Happy Friday, everyone – WE MADE IT. Was it just me, or did this week seem to move backwards at times? Oof.
Anyway, there’s another reason to celebrate because I’ve got a sweet treat to welcome you to the weekend. Keep your ovens off though, because No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Bars are, well, no-bake and set up completely in the freezer!
The recipe for these less-guilt, refined sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan cheesecake bars is coming at you courtesy of my friend Dana’s new cookbook, Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking – I think I screamed a little when this baby hit my doorstep!
In case you don’t know, Dana is the mastermind behind Minimalist Baker where all recipes are not only plant-based and mostly gluten-free, but can be made with 10 ingredients or less, in 1 bowl, or in 30 minutes or less. If you’re interested in plant-based foods that don’t taste like plants, Dana’s your girl.
We’ve tried a lot of vegan recipes over the past 2-1/2 years, on account of Lincoln’s dairy allergy, but a lot of them taste a little…funky. On the contrary, Dana’s recipes are delicious, well-tested, healthy, meat-eater approved, and so unique. She’s achieved an insane level of success with her blog and it couldn’t have happened to a better person. Dana is as sweet and funny as they come, plus, #skingoals. (Seriously, plant-based food does a body good!)
Dana’s cookbook, like her website, takes a “minimalist” approach. I love cookbooks with stories but when dinner is 30 minutes away, sometimes I also just need, like, the recipe, which Everyday Cooking provides in a straightforward format (love that.) I also love that Dana is going to change people’s mind in regards to what vegan food can be with her cookbook. Healthy, yes, but creative and craveable (Pizza Burgers and Better-Than-Restaurant Vegan Nachos, I’m looking at you!)
After sitting down and immediately bookmarking 15+ recipes, I decided on Dana’s No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Bars to share with you. Mainly because I’ve been craving strawberry cheesecake for over a month now, but also because Ben and I just went to a new-to-us restaurant and my man was handed a mascarpone-based cheesecake with pepper crumble for dessert instead of the classic New York-style cheesecake with strawberry sauce that he thought he was getting (which of course was eaten, but without much enthusiasm.) Did I mention I’ve been craving strawberry cheesecake? It was a no brainer!
I instantly deemed this recipe a success because Lincoln loved it. Little man doesn’t get to eat a lot of desserts because, yes, I’m a little crazy about toddlers and sugar, but also because of his dairy allergy. As a Mom, it felt unbelievable to give him something that tasted sweet and decadent but was SAFE for him to eat, and me too!
The recipe also came together exactly like the directions said it would. Dana includes weight measurements in all her recipes so you can be sure they’ll turn out exactly the same in your kitchen, as hers. So helpful.
Lastly, these No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Bars are just HEAVENLY! Creamy and rich like regular cheesecake, but made with coconut milk and sweetened with maple syrup instead of refined sugar. I was absolutely thrilled with how they turned out, and the fresh strawberry topping really made each bar taste like the “real thing”. Perfect to serve at a BBQ, picnic, or even as a nice treat after family dinner since they can be sliced and eaten straight out of the freezer. We will be making and eating these all summer long.
Start by making the cheesecake crust, which is simply a mixture of walnuts, dates, and a pinch of salt. Add 1 cup pitted medjool dates to the bowl of a food processor then process until the dates are finely chopped and come together in a ball, then remove to a bowl.
Next add 1-1/2 cups raw walnuts to the bowl then process until they’ve reached a fine meal.
Add the dates back in with a pinch of salt then process until the ingredients are well combined and stick together when you pinch a little between your fingers.
Dump the mixture into an 8×8 baking dish then use your hands to press into an even layer. Crust = done. Easiest cheesecake crust you ever made, right?! Pop the dish into the freezer to setup while you get the cheesecake mixture ready.
As I mentioned, this cheesecake is vegan, which means it doesn’t contain any animal products. How do you get creamy “cheese”cake without using cream cheese? Raw cashews! If you’ve never used raw cashews in cooking or baking, your mind’s about to be blown. Raw cashews, once soaked, drained, and blended with liquid, become impossibly smooth. It’s wild, and in addition to baking, you can use raw cashews to create creamy savory sauces like in this Chicken and Rice Casserole (which is one of my favorite recipes ever.)
You’ll need 1-1/2 cups raw cashews that have been soaking in water for 6-8 hours, or in boiling water for 1 hour, which is what I did.
