Now I don't know about you but I really dislike fat free cream cheese. Its got a wierd texture, waxy look and funky flavor. When I looked at the label, I understood why. It has a list of JUNK thats been added to emulsify, texturize and simulate regular cream cheese. Like most highly processed foods, when they take something out...something nasty usually goes back in! I know, you're saying "but some of that stuff is natural." Ok, well so are beetle larvae that are used for their red color enhancement in MANY "natural" products but that doesn't mean I want to eat them!
So that left me with light cream cheese. It might be a little more "natural' than the fat free stuff...but not much and it still has more fat than you want when you are talking about the amount that you need for a cheesecake. That is typically 3-5 eight ounce packages depending on the recipe you use. Most recipes that I've read call for combining full fat cream cheese with either the light or the fat free variety but when you read the nutritonal info, you're still talking about four to five grams of fat PER OUNCE. We all know nobody eats one ounce of cheesecake! The typical serving is 6 ounces. Do the math.
If you needed any further enlightenment; regular New York style cheesecake (with no added topping) weighs in at around 90 calories, 6-8 grams of fat, 7.2 grams carbohydrates, 1.6 grams protein, 0 fiber, and 75-100 mg of sodium PER OUNCE my friends! I got out my calculator. One piece of (shall remain nameless famous cheesecake joint) plain New York style comes in at 600 calories, 38 grams fat, 65 grams carboydrates, 8 grams protein, 0 fiber and 500 mg sodium. Holy cow!
I've never been the kind of gal that plays inside the box. So I got out my thinking cap and my apron. Six flopped attempts and 16 quarts of Stoneyfield's finest later...I had myself an honest to goodness 100% yogurt cheesecake.
Getting the refined sugar out was my next dilema. That one resolved itself fairly easily with the addition of organic Agave nectar. I just had to figure out how to compensate for the added liquid. For the crust, I took the same concept that I use for my raw fruit pies with the addition of and egg and some unsalted organic butter. The result is a sweet, delicious crust that doesn't have one grain of refined sugar and no gluten either! As with many of my recipes, you'll find this one relies on organic coconut products as well. What can I say? I love them!
I am lactose intolerant so I know you are saying to yourself, "well yogurt is made from milk." This is true BUT...yogurt can actually help with lactose intollerance. The enzymes in yogurt (as a fermented food) start feasting on those lactic acid sugars and sort of pre-digesting them for you. Stomach acids break down the cell walls of the bacteria in the yogurt and release an enzyme called beta-galactosidase which enhances lactose digestion. It is generally thought that only yogurts with live bacteria cultures can perform this function however the jury is still out on that one. Uhm...ALL yogurt by nature of what it IS...is bacteria! I'm not ripping on any particular yogurt advertisement mind you...just saying. Somebody has always got a "new and improved" version of something but there are reasons that yogurt is a super-food that supercede any trendy "live bacteria culture" commercials.
Whether I'm just having a snack or using yogurt in a recipe, there are several things that I look for. Number one...is it organic? For me that is a must with dairy. I'll save the RBST (recumbinant bovine sominotrophen) lecture for another article. Number two...flavor and I do NOT mean a bunch of sugary fruity junk in the bottom. I mean how does the yogurt taste? How pleasing is the texture? Is it very tangy or mild? My personal favorite for snacking is Greek style (sometimes called strained) yogurt. I buy my yogurt straight up though...that is plain. Even organic yogurts can have too much sugar when you buy the pre-sweetened stuff. I generally sweeten mine with a little Stevia or just some seasonal fruit puree with no sweetener. Last but not least is fat content. With organic products at least you don't have to worry about what they stuck in there in place of the fat. I use full fat, low fat and fat free all. It just depends on what I'm using it for.
So you are saying to yourself, "ENOUGH already...we came here for cheesecake." Indeed, and this cheesecake will not dissappoint. Like any other cheesecake, you can't just throw this together half an hour before your company arrives. A good, perfectly baked, moist cheesecake takes PATIENCE and a little bit of skill. Although if you follow the steps and don't rush you can squeak by on the skill part.
Most people make cheesecake a day ahead of when they plan to serve it. With yogurt cheesecake you actually need to start TWO days before. The first step is to make yogurt cheese. Don't get excited, its not a difficult process...except for the waiting that is!
