The Harbinger Online

Baking Bad: Lemon Pomegranate Cheesecakes

Right around now, all of the seniors I know are freaking out about graduation. They’re heading off to college, leaving home, leaving friends–you know the drill. That’s great and everything, but I don’t think any of them realize how badly I’m freaking out. I mean, seriously. This is my second to last blog of the year. Wouldn’t you be freaking out, too?

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I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. Each time I bake, I feel like I have to one-up myself with what I make. Mediocrity is almost perpetually my state of mind, but not when it comes to baking. Throughout the past year, I’ve literally embodied that awful cliché: I am what I eat. So whatever I bake has to be just as amazing as I am.

So I needed layers. I needed layers upon layers of multiple different flavors, textures and colors. A layer cake would have been the obvious choice, but obviously isn’t really my style. So after a pretty serious round of googling and Pinterest-ing, I found my one true love: cheesecake. Actually, cheesecake isn’t really my one true love, because I’d venture to say all desserts are my true loves. But for my second to last blog, cheesecake worked. And it wasn’t just any cheesecake, but a lemon pomegranate cheesecake that without sugar, flour, eggs or milk. So essentially, it was the jackpot.

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Let me preface this section by saying that my food processor is the Hulk: large, bulky and entirely unpredictable. The recipe I was using called called for salt, sunflower kernels, dates, almonds and coconut oil to be mixed together in my Hulk of a processor to make the crust. As I was pushing down on the “pulse” button, I braced myself for chaos. I was expecting date juice and coconut oil to spray out the sides, turning my kitchen into some sort of hippie-ingredient mess. Thankfully, none of this happened, and the crust was a success.

Because of the coconut oil, the crust was perfectly moldable, so I was easily able to press it into several cupcake molds before setting them in the refrigerator to chill. Once I was done with the curst, I was faced with the daunting task of making the actual “cheese” portion of the cheesecake. And if you know anything about vegan baking, then you’ll know I had either two options for the cream cheese replacement: silken tofu, or soaked cashews. Trust me, I know both of those sound disgusting. If my grocery store had carried silken tofu, I probably would have gone with that, seeing as I’m far too impatient to soak my own cashews. Without silken tofu, though, I was forced to do it.

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Why would you soak cashews, Susannah?, you might ask. Well, putting straight-up dry cashews into a food processor and going to town will just result in a bunch of gritty nut bits. With extra moisture, however, it makes the result softer and creamier. While the cashews were soaking, I had to zest some lemons. Zesting was honestly more of an ordeal than it should have been, but it was meant to add a fresh lemon taste, and I had two hours to kill while the cashews were soaking. When the lemons were finally zested and the cashews moist enough, I was ready to actually make the filling. I threw in a bit of coconut oil, honey, lemon and lime juice, lemon zest and vanilla to the Hulk to help make make the cashew cream smoother, as well as sweeter.

Now, I could have just stopped there. I could have left my cheesecakes to set, lemon-y and boring. But boring just isn’t my style. Boring is for Lifetime movies and early morning pre-calc. If I was going to avoid boring, the only logical thing to do at that point was to add another layer.

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My second layer, to complement the sweet and sour pairing present in the first layer, was a mixture of pomegranate juice, lime juice and raspberries. Similar to what I did with the crust and the filling, I used the Hulk to combine the ingredients for the top layer. This time, however, I left the remaining cashew filling in the food processor so that when it was mixed with the top layer, it would result in more structure. Once the top layer was mixed (without issue, thank God) and the cheesecake had set for a half hour, I poured the second layer over each cheesecake and put them in my freezer to chill.

Now, you may have noticed something crucial: I didn’t actually bake anything. Well, dear reader, to avoid such a problem I made sure to candy some sliced lemons to top the cheesecakes with. Candying basically involved just thinly slicing a lemon, coating each slice with sugar and then baking them at a low heat for 45 minutes. So there. Baking at its finest.

Once the lemons were candied and the cheesecakes were closer to a solid than a liquid, I daintily placed a lemon slice on each one. Then, I proceeded to devour one (okay, maybe two). And I must say, they might have been the best thing I’ve ever made. The top layer was tart yet sweet, and fantastically complemented the cashew layer. The cashews actually blended wonderfully with the lemon and honey, creating a filling that was better than actual cream cheese.

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And then the crust. Oh man, the crust. Somehow, with few ingredients and zero sugar, the crust managed to be good enough to eat on its own. Nutty, crunchy, salty and sweet, I had to stop myself from eating all of the crust before even starting on the other layers.

Together, each layer harmonized in flavor perfectly, with sweet, salty and sour neither overpowering each other nor being underwhelming. The textures were different from top to bottom, ranging from icy and hard, to soft and creamy to crunchy and a bit gritty. Even the colors were gorgeous, creating an edible flag of earthy brown, creamy yellow and vibrant magenta. Overall, the pomegranate lemon cheesecakes were truly miraculous.

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I could go on for days about how much I loved those cheesecakes. How I’m sure they’ll remain in my dreams for weeks to come, and how I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a “normal” cheesecake. Normal cheesecakes are for normal, boring people. Layers of sweet and salty and sour are life-changing, and if I have any dessert-related regrets it’s just that I haven’t been introduced to cheesecake like this before. Cheesecake is life, cheesecake is love. And cheesecake will set you free.

 

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