When I think Valentine’s Day, I think chocolate, so this February we’re talking chocolate cheesecake, and not just any chocolate cheesecake, but raw chocolate cheesecake (or at least raw-ish), inspired by a dessert I’ve loved at Nashville’s Avo, made with cashew cream and topped with a chocolate drizzle. It’s rich, it’s decadent, it’s kind of a sacrificial splurge for the food budget, but, when it comes to treating someone else, I figure, those are all the perfect things for it to be.
Rocco has this stuffed fox that’s been with him since before he could know it was there—sitting near him in the carseat or the crib, coming along with us on long trips or to friends’ houses, nowadays flopping around in his active hands while he plays in the mornings after waking up. I won it on an Instagram giveaway last spring, back when the idea of an actual child emerging from my increasingly large belly seemed unreal (in some ways, still does) and picturing someone I could hold in my hands holding it made my head spin. It’s a small toy, about as skinny as my forearm and not quite as long, with a knitted body that looks like something you’d find at a high-end maker’s market, the kind they’re always having here in Nashville, filled with custom prints and minimalist jewelry and artisan candles somebody makes in her basement or garage. The fact that it’s sown from organic cotton is a nice bonus, especially since, on a regular basis, I watch my now-seven-month-old child eagerly bring it, again and again, to his mouth. It’s washable, it’s adorable, it’s one of Rocco’s favorite things. I’ve been known to say he loves it. I’ve been known to say I love it—but then, I say I love a lot of things: chocolate, clear counters, sleep, Tim.
Love is a popular word. A Valentine’s word. We use it to talk about a dinner we like, a store we patronize, the person we’re dating, our infant child’s toy. In February, if we are willing to acknowledge the one big holiday sandwiched between Christmastime and spring, we use it alongside red cards and dinner dates and roses for sale at a special price. The love we associate with February 14 is just one kind of love, eros, as the Greeks called it, a love of passion and romance and desire, but it gets top billing this time of year, enough to make us all stop and think about it, wonder about it, want it.
I’ve already admitted here I like Valentine’s Day, which in the past was a source of comedy to me as a single person watching panicked fellows shop for cards the night before and, in the present, is a reminder the calendar gives me to honor Tim, the one I’ve covenanted to love for the rest of our lives. I enjoy romance and affection. I like holding hands. Spending time with Tim is one of my favorite life activities, holiday or not. But it would be small-minded for me to think mushy, gushy, romantic love is the only, or even the highest, form of love. Love contains romance, but romance does not contain love.
Sometimes when Tim’s told me he loves me, I’ve responded, “But what does that mean?” because in a world where we love weekends, fresh doughnuts and warm laundry fresh out of the machine, it can be hard to define what exactly is the scope of this four-letter term. One of my college professors regularly repeated his definition: “love is purposing the good of the beloved at any cost, without any expectation of reward,” enough so that it still rings in my head fifteen years after I took his course. I’ll admit that most of my Valentine’s Days, most of my regular days, it’s been easy to think less about who I’m loving and more about who’s loving me, to think less about the good of the beloved and more about the reward I want. But the beauty of love, the highest love, the love the Greeks called agape and the Bible calls the reason Jesus came to earth, is that it reaches outside itself, past itself, from itself to care for someone else—not to earn approval or acceptance but for that someone else’s good.
Indeed, the beauty of love is something we can see around us on Valentine’s Day and any day, when someone lets a stranger cut in line at the grocery store, when a parent gets up with a sick toddler without complaint, when a kid gives another kid the last cookie, when a person spends $8 on a bag of cashews in order to make someone else (a roommate! a friend! a coworker! a date!) a raw chocolate cheesecake. It’s there when someone resists the urge to boast, takes the chance to serve when no one sees, says no (or yes) even when it’s a hard, unpopular choice.
That’s a kind of love I don’t naturally excel at and need God to grow me in, whether through small ways of an encouraging word or big ways of forgiving an enemy. But the fact that love is possible at all, that we can see it and find it and give it, is at the very heart of this month’s hokey, funny Hallmark holiday, which is maybe part of why I’ve always liked the day. So let’s all celebrate love this season! And why not start with a cake.
Cashew Cream Raw Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate Drizzle
Adapted from the triple chocolate raw cheesecakes at Purely Twins
Makes one 9” round dessert, about 8-12 portions
Overall, what you need to know about making raw chocolate cheesecake is this: it’s a simple matter of (1) soaking cashews, (2) greasing a pan, (3) blending ingredients and pressing them into a crust (4) blending ingredients and pouring them into a filling (5) chilling the whole thing and (6) then, optionally, topping everything with a chocolate drizzle (that you’ve whipped up in a minimally heated pan). It’s genuinely easy, made up of the same tasks it takes to make a smoothie or stand around twiddling your thumbs. Because you have to soak cashews and chill the cake, it does take some planning ahead; you can’t just decide you want cheesecake in an hour and boom; but, you guys, that is the only hard part. (!!) In the end you get a crazy sweet, smooth, decadent dessert that I would happily pay $6 a slice for at a raw restaurant.
