Dairy-free chocolate cheesecake

Dairy-free chocolate cheesecake
Dairy-free chocolate cheesecake
Makes 4 portions

130g digestive biscuits
60g dairy-free spread

90g raw cashews, soaked for 48 hours in the fridge
20-25ml lemon juice
2 tblsp liquid coconut oil
150ml full fat coconut milk
100g dairy-free dark chocolate, melted
2 tblsp soft brown sugar

Crush the biscuits with the end of a rolling pin in a bowl, or place in a strong zip-lock bag and using the rolling pin to squash them. They should be fairly finely crumbed.  Meanwhile heat the spread in the microwave or a small pan, until just melted.  Stir together with the biscuits until well mixed, then press down into four small individual greased dishes.  Put in the fridge.

Drain the cashews thoroughly and rinse.  Place in a blender with all the other ingredients, and blend well for about two minutes, scraping down the sides with a spatula half-way through. If you prefer, melt the chocolate while blending the other ingredients, then add it and blend again.

Divide the topping between the dishes, and then put back in the fridge for three to four hours before serving.

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It's not, of course, real cheesecake. But in my quest to find a dairy-free equivalent, this is our favourite so far. I don't remember where I found the recipe on which I based it. Searching now, I've seen similar recipes on several sites. Inevitably I have tweaked it to suit our tastes, and what we can find readily available.

The original recipe used a healthier base using dates and nuts. I've done this, and it's delicious and makes it gluten-free as well as dairy-free. But it's more complicated and rather more expensive than good old-fashioned digestive biscuits (similar to American graham crackers, if anyone from the US happens to see this) and Flora or Pure dairy-free spread.

If you forget to grease the bowls, it probably won't matter as you eat this directly from the bowl. But it comes out more easily if you use a few drops of coconut oil to grease them.  I did try making this recipe in a spring-form cake tin, all in one rather than individual portions. But it didn't cut very well. Perhaps I hadn't refrigerated for long enough.

The first time I made this, I only soaked the cashews for 24 hours, and although the flavour was good, the texture was a tad gritty. Perhaps if I had a super-high-powered blender it would be fine with 24-hour soaking, or even just overnight, but with my ordinary 400 watt blender, I've found that two full days of soaking makes cashews perfect for blending into milk, cream or - in this case - pseudo-cheese.

The lemon juice is what gives it the hint of cream cheese flavouring. If you don't in fact like cheesecake you could miss that out, and perhaps add a little more coconut milk, and you would get quite a good dairy-free mousse. Don't miss out the coconut oil; that helps it to solidify, as coconut oil becomes quite hard at fridge temperatures.

The chocolate needs to be melted but not too runny. If, when you blend it, the mixture becomes grainy rather than mixing thoroughly, you can scrape it all out of the blender, put it in the microwave for thirty seconds or so, and then blend again. I know, I've done it.  But I had used a frozen lemon cube, and some previously frozen coconut milk (from a can) and they hadn't fully thawed, so they chilled the chocolate too quickly.

If you don't want added sugar, you could leave it out, or substitute carob syrup. I originally tried golden syrup (the recipe I first found said agave syrup, but we don't use that) but it was a bit runny. I prefer the texture that comes with soft brown sugar.

It's very easy to halve all the ingredients and make this as a dessert for two; the only problem is that it's not quite enough for a regular blender, so when I did that, I had to scrape down the sides and encourage ingredients into the middle several times. 


Uncooked chocolate coconut cake

raw chocolate coconut 'cake' topped with halved strawberries
Chocolate coconut cake with raw ingredients
Serves 2

1/2 cup sunflower seeds (or mixed with other seeds)
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
2 tblsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 dried dates, with stones removed
1 apple

a few strawberries and a teaspoon extra coconut to decorate

Grind the seeds in a food processor or blender.  Add the coconut, cinnamon, cocoa and dates, and process briefly until mixed. Cut the apple into quarters and remove the core and stalk, but don't peel. Cut each piece in half, and add to the food processor or blender, and process until fairly homogenous.

