I had in my head that I would host a Thanksgiving dinner this year and invite all my uni friends, as we all have a lot to be thankful for - in my case not least the fact that my boyfriend and I have bought our dream home, and none of my friends have been over to visit yet.
I had planned a whole menu and one by one they declined or dropped out, until only a couple of people came in the end. By then I had already started making ahead some of the food so we had three desserts between six people! All the better to give everyone a choice...
One of my best friends is vegan so I usually make two desserts, one of them vegan. But this time I thought it would be nice for her to have a choice of what to eat so I made all three desserts vegan! In keeping with the Thanksgiving spirit I wanted to make something using pumpkin.
I recently bought a new book called Sweet Vegan by Emily Mainquist, to give me some inspiration for dairy-free desserts. There was a recipe for pumpkin pie but I chose instead a vanilla pumpkin cheesecake with a gingernut biscuit crust. Luckily gingernut biscuits are vegan!
Many of the recipes in this book use evaporated cane juice, which I'd never heard of. I discovered that it is a sugar substitute - and I thought caster sugar was fine for vegans, but apparently that isn't always the case. The website Vegan Connection states that: "Some refined sugars use bone charcoal as a decolourant. In the UK Tate and Lyle and Billingtons sugars are free of animal substances. British Sugar, trading as Silver Spoon (the largest UK supplier) state that their white sugar is vegan but they cannot guarantee their brown sugars as some bone charcoal may be used by their suppliers. No data is presently available concerning sugar in other countries."
So I think I am OK to continue using caster sugar but it's worth knowing there are alternatives. However, I couldn't get hold of any evaporated cane juice and instead decided to use agave nectar. I decided afterwards that was a mistake as it is extremely sweet (I could have cut down on the quantity) and as it's a thick liquid like honey, that may have changed the consistency of the cake - next time I would just use caster sugar. I did actually use a mix of caster sugar and agave nectar in the end as I realised the latter might make it too runny so I will give the recipe that I used here and you can let me know what you think or if you decided to try something else.
This recipe also introduced me to egg replacer, which I got very easily from Ocado. There are plenty of other ingredients you can use as a binder in vegan recipes, such as apple sauce, but this egg replacer froths up and thickens really well.
The recipe suggests to make a vanilla cheesecake mix and a pumpkin cheesecake mix and swirl the two together but I decided to make my whole cheesecake pumpkin flavour. I also left out the pecan nuts in the base as not everyone likes nuts, and I used a smaller quantity of the biscuits as the packet I had was 250g rather than 290g. So with the proviso about trying your own sugar substitute (or using caster sugar rather than the agave nectar) here's what I did:
250g packet gingernut biscuits
3 tbsp. melted vegan butter substitute eg Pure
700g silken tofu
100ml agave nectar
50g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla flavouring
4 tsp egg replacer, mixed with 6 tbsp. water
250g canned pumpkin puree
2 tsp ground cinnamon
dairy-free white chocolate buttons to decorate
Preheat oven to 150C. Crush the biscuits in a food processor and mix with the melted butter substitute then press down into the bottom of a 9-inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
Beat the tofu with the agave nectar and sugar then add the vanilla and the blended egg replacer.
in the pumpkin puree and cinnamon and spoon the mixture onto the biscuit base.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour until set then leave to cool in the tin. To serve, remove from the tin and decorate with dairy-free white chocolate buttons.
The cheesecake was very nice and one of my (non-vegan) friends said it was the nicer of the two desserts I'd made. The texture is softer and a little grainier somehow than a 'normal' cheesecake and I was worried it would be overly sweet from the agave nectar but in fact it was just right. The ginger biscuit base was the best part in my opinion and now I know that the ginger biscuits I used are vegan I will have to incorporate them into another dessert!