Friday, 31 October 2014

Luscious Low-Carb, Sugar-Free Vanilla Cheesecake with a Nut Crust

I have made many cheesecakes in my life and this one is, I think, the very best. The baked part is luscious, dense and creamy, with an almond-flavoured nut crust, while a top layer of barely jellied vanilla-scented sour cream adds a delicious final flourish. You won't believe, when you taste this, that it contains not a speck of sugar.

Luscious Low-Carb, Sugar-Free Vanilla Cheesecake with a Nut Crust. In this version I used
crème fraîche for the topping, which creates lovely swirls. 

Wine recommendation from Michael Olivier:  He says: "KWV Classic Collection Red Muscadel. We have the most underrated and under-priced sweet fortified wines in South Africa. This is pure Red Muscadel juice fortified with grape spirit and matured in large French oak barrels for a year. The most perfect wine for a rich and creamy cheesecake. You want something to cut through the cream and to make a statement. A wine that’s packed with flavour, and yet is not all about sweetness. The acidity offers contrast and the alcohol a little oomph. Do serve it chilled and in a wine glass, not a mean little liqueur glass. And pour it over ice if it takes your fancy."

It looks like: Gem bright like a ruby tinged amber. Pretty ‘cathedral windows’ appear on the side of the glass when you swirl the wine. 

It smells like: Berries and raisins and a whisper of oak. Begs you to go in and taste it. 

It tastes like: Phwoar! Big waves of fabulous fruit, raisins, red and black berries, a wash of the alcohol and oak, a little acid twist and an aftertaste that slowly rides off into the sunset.

For sweetening, this cheesecake relies on a little Xylitol, plus Canderel sweetener in powder form, which I find the least offensive of sugar substitutes. (I tried, while testing this recipe, using powdered stevia, but I found its bitterness impossible to disguise). The choice of sweetener is yours; please see my Cook's Notes at the end of this page. This recipe is ideal for anyone on a low-carb #LCHF regime, and suitable for diabetics.

Because this is an expensive cake, containing four tubs of cream cheese, I've provided detailed instructions so it turns out perfectly for you every time.

The most important thing is to use top-quality vanilla for the filling, and excellent almond extract for the nut base. I use this lovely vanilla paste from Yuppiechef, but if you can't find it, you can use good vanilla extract, plus the scraped-out seeds of a vanilla pod.

Also: don't over-cook the cheesecake, which will result in a somewhat dry and crumbly result. Baking the cheesecake nestled in crumpled foil, in a bain-marie, is crucial, as is judging when to take it out of the oven. Follow my instructions in the recipe closely, and you cannot go wrong.

I use low-fat Lancewood Cream Cheese for my cheesecakes, but you can choose any similar product.

In this version I used sour cream, which creates a perfectly smooth topping.

Luscious Low-Carb, Sugar-Free Vanilla Cheesecake with a Nut Crust

For the crust: 

¾ cup (180 ml) whole nuts of your choice - I use a mixture of almonds, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts
1 cup (250 ml) almond flour
3 Tbsp (45 ml) melted butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Xylitol, or more, to taste
a few drops of good-quality almond extract

For the filling:

4 x 250 g tubs cream cheese, at room temperature (see Cook's Notes at the end)
1/3 cup (80 ml) Xylitol
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract, or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) vanilla paste
1 Tbsp (15 ml) cornflour or flour
4 extra-large free-range eggs
3-5 paper 'sticks' Canderel sweetener, or a sweetener of your choice (see recipe)

For the topping:

1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
1 tsp (5 ml) gelatine
1 cup (250 ml) sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract, or 2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla paste
1 'stick' Canderel powder, or a sweetener of your choice (see recipe)

First prepare your tin. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a non-stick 24-cm springform cake tin, or similar. Cut a long strip of baking paper to roughly the same width as the height of the tin, and use it to line the sides of the tin.  Now butter the baking paper, or varnish it well with cooking spray.

