(The best raw vegan pumpkin cheesecake ever - you probably won't fool your relatives, but you might just convert them!)
It took me awhile to decide what to share with you this Thanksgiving, because really, there's only so much a girl can do around the holidays. The Boyfriend's famously (shamelessly) good pumpkin pie was my first clear option:
(The Boyfriend's insanely good pumpkin pie)
But after looking at recipe after recipe of pumpkin pies I noticed two things: A. there are a lot of pumpkin pie recipes, and B. the single biggest difference I can see between a good pumpkin pie and a not-so-good pumpkin pie can be summed up in one sentence: Use fresh pumpkin puree! For two easy methods of making your own, check out my post on Pumpkin Puree. So, there - my biggest secret to pumpkin pie, revealed.
If I wasn't going to talk about the classic pie, though, what would I talk about? The hard part was narrowing it down, so I focused on a few criteria:
1. It had to be unique - something you maybe haven't seen before
2. It had to be something that would work for those with restricted diets - Thanksgiving is pretty much the least diet-friendly holiday. If you're vegetarian, tofurky it, but if you're vegan, or raw, it seems you're fresh out of luck.
3. Most importantly, it had to be out of this world delicious!
This recipe fits that bill perfectly.
While I don't personally subscribe to being entirely raw, vegan, or gluten free, I have been in the past. I've made lemon and blueberry raw vegan cheesecakes, and macerated strawberry raw vegan flan, and have tried multiple techniques for crust and filling - I was only raw/vegan for one month, but I managed to pack a lot of dessert under my belt in that time! I was able to draw from that experience here, and I must say I think this is the best dessert of its kind I've ever put together. In fact, I've even eaten at raw/vegan restaurants and have got to say this outshines even some of their best work.
A note before we begin: to those who are concerned, pumpkin is safe to consume raw as long as it has been seeded and peeled. The peel and seeds can, in some cases, cause stomach upset, but the flesh of the gourd is entirely edible.
Raw Vegan (gluten free) Pumpkin 'Cheese'Cake with Pecan Topping
For the crust:
2 Cups raw nuts of your choice (I used 50/50 pecans and almonds, but hazelnuts or any other kind would be fine, too)
3/4 Cup pitted dates, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes to soften and thoroughly drained
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
For the filling:
2 Cups raw, unsalted cashews, soaked 8 hours or overnight, drained, and rinsed
1.5 Cups pie or sugar pumpkin, peeled and cut into one inch cubes
1/2 + 1/4 Cup coconut oil, liquid form, amounts separated (do not substitute other kinds of oil - coconut oil is key to the texture because it solidifies at room temperature)
1/2 Cup pitted dates, soaked and drained
1/2 Cup raw agave
1/4 Cup raw Turbinado sugar
2 tsp. Vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. Vanilla powder, vanilla paste, or the scrapings of one vanilla bean (optional)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
1/4 tsp. Ginger
1/8th tsp. Cloves
For the pecan 'praline'esque topping:
1 Cup pecan halves or pieces
3 TBSP raw agave
3 TBSP raw Turbinado sugar
Tiny pinch of salt
1/8th tsp. vanilla extract, powder, paste, or the scrapings of half a vanilla bean (optional)
Pinch of Cinnamon (optional)
9 or 10 inch pie pan
Food processor, or high-quality blender (when asking raw vegan restaurant owners how they achieve such a smooth consistency on their nut pastes and Thai coconut ice creams, I was told that it was all owed to their VitaMix blenders - if you don't have a good liquefying blender, stick with the food processor and you'll do just fine).
How it goes:
In your food processor, pulse nuts a few times until they're all in pieces, but not finely ground. Add the salt, dates, and cinnamon, and blend until the dates have become a paste and it all begins to mass together - don't blend too far, or you'll turn the nuts into nut butter.
Scoop the nut mixture into your pie pan and press into a thin even layer along the bottom and sides. I find lightly wetting my fingers helps, or using a rubber spatula.
Set the crust in the fridge until ready to use.
In the bowl of your food processor or blender, combine cashews, 1/2 cup coconut oil, agave, and all of the vanilla. Blend on high speed for several minutes or until completely smooth.
Pour cashew mixture into a bowl and set aside.
Now add to the food processor the cubed pumpkin, raw Turbinado, dates, spices, and the last 1/4 cup coconut oil. Blend for several minutes or until completely smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
The pecan topping:
In a small bowl, combine pecans, agave, sugar, salt, and any vanilla and/or cinnamon. Set aside.
Mix pumpkin mixture into cashew mixture, folding it lightly to leave swirls or mixing completely, and pour into pie crust. OR - pour cashew mixture into crust, then pumpkin mixture on top. Leave in separate layers, or swirl together with a butter knife or the edges of a spatula.
Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight (the texture is best the next day). Can be topped with nuts after 1-2 hours of chilling, or right before serving.
Will keep in the fridge for up to 4-5 days, but it won't last that long.
Note: The amount of pumpkin called for in this recipe is very conveniently about half of a small pie pumpkin. My suggestion for the other half? Make a second cheesecake!
Being on a raw vegan diet often has the added bonus of people making very uncertain faces about your food, and that usual means you don't have to share. I hate to say it, but once those naysayers try this they'll be hooked, so either make a second one and hide it away somewhere, or prepare to fight over the last slice.
Even The Boyfriend, after multiple suggestions that I make a real cheesecake, had to admit that this was a winner.
(Want a bite?)
Today, I feast on cheesecake. Tomorrow, I leave for Chicago - for family, food, and festivities. The Boyfriend and I are on dessert duty, and that means pies pies pies!
But what about you? What are your plans this Thanksgiving? Cooking up a storm, or just kicking back to watch the game and enjoying the labors of others? Or, will you be making a to-die-for dessert? *hint hint*
Let me know in the comments, and have a great Thanksgiving!