Drain the cashews then add them to a blender (love my Blendtec!) with 1 cup full-fat or light coconut milk (I went full fat,) 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup,) 3 Tablespoons melted coconut oil, and 2 Tablespoons lemon juice. Blend until extremely smooth then add more maple syrup or lemon juice as needed for extra sweetness or tartness. I ended up adding a liiiitle more lemon juice.
Pull the baking dish with the crust out of the freezer then pour the cheesecake mixture on top. Tap gently on the countertop to pop any bubbles and/or use the back of a spoon to smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap then freeze for another couple of hours or until set. Cheesecake = done!
Last step is to make the strawberry sauce which really makes these bars taste like the “real thing”. In a saucepan combine 2 cups fresh strawberries, 1-2 Tablespoons maple syrup, 1 Tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot starch (NOTE: I did not use) and 2–3 Tablespoons water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat then start mashing the strawberries until they’ve reached your desired consistency. Simmer until slightly thickened then let cool.
Let the bars sit out for 15-20 minutes to make them easier to slice, then top with the strawberry sauce and devour. The longer the bars sit out, the creamier (and more ridiculously fabulous!) they’ll get. Hope you enjoy!
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No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Bars
No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Bars are incredibly decadent yet perfect for a less-guilt sweet treat. Gluten-free and vegan, too!
- For the Crust:
- 1 cup (~22 dates or 200g) packed dates, pitted (pitted before measuring), plus more as needed
- 1-1/2 cups (180g) raw walnuts, plus more as needed
- Pinch of salt
- For the Filling:
- 1-1/2 cups (180g) raw cashews, soaked (see note) and drained
- 1 cup (236ml) full-fat or light coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) pure maple syrup, plus more as needed
- 3 Tablespoons (45ml) olive oil or melted coconut oil, plus more as needed
- 1 lemon (2 Tbsp or 30ml), juiced, plus more lemon juice as needed
- For the Strawberry Topping:
- 2 cups (240g) frozen or fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
- 1-2 Tablespoons (15–30ml) maple syrup, plus more to taste
- 1 Tablespoons (7g) cornstarch or arrowroot starch (NOTE: I did not use)
- 2–3 Tablespoons (30–45ml) water (or substitute freshly squeezed orange juice)
- Add the dates to the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend until small bits remain, or the mixture forms a ball. Remove and set aside.
- Add walnuts and salt (optional) to the bowl of the food processor or blender and process into a meal. Add the dates back in, small chunks at a time, and process until a loose dough forms—it should stick together when squeezed between your fingers. If too dry, add a few more dates. If too wet, add more walnut meal.
- Line an 8×8–inch (or similar size) baking dish with parchment paper or plastic wrap and add the crust. Spread in an even layer and press down with your hands for a uniformly flat crust. Place in the freezer to set.
- In the meantime, add the cashews, coconut milk, vanilla, maple syrup, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt to the bowl of a blender.
- Blend on high until puréed, creamy, and smooth. If there is trouble blending, add a bit more liquid (either coconut milk or coconut oil) to help the process along. Scrape down the sides as needed. Taste and adjust the flavors as needed, adding more maple syrup for sweetness, or lemon juice for acidity.
- Remove the crust from the freezer and pour the cashew mixture over the crust. Tap to remove air bubbles and smooth the top with a spoon. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and return to the freezer to harden, 3–4 hours. The cheesecake will mostly keep its form in the refrigerator, but freezing will expedite the “setting” process and make slicing easier.
- In the meantime, prepare the strawberry topping. Add the strawberries, maple syrup, cornstarch, and a bit of water to a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes, then reduce the heat and begin mashing the strawberries with a spoon to break them into smaller pieces. Cook for 3-4 minutes more, then turn off heat to let cool and thicken, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a small bowl and cover. Refrigerate to cool completely.
- Spread the chilled strawberry topping over the hardened cheesecake (or serve separately), slice into bars, and serve. Coconut Whipped Cream makes an excellent topping.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator covered for 2–3 days, or in the freezer for up to 1 month. If frozen, let thaw for 15–20 minutes to soften before serving.
- Soak the cashews for 6–8 hours in cool water, or pour boiling water over cashews and let rest uncovered at room temperature for 1 hour. Drain and proceed with the recipe as instructed.
This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.