You may need to scrape down the sides of the food processor, depending on its size.  With a large one, it may be easier to double all the quantities. However if there are still pieces of recognisable apple or date, it's not a problem.

When it's mixed well, place in a serving dish or tin, and press down firmly.  Sprinkle a little coconut on the top, and some halved strawberries, then put in the fridge for an hour or two.

This doesn't cut like a cake, but makes a fairly firm dessert.

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Many years ago, I read the book Raw Energy: Eat Your Way to Radiant Health by Leslie and Susannah Kenton. I was quite inspired by their insistence that we should eat 75% raw foods, and for a while we followed at least some of the ideas in it. One of their recipes, carob and apple cake, can be found if you scroll down this page about raw eating. I recall making it a few times, but we weren't all that keen on carob powder. Moreover, we found the raw system quite difficult to sustain. So gradually we eased away from it.

However, today I wanted to make something quick and reasonably healthy as a dessert. I paged through the book wondering if I could adapt one of the raw cake recipes for two of us, and spotted this one. I didn't want to make the whole thing - the recipe as given would serve six people - so I used just one apple, and very roughly scaled down the other ingredients.

I didn't have any sesame seeds, and didn't have very many sunflower seeds, so I mixed the sunflower seeds I had with some flaxseeds (linseeds) and that worked well. I used cocoa powder rather than carob; it doesn't have as many health properties, but we like the taste better.

portion of strawberry chocolate cake (raw)
I couldn't open my bottle of vanilla essence, so I left it out. I used cinnamon rather than allspice. And since we like dates and coconut, I used more of both than the accurate scaled down amounts.

While the amount was a bit too small for my food processor, and I had to scrape it down several times, it eventually turned into a fairly homogenous mixture, which I scooped out and pushed into a small dish.

It only had about an hour in the fridge, but set quite well and came out of the dish in tidy portions.  It was very good, and the quantity exactly right for two of us. It's neither low-calorie nor low-fat, but is grain-free, has no added sugar, and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.


Deep Dark Secret Cake (Dairy-Free)

Deep Dark Secret Cake with coconut cream topping
Deep Dark Secret Cake (with coconut cream topping)
makes up to 12 slices

3 cups chopped dates (about 36 medium)
100g (1/2 cup) sugar or honey
100g (about 1 cup) walnuts, chopped finely
4 eggs
50g (1/2 cup) wholewheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence

3-4 bananas
2 large oranges or 4-5 satsumas

435g can crushed pineapple
400g can full fat coconut milk, chilled

Combine the first eight ingredients in a bowl, and mix together thoroughly. Spread them into a greased and lined cake tin, approximately 20x30cm. Bake for about half an hour at 180C, until the top is firm to the touch. Cool, then turn onto a wire rack.

Break half the cake into small pieces and spread out on a platter or flan dish, at least 30cm in diameter. Chop the bananas and spread over. Peel the oranges or satsumas, and place segments over the bananas, squeezing a little of the juice over them to stop them browning.

Break up the rest of the cake, and pile it on top, hiding the fruit. Top the whole with the can of pineapple, including the juice. Whip the coconut cream (see below for detail) and pile on top.  Refrigerate until needed.

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I had never seen or heard of this dessert until a friend brought it to a house group, many years ago. I asked for the recipe, and put it in my folder, but didn't get around to making it until recently. As I read through the ingredients, I realised that it would probably work just fine to make an ordinary cake - maybe a chocolate one, or even a plain cake - rather than the more expensive one using dates rather than fat.

But I had plenty of dates, including some medjool ones, so decided to follow the recipe as given. The only change I made was to use 100g sugar rather than 200g which was given in the original recipe. The dates make it very sweet anyway. Perhaps sugar could be left out altogether.

I suspect that egg substitutes, maybe even aquafaba would work for vegans, but I was a little dubious about replacing four eggs, so, again, decided to follow the recipe. I used my food processor to chop the dates, about twelve at a time. I then used it to chop the walnuts finely.

half the deep dark secret cake, covered in bananas and satsuma segmentsThe mixture did not seem at all cake-like when I put it into the tin, but after half an hour's baking, it looked and felt like any cake.  It was a bit gooey when I broke it up and placed it in a suitable sized flan dish, but the original recipe mentioned that it probably would be.

