Updated: May 12, 2022
Cherries are favorites in my family for my husband and one of my sons. He clamors for them when they appear in the store and just adores these deep red and glossy fruits. When I made these cheesecake bars swirled with fresh cherries and a shortbread (aka - type of cookie) crust my self-proclaimed non-dessert eating husband gobbled them right up. The recipe involves some work as making a vegan version of a baked cheesecake can be a challenge; then, I add three levels of flavor (crust, filling & swirl) on top of the challenge. So, I can't pretend the bars are not labor intensive, but my husband is worth it! My secret ingredients for a true cheesecake tang and ensuring this sets in the oven are plain cashewmilk yogurt (Forager is my favorite) and Just Egg.
Sustainability Spotlight: Just Egg can be considered a "faux" protein source from the perspective that it is not egg (the liquid is made from mung beans if you believe it) and is what I would consider a processed & packaged product instead of a whole-foods sourced protein. But, the product provides the same texture and binding properties as an egg without the impact on the planet (or to animal welfare). According to the Just Egg Impact Report, their product uses 98% less water, has a 93% less carbon footprint, and uses 86% less land than a large scale commercial chicken & egg production operation. So, while I don't buy processed foods that often (i.e. - maybe once a week?), Just Egg makes the list for my sustainable and vegan kitchen still supporting my own individual impact goals for non-consumption of animals or animal products.
1 cup all purpose (AP) flour
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold vegan butter (cut into pieces if using a stick)
3 tsp cold water
Fresh Cherry Swirl:
~15 cherries (pitted and chopped)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp water
1/2 fresh lemon (zested & juiced) - you'll use the other half below
2 tsp arrowroot powder
8 oz container plant-based cream cheese (I used Kite, Toffuti & Daiya in separate tries on this dessert; I felt Toffuti was the better flavor / texture but will take longer in the oven I found; do not use Daiya in this the cheesecake will not set up - this brand has a higher moisture content)
1/3 cup cashewmilk plain yogurt (I used Forager)
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 lemon juiced
3 tbsp Just Egg
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8 x 8 (or 9 x 9 - bars will just be thinner) square pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
While your oven heats, add all dry ingredients in your shortbread crust (flour through salt) into a large food processor. Pulse 5 times to incorporate. Add your cold plant-based butter. With lid on the food processor, but chute open, pulse 10-15 times to start to incorporate the butter. Now drizzle your water in the chute while continuing to pulse. Pulse until "sand" texture forms (it's okay if you over-process; it happens! - the bars will still turn out, but the crust will be less like shortbread texture and harder to press into the pan). Note: you will need your processor again, clean out while your crust bakes.
Dump crust mixture into prepared pan and press down and to the sides. Slide pan into oven and bake 28-30 minutes or until lightly browned at the edges. Set aside to cool slightly.
While your crust bakes: pit and chop your cherries (this takes a little bit) and then make your fresh cherry swirl by adding cherries, sugar and water to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. In a tiny bowl, mix arrowroot powder and lemon zest plus juice. Stir your cherry sauce and simmer for ~5 minutes (or until juices release, cherries dim in color and they become softened); add lemon / arrowroot powder mix and stir frequently until thickened (thickening happens fast! only about 30 seconds - 1 minute). Put mixture into a small food processor (if you have one, or you can use your large processor) and blitz until smooth. Set aside to cool.
While your crust cools slightly: Put all cheesecake ingredients into your cleaned out food processor and process until smooth. Pour cheesecake filling into slightly cooled crust. Dollop your fresh cherry swirl with a spoon across the entirety of your filling. Using a butter knife, swirl the cherry mixture into your cheesecake filling using big figure eight patterns up and down your bars (you should still have big swaths of the cherry mix; you only need to do this a few times).
Bake your cheesecake for 30-35 minutes (If using Kite cream cheese); 37-40 minutes (if using Toffuti cream cheese) or until the mixture darkens in color and browns on the edges. Your middle will still be a little loose; that's okay, it will solidify once cooled & chilled.
Set your bars on a cooling rack until completely cooled; then, cover and chill at least 4 hours (best results are an overnight chill).
When ready to serve, cut into ~12 bars, place on plates or just eat them with your hands!
With love & hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie