vegan dark-chocolate + salted caramel cheesecake

Deception is a funny thing. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan, especially when at my own expense, and surely I speak for the majority of the human race here. However, deception is most welcome in one particular instance: dessert. Deceive me all you like. Tell me that dessert is going to be flowing with caramel, studded with crunchy, chocolatey pieces. Brag about its creamy texture and how it can wash my tears away. Tell me its deceptively wholesome – two harmoniously, co-existing words. I’m a big fan.

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Deception describes this very recipe which I’m passing onto you, one that will seem naughty, indulgent, decadent, and believe me, it is, but for all the right reasons. You’ve got cashews and coconut cream lending to the filling’s creamy texture; there’s unrefined rapadura in the silky caramel topping. Oh, and that crunchy base? Heart-healthy nuts and magnesium-rich cocoa. You can’t go wrong. This rich little number is so silky, so smooth, so filling that you’ll only need a little piece to make the world a better place. All the while, you’ll be deceiving yourself.

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vegan dark-chocolate + salted caramel cheesecake – gluten free, vegan + almost raw (caramel topping is cooked) – makes 1×7″ cheesecake – loosely adapted from Deliciously Raw and Bojon Gourmet

you’ll need…

for the caramel topping:

  • 3/4 cup coconut cream (what’s remaining of a 270ml Ayam-brand can after removing 1/4 cup for the filling below)
  • 1/2 cup rapadura sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • cocoa nibs and sea salt flakes, for presentation

for the base – adapted from Deliciously Raw:

  • 1/2 cup macadamias
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1.5 tsp dark cocoa (increase to 3 or so tsp if using regular/raw cocoa)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla powder (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 3 Medjool dates, pitted
  • pinch of salt

for the filling – adapted from Bojon Gourmet:

  • 300g cashews, soaked for 8 hours or overnight, drained
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/vanilla extract)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 4 tblsp dark cocoa (increase to 6 is using regular/raw cocoa)
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream (I use Ayam brand – the remainder is used in the caramel above)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup melted cocoa butter

here’s what you do…

  1. Begin the caramel by combining all ingredients in a small saucepan and bringing to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and stir occasionally for 20 or so minutes until the caramel has reduced and thickened, then set aside to cool.
  2. While the caramel is cooking, prepare the base. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until mixture is finely chopped and begins to come together. You want the mix to stick together when pressed between your fingers – add another date or two if this does not happen. Press the mix into the bottom of a lined 7-inch springform tin and freeze for now.
  3. For the filling, combine all ingredients except the cocoa butter and blend until smooth. Quickly add the cocoa butter and continue to blend until no more lumps remain (you may need a tamp to keep the mixture moving). Pour the mixture over the base and refrigerate until set (4 hours) or place into the freezer to hasten the process. Keep in the fridge once set.
  4. Spread the cooled caramel over the set cheesecake and sprinkle with cocoa nibs and sea salt upon serving. Lasts 4 or so days in the fridge – if you can keep it that long!
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fig, hazelnut + cocoa granola spiked with espresso

I have a torrid love-hate affair with coffee. Love the taste, loathe the after-effects: racing heart, sweaty palms, inability to sit still. It’s never agreed with me, despite my love for everything coffee. It marries beautifully with cocoa, cardamom and vanilla, to say the least. It’s the epitome of social catch-ups. It makes sleepless nights (and the unavoidable morning to follow) that much more bearable. I watch my Italian family knock back espresso’s like water, while I slip slowly on my chamomile tea, because Italians think you’re a martian if you ask for decaf. But luckily, in the safety of my kitchen walls, away from confused barista’s glances, I can use decaf freely, and it works a treat.

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I mentioned espresso pairs so well with cocoa, and this is key in this recipe. With both having a rich and earthy flavour, they play off each other wonderfully. You can’t taste the espresso explicitly as it more so lends an intensity to the overall chocolate flavour, and the figs lend the sweetness that roasted, dried fruit brings. The hazelnuts and nut butter give it a Nutella-esque feel, while also giving you a great hit of protein and good fats. A little goes a long way with this batch, so top a handful with fresh fruit, creamy yoghurt and your favourite milk to give you a deliciously naughty but nutritious breakfast (or midnight snack).

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fig, hazelnut + cocoa granola spiked with espresso – vegan, gluten-free (if using certified oats) – loosely adapted from the kitchn

you’ll need…

  • 120g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1.5 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1/2 cups finely chopped dried figs
  • 1/4 cup pepitas
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (70% cocoa content – sub cacao nibs or omit if you don’t have)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1.5 tsp dark cocoa (I use Cacao Barry Brute – sub 2 tsp regular cocoa if you don’t have)
  • 2 tblsp hazelnut butter (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 fresh espresso shots (60ml – I use 2x decaf pods – if you prefer a less intense bitterness, use only 1x30ml shot)

here’s what you do…

  1. Preheat oven to 160C (fan-forced). Place hazelnuts, oats, buckwheat, figs, pepitas, chia and choc chips in a large bowl, stirring to combine.
  2. Place remaining ingredients into a small saucepan and heat on medium, stirring just until mixture comes together. Pour contents of pan into the bowl of oat mixture, stirring to coat thoroughly.
  3. Spread mixture onto a lined baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until mixture starts to dry out slightly and brown up. Allow to cool on the tray before storing in an airtight container.

Note: I’m not a fan of super sweet granola, preferring to add sweetness in the form of fruit (this pairs wonderfully with fresh strawberries and banana). If you prefer it sweeter, up the maple syrup content during prep, tasting as you go.

smoky eggplant dip (baba ghanouj)

I’m somewhat of a grazer, preferring to pick throughout the day or at least eat many small meals instead of few larger ones. Our dinner often consists purely of a handful of homemade dips, good quality cheese and dukkah with olive oil, with the leftovers making for the perfect lunch or between-meals snack the next day. Picking up a voluptuous eggplant at the markets this morning meant only one thing: smoky eggplant dip. Two reasons for this: I’m a big fan of said dip, and because preparing eggplant in any other fashion scares me stupid.

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I’ve been scarred many a time by my own failings in the kitchen involving a tough moussaka and a spongy curry, to name a few. Of all the vegetable friends I make in the kitchen, eggplant simply ain’t one of them. That and five years of vegetarianism ensuring I was limited to dishes containing what seemed to be the vegetarian’s ‘holy trinity’ (capsicum, zucchini and eggplant), not exactly my favourite flavour combination. I’m certain I simply need more practice with this purple gem, as my Nonna’s ‘melanzane parmigiana’ is one of my favourite things in her repertoire. But then again, if your Nonna is doing a fine job of said dish, shouldn’t I let sleeping dogs lie? I’ll stick with my baba ghanouj, thank you very much.

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smoky eggplant dip (baba ghanouj) – makes approx 1-1.5 cups – gluten free + vegan

you’ll need…

  • 1 large eggplant, halved lengthways
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • few tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, to smooth out the mix
  • salt and pepper, to taste

here’s what you do…

  1. Preheat your grill to it’s highest setting. Place the two eggplant halves, skin side up, on a tray lined with foil. Grill until the skin is blackened and the flesh can be pierced easily with a skewer. The timing of this will vary depending on your grill and the size of your eggplant, but mine took roughly 30 minutes. Keep your eye on it, checking every 5 minutes or so.
  2. Allow the eggplant to cool slightly before scooping the flesh into your food processor. Add remaining ingredients except the oil and whiz, adding the oil 1 tbsp at a time whilst processor is running. Make sure you only add enough oil to smooth out the mixture, allowing for a creamy, homogenous dip.
  3. Season to taste, even adding more lemon or cumin if you wish. Serve drizzled with fresh olive oil and black sesame seeds, if you wish, alongside fresh, warm bread.

choc almond mylk

I often get a craving for nesquik-esque choc milk, the stuff from my childhood. Or even a carton of choc milk from the deli. But once I glance at the ingredients list, I run away scared like a mouse that’s seen a cat-shaped ghost. Alas, when you are pregnant, cravings need sorting out, am I right? I’m 100% right.

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This choc almond mylk is way more nutritious and delicious than the contents of those edible memories shoved all the way in the back of your head, amongst the dust and cobwebs. Healthy monounsaturated fats, magnesium boost from the cacao and naturally sweetened with dates, what can go wrong? Perfectly plant based, making it perfect for vegans. Bottoms up!

choc almond mylk – serves 1

you’ll need…

  • 1 cup almond milk (preferably homemade – soak 1 cup of almonds for 8-12 hours, rinse then blend with 3 cups of filtered water and strain through cheesecloth, saving the meal for baking)
  • 2 tbsp raw cacao (or cocoa)
  • 2 medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder (or seeds from 1 vanilla bean/1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
  • pinch of sea salt

here’s what you do…

  1. Place all ingredients into your blender, and blend until smooth. Serve immediately, or keep in the fridge for up to 4 days (providing your almond milk is fresh – it has a 4 day lifespan so work it out!). You might need to give it a shake if you’ve stored it in the fridge, as contents will settle.