Heat the oven to 180 ºC.

Put the nuts into a dry frying pan and toast them gently over a medium-low heat for a few minutes, tossing frequently and watching them closely. Chop into small bits, tip into a mixing bowl and add the almond flour, melted butter, Xylitol and almond extract.

Stir well, then press evenly onto the base of the tin.  My top tip for an even crust is to put a small drinking glass (such as a shot glass) on its side, rim pointing towards the edges of the tin, and roll it around in a circular fashion.
Press the crust into a springform pan lined with baking paper.
Bake the crust at 180 ºC for about 10 minutes, or until it's just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Watch it like a hawk, as it burns in an instant. Take the tin out of the oven and set aside to cool. Turn down the oven to 170 ºC.

In the meantime, make the filling. Put the softened cream cheese - see Cook's Notes, below - in a large mixing bowl. (I make this in a jiffy using my faithful Kenwood mixer, but if you don't have a similar gadget you will need to whisk this by hand, or use a rotary beater).

Add the Xylitol, vanilla and cornflour, and whisk till smooth and combined. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating hard.  The mixture might take a while to come together, but if you work patiently, it will soon form a beautiful smooth cream. Now sweeten the mixture to taste, with a sweetener of your choice.  I find that four sticks of Canderel are enough.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the crust, aiming at the centre so it spreads evenly to the edges.

Make a foil 'nest' for your cheesecake. This image
comes from my recipe for Cinnamon-Stencilled
, where I did  not line the tin with
baking paper. 
Place the tin on two large squares of tin foil, then bring up & crumple the foil to create a 'nest' that will keep the water from seeping into the base.

Fill a large roasting pan to about the half-way mark with hot water, and place in the oven.  Slide your foil-wrapped baking tin into the water bath, and bake at 170 ºC for about an hour, or until the cheesecake is lightly freckled with brown, set at the edges, and has the slightest wobble in the middle.

Turn off the heat, open the oven door a crack and leave the cake to cool completely in the oven.

Refrigerate, in its tin, for 4 hours (or overnight), until very cold.

To make the topping, put the water in a teacup or similar small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over it. Set aside for a minute or two to sponge.

Place the cup in a pot of simmering water (the water should come half-way up the sides) and stir occasionally as the gelatine melts. When the liquid is clear, set the cup aside to cool slightly.

Whisk the sour cream or crème fraîche in a bowl to loosen it, then whisk in the gelatine, vanilla paste (or extract) and sweetener. Pour the mixture over the top of the chilled cheesecake and smooth the top (see Cook's Notes if your cheesecake has shrunk away from the sides of the pan).  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Release the cheesecake from the tin by briefly pressing a hot cloth against the outside rim  (I do this by wetting a dishcloth, and microwaving it until very hot.)

To serve, cut into thin slices using a big knife dipped for 45 seconds in a jug of boiling water.

Makes 1 cheesecake; serves 8-10. 

Cook's Notes
  • It really doesn't matter which non-nutritive sweetener you use in any of the three layers of this cheesecake, because the sweetener will not affect their textures.  
  • The cream cheese should be soft, or you will find it difficult to beat to a smooth mixture. Leave the tubs on your counter for at least 6 hours, so they can come up to room temperature. If you're in a hurry, take the lids and foils off the tubs, arrange them in a circle on your microwave's turntable, and blast on high for 45 seconds at a time, until the cheese has softened.
  • If you find your cheesecake has shrunk away from the edges of the pan, leaving a gap into which the topping will run, here is what to do:  ease the cake out of its ring. Wrap a long strip of acetate (available from stationers) around the cake to form a close-fitting collar, and secure with sticky tape. Pour over the topping and refrigerate. The acetate will peel away easily once the topping has set. 


Cinnamon-Stencilled Cheesecake

Hazelnut and Chocolate Cheesecake

Buttermilk Cheesecake with a Strawberry Topping

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