I used three bananas, as they were quite big, and five satsumas left over from Christmas. Piling them on top was easy, and I made sure it started to form a mound, as shown in this photo. If you use oranges or mandarins, make sure you remove any pips. If they are not in season, or are expensive, you could substitute a can of mandarin oranges, drained.

deep dark secret cake, with the fresh fruit covered in the rest of the cake
Piling the second half of the cake, in broken pieces, was a little more tricky as it kept falling down the sides, but I made sure the pieces were fairly small, and pushed them around the fruit so that it was all covered in cake. This, apparently, is the 'deep dark secret' - that the centre of this sweet and tempting treat is full of fresh fruit.

It didn't look particularly appealing at this point, but I had already tasted a few of the cake crumbs and realised that the resultant concoction was going to be extremely tasty, and well worth the apparent complexity of the process. It wasn't, in fact, particularly difficult or time-consuming.

deep dark secret cake, after adding the pineapple, before the cream
My can of crushed pineapple wasn't the same size as the one in the original recipe (an American one, so it said 20 ounces, which is 566g). But I realised by this stage that it didn't much matter as it was just used as a topping.  So I emptied it over the cake, juice and all.

If you are trying to avoid fat, then you could serve the cake at this stage. But it won't look as good as it does with the final topping.

The recipe I was given used ordinary dairy cream, 500ml of it, which is quite a large amount when whipped. We don't use dairy products these days as my husband is intolerant of cow's milk. There are many ethical and health-based reasons to avoid dairy produce too.  However, if you use them, you could simply whip some cream to go on top. Soya cream would make a good alternative for those who can tolerate it, but soya products give me migraines, and there are some health concerns about soya too.

However, the cream substitute we use (on the rare occasions we use cream!) is that found in canned coconut milk. And yes, I know there are health reasons to avoid cans! The coconut milk must be full fat, with as few additives as possible. Then you need to put it in the fridge overnight, upside-down.  This part is important if there's a ring-pull can opener. If not, you can turn it upside down after you take it out of the fridge, and then open the bottom.

The reason for this is that when refrigerated, coconut milk separates into water and cream, with the cream at the top. It's important to open the can at the watery end, so the water can be poured away or into a jug; it's not used in this recipe.

What remains is fairly solid, and needs to be assisted out of the can into a bowl with a knife or spatula around the edges.  Add a drop or two of vanilla essence, and then whip, ideally with an electric mixer. You'll need to be careful at first or it will spatter around the bowl, but it should whip easily and after a couple of minutes reaches the consistency of whipped cream.

There was probably only about 200ml of cream, and it didn't reach the bottom edges of the mounded cake, but it was plenty to make a suitable topping. It needs to be in the fridge until it's served, and any leftovers also need to be refrigerated.

The original recipe says it serves 6-8 people and I was sharing it with a group of eight of us. But we cut it into twelve slices, and each one was a good size. The remaining four portions kept well in the fridge and we enjoyed them over the next couple of days. 


Carrot Cake (dairy-free topping)

luscious carrot cake with dairy-free (cashew) topping
Carrot cake with cashew topping
Makes 12-16 slices

100-150g (2 cups) grated (shredded) carrots
200g (1 cup) white sugar
200g (1 cup) soft brown sugar
120g (1 cup) white flour
120g (1 cup) wholewheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 tsp cinnamon
60ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
4 eggs (or substitute)
435g can crushed pineapple, drained (about 1 cup)
100g (1 cup) raisins
60g (1 cup) crushed walnuts (optional)

150g (1 1/2 cups) cashews, soaked overnight
60ml lemon juice
2 tblsp coconut oil, melted
2 tblsp sugar or honey
(water if needed)

Heat the oven to 180C, without using a fan if possible. Grease a deep 23cm (9 inch) springform or loose-bottomed round cake tin with butter or coconut oil. Line the base with greasefree paper if the pan is likely to stick.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, until well combined.  Place in the pan, and cook for about 45-50 minutes until risen and firm in the middle.

