

This particular cheesecake was made for a workshop run by my friend Joy of Joy At Large. Having frozen the cheesecake the day before (in order for it to set completely), I'd left it out that morning so that it could thaw by the time we were ready to serve it. When I did cut into it, it was way softer than I would have liked. Still delicious and creamy but a tad too soft. And then it all came flooding back to me that you really aren't supposed to pull it out of the freezer until about 20-30 minutes before you need to serve it. Ergo, tip number one: always store the cheesecake in the freezer until you're ready to eat it!

In terms of the flavour, well, I've been having a whale of a time scoffing stewed and spiced apples for breakfast lately, so I decided to keep that running theme going. If you don't want to use apples, other fruit like pear, pineapple and even mango could work just as well. I chose to poach the apples in hibiscus because I knew the colour would be striking and also because hibiscus (also known as zobo) is used a lot in Nigeria. Zobo refers to a sweetened hibiscus beverage (I really must share a recipe for it one of these days). Paired with the fresh mint leaves, the remand green of this dessert screams festive Christmas.

The beauty of this cheesecake is that my Nigerian readers can make it. No unusual or niche ingredients that you can only buy from some obscure shop in the heart of London. The only ingredient that might seem like an obstacle is the maple syrup (used in place of refined sugar to add natural sweetness). If you're worried about where to find maple syrup, I found a Nigerian online store that stocks it. They even have date syrup which can be used as a substitute. If you're Lagos-based then shops like Fig Health Store in Lekki is also a great place to look.

The creamy filling of the cheesecake is a combination of soaked cashews and dairy-free yoghurt (or coconut cream). The cashews need to be soaked at least overnight because this helps with the creaminess and prevents that grainy, bitty texture I was alluding to earlier. You'll need a high-powered blender to achieve a smooth finish, but otherwise just make sure to blend for a long enough time until there are no large chunks and bits.

The crust is made with raisins, desiccated coconut and walnuts. Again, you can afford to make substitutions depending on the ingredients that are more readily available to you. instead of raisins, you can use dates or sultanas. Instead of walnuts, you can use peanuts or cashews. You can even make your own desiccated coconut by grated and drying fresh coconut. You get the picture. A food processor works best to break down the ingredients - a food blender will make it too mushy and smooth.

I used a 9 inch springform tin like this one, but you can also use a round, shallow cake tin if that's what you have at home.

If you do try this recipe, please let me know. Tag your photos @vegannigerian or #vegannigerian on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to get a repost! :)

If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Vegan Banoffee Pie
- Mango Cream Dessert
- Bounty Chocolate Bars

Hibiscus Poached Apple Cheesecake

(Serves 8-10)
For the crust:
- 200g desiccated coconut
- 200g raisins or dates
- 100g walnuts (or other type of nut)

For the filling:
- 300g unsalted cashew nuts (soaked in water overnight then drained)
- 250ml dairy-free yoghurt or thick coconut cream
- 100ml maple syrup (or other fruit syrup)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg

For the poached apples
- 3 tbsp dried hibiscus flower
- 250ml water
- 2 large apples (peeled and cut into thick segments)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 4 tbsp maple syrup (or other fruit syrup)

- Fresh mint leaves

Make the crust by blending all the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture comes together like a sticky dough.

Press the crust into a lined springform tin. Use clean fingers to distribute the crust evenly, allowing it to come up around the sides.

Make the filling by placing all the ingredients in a blender and mixing until very smooth. Tip: add the yoghurt/cream and maple syrup first as this will help the cashews blend better.

Add the filling to the prepared crust and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. Place in the freezer overnight to firm up completely.

To make the poached apples, add the dried hibiscus flower and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. The water should turn a deep, dark red colour. Strain to remove the hibiscus flowers and return the liquid to the pan. Add the apple segments, along with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and boil on high heat for about 3 minutes until the apples take on the red colour. Remove the apples from the liquid and set aside.

Add the maple syrup to the hibiscus liquid and allow to boil on high heat until it reduces and forms a thick syrup. (I forgot to time this part, but just keep an eye on it and stir periodically to check how thick the syrup is getting). Remove from the heat and add the apple segments back in, stirring gently to coat all the pieces.

Bring the cheesecake out 20-30 minutes before serving. Gently pop it out of the springform tin and top with the hibiscus poached apples. Drizzle on the hibiscus syrup for extra colour and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

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