Make yourself a simple set up of a colander lined with unbleached coffee filters placed over a large bowl. Make sure that the colander will balance on the rim of the bowl. If the bottom of the colander is touching the bottom of the bowl you are defeating the purpose. You will need 2 quarts of organic low fat plain or vanilla yogurt. If you use vanilla, your cheesecake will be marginally sweeter than if you had used plain. Don't go with fat free on this recipe. You need a little fat. Stir the yogurt and pour both containers into the lined colander. Flatten another filter and cover the top of the yogurt. Place a small plate or some plastic wrap over the bowl to protect the yogurt from picking up fridge odors. Stash the bowl in your refrigerator 12-24 hours. You should get 3 heaping cups of yogurt cheese from 2 quarts of yogurt. The longer the better because you want your cheese to be thick. You may need to pour some of the whey out of the bowl halfway through the process so the bottom isnt touching the liquid. You can save that whey for smoothies by the way!
When your yogurt cheese is done, you can easily scrape it off the coffee filters into a large bowl. Either refrigerate in a covered container or use right away to make your cheesecake. If you store the cheese, extra water will still accumulate on the top. Just make sure you pour that off before making the cheesecake.
You can make your cheesecake any flavor you like by adding different extracts, citrus juice, zest, fruit purees, chocolate or even coffee. I've chosen mango for this one because I had a nice ripe organic mango in the fruit bowl and it needed a home. Yes, this does take a little time but I promise...it is definately worth the wait.
Mango Swirl Yogurt Cheesecake
(with grainless date, apricot, almond and coconut crust)
3 cups prepared yogurt cheese (see instructions in above text)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic Agave Nectar (color doesn't matter)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons organic coconut flour
2 Tablespoons organic tapioca or potato starch
3 extra large cage free organic eggs
1/3 cup oranic unsweetened coconut milk
zest and juice of one organic lemon (about 3 tablespoons lemon juice)
1 large ripe mango
1 batch Date Apricot Shortbread Crust (recipe follows)
1- Preheat oven to 325. Prepare crust. Press half the crust mixture into the bottom of a greased 9" springform pan. Bake 15 minutes; cool completely. Place cooled bottom back into the springform ring. Using the remainder of the crust mixture; press evenly up the sides of pan. Chill crust while preparing filling.
2- Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Place yogurt cheese in a large mixing bowl. Using electric mixer, beat in 1/2 cup of the agave and vanilla till well blended. Add coconut flour and tapioca starch; mix well. Beat in eggs one at a time until blended.
3- Combine coconut milk and lemon juice. Let sit for 5 minutes. It will look curdled. Beat into yogurt mixture. Stir in lemon zest.
4- Remove crust from refrigerator and wrap the outside with foil (just in case of leaks). Pour cheesecake batter into prepared crust.
5- Peel and cube the mango and place in blender with the remaining 2 tablespoons agave. Blend until you have a smooth puree. Drizzle half the mango puree over the top of the cheesecake and swirl with a butter knife. Store remaining puree in fridge to serve with cheesecake.
6- Place cheesecake on center rack in 300 degree oven. Bake 1 hour; reduce heat to 275 and bake additional 35-40 minutes. Center should still be slightly jiggly when you gently tap the side of the pan. Insert a cake tester in the center and it should come out clean. Do not overbake.
7- Turn off heat and open oven door. Let the cheesecake sit undisturbed for another hour. Remove from oven and cool on counter top until room temperature. Remove the side ring once cake is cooled. Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight.
*It is important to follow the steps to achieve the best results. Also, the cheesecake is best served the next day. Even after baking, yogurt can still leach out a little water.
Gluten Free Date and Apricot Shortbread
8-10 fresh (not dried) organic Medjool dates, pitted
8 organic dried apricots
1 cup Almond Meal
1 cup organic unsweetened dried coconut flakes
1/4 cup organic coconut flour
1/4 cup organic quinoa flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
3 tablespoons organic unsalted butter, slightly cool
1 extra large cage free organic egg, slightly beaten
1- Place dates, apricots, almond meal and coconut flakes in food processor. Pulse until fruit is completely chopped and mixture is crumbly but sticky. Add the two flours, salt and baking powder; pulse until well blended.
2- Cut butter into small pieces and sprinkle around on the top of crumb mixture in processor. Pulse until you cannot see any chunks of butter. In a small bowl, beat egg to blend. Add to processor and pulse until mixture is completely blended and forms a ball.
3- Moisten fingers with a little water and press into pan as instructed above. Bake per instructions.
*Note: Humidity can affect how sticky your dough is. If it seems to sticky you may add extra coconut flour.
**Quinoa flour is available at most healthfood stores and is a gluten free product.
Decorate your cheesecake with fresh fruits and enjoy!
Per Serving: 300 calories, 10 grams fat, 45 grams Carbs, 9 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 82 mg sodium
I've decorated mine with Carambola blackberries and Strawberries
The lovely little "hearts" in the mango puree are droplets of coconut milk which I dragged a toothpick through to create the shape.