Cool in the pain for at least 20 minutes, then remove carefully to a wire rack.

To make the topping:
Drain and then rinse the cashews, which should be quite soft and larger than they were. Blend or food process with the other ingredients, stopping every thirty seconds or so to scrape down the sides.  If it seems very stiff, add a little water, but it needs to be quite firm.

Eventually it should become a homogenous mixture, rather like traditional cream cheese topping, which can be spread roughly over the cake when it's cooled down.  

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This was originally an American recipe, which is very easy to make with US measuring cups. So if you have a set, or indeed any cup or small jug with a 225 ml capacity, it's much quicker than weighing everything separately.  Exact quantities don't matter too much in this recipe, which is very rich and moist.

It can also be made in other sizes of cake tin; a larger round one or a big rectangular pan would lead to a flatter, dryer cake; you would have to adjust the cooking times accordingly, and perhaps make more topping.

This is a good cake even without the frosting; if you want a low-fat cake, omit the walnuts and eat it without a topping. You could use all wholewheat flour to make it healthier, although it would then also be denser.  Carrots, pineapple and raisins ensure that this is a surprisingly nutritious cake as well as being delicious.

However, carrot cake is traditionally topped with a cream cheese based frosting, whipped with a considerable amount of icing sugar.  Since we are mostly dairy-free, I was delighted to discover this cashew-based equivalent.  Raw cashews can be expensive, but if you can find them in bulk they are the basis of many dairy-free desserts, and make an excellent milk.  



Makes 16 bars

190g butter or spread
280g soft brown sugar
4 tblsp golden syrup
370g oats

Heat the oven to 180C (or 170 fan)

Melt the spread, brown sugar and syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring lightly, until the ingredients are mixed together.

Put the oats into a bowl, then pour in the contents of the pan, and mix together until well blended.

Line an ovenproof tray, 25cm x 20cm in size, with baking paper, then spoon the mixture in, pushing into the corners and smoothing the top so it's fairly even.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is just starting to turn darker golden (or longer if you prefer them more crunchy). Remove from the oven, then leave to cool in the pan for about ten minutes. Cut into squares or rectangles in the pan, then turn out when cold.

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Flapjacks are popular as a quick snack, and sometimes considered healthy, despite the high fat and sugar content. Perhaps it's because they contain oats rather than flour. They are very sweet indeed; as a child I could eat two or three, but now I find that one is sufficient.

flapjacks in the tin with baking paper, before cooking
This is a recipe I remember from my childhood. I don't know where my mother found it; perhaps on the side of an old-fashioned tin of Lyle's golden syrup. Her recipe was for a 10 x 6 inch pan, which she greased rather than lining. I've had flapjacks stick too many times to risk it.

Even with a good non-stick pan, it's well worth using some baking paper too. Make sure it's not the kind that needs greasing, or the flapjacks will probably stick to the paper and make a mess.

I have tried other recipes, from books or online, but although they're all good, none of them match up to this. Other recipes sometimes include spices, and are picky about what kind of oats are used. I just use the breakfast oats that we can buy cheaply. I should think any kind would work but have not tried with any other kind.

cooked flapjacks cut up
I cut mine using a plastic firm spatula, so as not to damage the non-stick pan, and it works well. It's important to cut them before the mixture hardens, as it becomes much more difficult once it's fully set. If the cuts are made while warm, it's easy to break them apart when cool.

I cut mine into 16 good-sized bars, but you could of course cut them into smaller bars, perhaps 24 or even more, although it's more difficult to keep them looking even with smaller pieces.

If you are in the United States or somewhere else that does not stock golden syrup, I don't recommend using the high fructose corn variety that's popular there, but not legal in Europe. Honey might work as an alternative, or maple syrup, or even molasses; but they will each give their own distinctive flavour, which is best (in my view, anyway) with traditional plain golden syrup.

I was a bit dubious about using spread rather than butter; we use the Flora dairy-free one, as we tend to avoid dairy products, and I was afraid the flapjacks might not be solid enough. However they turned out just as I remembered them, gooey and yet firm, and I could not taste the spread at all.