More specifically, should you be the curious type, the other things you may like to know about making raw cheesecake are below, beneath the recipe directions. Have fun!
9” springform pan(alternate option: line a cake pan or pie plate with plastic wrap)
Food processor (most resources say this is best for the crust)
and/or Vitamix (most resources say this is best for the filling)
(In a pinch, you can use any high-powered blender for either mixing job)
One cup (raw, i.e., unroasted) pecans
3 medjool dates, pits removed
1/2 cup cocoa powder (or cacao powder if you can find it)
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups (raw, i.e., unroasted) cashew pieces (or whole cashews, soaked for a minimum of 4 hours)
3/4 cup + 2 TBS Grade B organic maple syrup
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup cocoa powder (or cacao powder)
1/2 cup coconut oil
In a large glass bowl, dissolve a little sea salt in six cups lukewarm, filtered water. Add cashews and cover the bowl with a tea towel. Let sit for at least two and up to 12 hours. Generally speaking, the longer they soak, the easier they’ll break up and the smoother your cheesecake with be, but keep in mind that pieces break up faster than whole cashews (i.e., time saver) and, also, even if you didn’t soak the nuts at all, you’d still get a pretty good result, so no stress.
When the cashews have finished soaking and you’re ready to make the cheesecake, get out your springform pan and generously grease the bottom and sides with coconut oil.
In a food processor, combine pecans, dates, cocoa powder, sea salt and vanilla. Blend until the mixture starts to come together like a loose Larabar. Scoop it out and press it together with your hands into the bottom of the springform pan. It will be a thin layer. Stick the pan in the fridge while you blend the filling.
Strain and rinse the cashews and place them in a Vitamix or similar high-speed blender or food processor. Add maple syrup, water and vanilla extract. Blend on high speed, using the Vitamix tamper to press down the sides, until very smooth, maybe a few minutes. Add cocoa powder and coconut oil and blend until combined. Taste mixture and see what you think: does it seem not sweet enough to you? You can add a little maple syrup if you like, your choice. Pour filling into pan that was chilling in the fridge, and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon.*
Cover pan with foil and place in the freezer for two to four hours, until firm and set. At this point, you can place the pan in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, run a butter knife along the edges of the cake, open the pan’s sides and cut/slice a piece as you like.
Mix up chocolate drizzle with equal parts coconut oil, cocoa powder and maple syrup (maybe one or two tablespoons each) in a saucepan on the stove at very low heat, just enough to melt the coconut oil. Drizzle on top of slices as you serve them.
*Another option for the drizzle is to mix it up before chilling the cheesecake, plopping bits on top and then using a chopstick to swivel the drizzle around and all over. This video is super helpful to show what I mean, and this example from the Bojon Gourmet is super inspiring to make you want to do it. Note, however, that if your drizzle has coconut oil in it like our recipe does, it may change a little in the freezer and separate (see pic below), which is no big deal but it does give your drizzle a sort of iced look.
More about Raw Cheesecakes
Working on this post, I made a lot of discoveries about making raw cheesecake, some of which may be interesting to you and most of which I want to remember, like:
- Raw? The term raw can be a little misleading in recipes like this one because, to my knowledge, ingredients like maple syrup and vanilla extract aren’t technically untouched, unprocessed and raw. That said, there seems to be an understanding in the raw-cheesecake world that some ingredients, such as cocoa powder, are okay, while others, like melted chocolate bars, are not. Calling this recipe raw-ish would be more accurate.
- On soaking cashews: You don’t have to soak cashews to use them in cashew cream, but soaking makes them softer and your cream smoother. Two ways to speed up the soak time are using lightly warmed water and cashew pieces instead of whole cashews.
- The pan: If you have a smaller (8″ or 6″, for example) springform pan, you can create a taller, more impressive looking cheesecake. And, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, there are even heart pans out there.
- No cashews? Say you are allergic to nuts or don’t want to use cashews for some reason but you want a raw cake: there are other options. This post from Comfy Belly suggests things like avocado or banana, which I’d be curious to see somebody try!
- For the creative: Someday it might be fun to make a two-layer raw cheesecake like this one, wow.
Oh! And last final thing for those A+ readers who made it all the way to the end: raw cheesecake gets better after a day or two in the fridge. Everything melds together and the slices are just the right texture and mmmm! I always like the last few slices best.