April 3, 2013

Lemon Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with a Cashew Coconut Crust

No jokes, I once ate 2 slices of cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory in one night. I had completely forgotten, until last weekend a friend said to me 'ya, you sure do love cheesecake. remember that time that you ate 2 slices. I was impressed' - One could say that I have some sort of undiagnosed genetic advantage, where I was born with an additional stomach for digesting dessert. This conversation with her, despite making me feel a little ashamed at my lack of self control, reminded me that indeed it has been a while since I've made something sweet, and even longer, since I've made a cheesecake. And now I sit here, typing away. Cursing the fact that I made a cheesecake, and that it is over there in the kitchen, staring at me while my dog stares at it, and I try to stare out the window. Occasionally my dog and I will make eye contact, and I can see that he may want the cheesecake a little more than I do. And then I feel a little better about myself knowing that despite the fact that I once ate two slices of cheesecake in one night, my dog has eaten 2 sticks of butter - in one sitting.

I did have good intentions to make this cake for a few friends that I had over last night, but one thing led to another, and I finally pulled the cake out of the oven at 5:00 pm. I decided to let it cool over night, and then I will hopefully persuade a few people to help out later this week. It's time like this that I wish I had my family around, because like short stature and dark hair, I have inherited this cheesecake-loving sweet gene.

You can't go wrong with lemon cheesecake. It's simple and classic - can be eaten on its own, savored bite by bite, or piled high with delicious toppings, fresh fruit, compote, caramel, lemon curd. I used a vanilla bean, to add flavor, and provide those cute little black specs. I wanted something less traditional, and more exotic. I added cashews and coconut to the crust. The juice and zest from one lemon provided the appropriate amount of zing. This is a light and refreshing dessert, and I imagine it would pair beautifully with a glass of chardonnay.  

When describing the process of making cheesecake, I like to use the analogy of going on a blind date. At first, you imagine what your end product should look like, creamy, fluffy, - tall, dark, and handsome. You put a whole lot of effort into preparing, creaming, mixing, stirring, - straightening your hair, waxing your legs. You show up to your blind date, nice restaurant and a good location. At first everything is going swimmingly, and then, just when you thought things were going to well, it starts to unfold. Your date tells you that he lives with his mother, is unemployed, in a band, and trying to figure things out, - your cake puffs up in the center, falls back down into a giant pit. You pull it out of the oven, and then it cracks down the center. You try and lift it out of the pan and realize that the crust is stuck to the bottom. The cake is hard and dense and you realized that you over baked it, because when the recipe stated jiggly, they meant jiggly. 

There are a few measures that you can take to prevent these unfortunate mishaps. Ensure that the bottom of the pan is well greased. Do not over mix your ingredients. If too much air is incorporated, the center will puff up and sink. Use enough crumb to make a thick enough crust so that it wont fall off the bottom of the cake. Start with a higher temp when baking, and then reduce. Baking at a lower temp will prevent cracking. Once baked, turn off the heat and keep the cake in the oven to let cool. It is the drastic change in temp that will cause it to crack. And, once you remove it from the oven, immediately run a thin knife along the edges, pressing the knife against the wall of the pan to loosen the top. This will also prevent cracking as the cheesecake cools and contracts. And use all social media outlets and stalk your bind date beforehand. This is 2013, and we have options. 

makes one 9 inch cake, cut into 16 small or 8 medium slices

1/2 cup raw cashews, chopped
1/4 cup angle flake sweetened coconut
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsp butter, melted

3 - 8 oz packs of cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup of white sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and seeds removed
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

In a food processor, add the chopped raw cashews and coconut flakes. Pulse until a medium fine crumb. In a medium size bowl, add the cashews, coconut, and graham cracker crumbs. Stir until combined. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter. Stir until all of the crumb is moistened.

Grease a 9 inch springform pan. Pour the crust ingredients into the springform pan and flatten evenly with your hand or a spatula. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven.

Increase the oven temperature to 400ºF.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla seeds. Mix on low-medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and zest and combine.

Scrape down the sides of the stand mixer bowl. Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and scrape down the sides. Fold in the egg whites.

Pour the filling onto the crust and smooth it out with a spatula. Place the pan into the oven on a flat baking sheet, on the middle rack. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 225ºF, and continue baking for 60 - 75 minutes, or when the cheesecake appears firm and slightly jiggly on top.

Once done, turn the oven off, and leave the cheesecake in there to cool for 1 hour. This will prevent the cheesecake from cracking. When you remove your cheesecake from the oven, immediately run a thin knife along the edges, pressing the knife against the wall of the pan to loosen the top. This will also prevent cracking as the cheesecake cools and contracts. Let the cake sit at room temperature until cool, a couple of hours. Cover with Saran wrap and place into the fridge overnight to cool completely. This will allow it time to set.

Can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for 1 month.


  1. Beautiful! And I love this comparison of cheesecake and a blind date. It's so true! Just one last thing to mention - sometimes the first sight is misleading. Even if the blind date is not as you've imagined it would be, and your cheesecake is far from perfect, the taste might compensate it all ;)

  2. That looks absolutely heavenly, and I LOVE the sound of that crust!

  3. Let me just add: my husband and I met on a blind date, and yes, in a way, first sight was misleading! We've been married, very happily, for more than 30 years!! He is truly my best friend...
    And, I simply must make this, if only for that fabulous crust! To die for it would seem.
    Thanks for all the baking tips!

    1. Thank you, and congrats to you and your husband.

  4. I just typed out a comment but don't think it went through???
    Anyway, yes, first sight can be misleading! My husband and I met on a blind date and we've been married for over 30 years! Very happily. He is my best friend!
    I must make this, if only f or that divine crust! and thanks for all the baking tips!!

  5. Umm. This is amazing. I completely agree about lemon cheesecake. It's classic and my favorite, and I can totally get on board with adding vanilla beans. It seems so obvious now to include them! And that crust!!! A+!

  6. Um, you and me = samesies. I definitely share that unabashed love of cheesecake and cannot be trusted around one alone. Also, yes, I did just write "samesies." I blame it on being distracted by these gorgeous photos. ;)

  7. Hey, there's nothing wrong with eating two pieces of cheesecake--especially a beautiful lemon one like this. Sounds amazing!

    1. I agree ;) I'm glad I'm not the only one on this boat.

  8. ha ha ha 2 sticks of butter in one sitting!! I don't really have a sweet tooth but with cheese cake it's hard to resist. On my last birthday, my husband wanted to bake cheese cake and thank god no one witnessed it except him, I ate two slices, pretty huge ones!

  9. Ahhhhhhh... This is gorgeous! I don't think I'm up for the challenge (I only sort of technically understand the difference between hard and soft peaks in the egg whites), but WOWZERS! I can almost taste it... Guess I'll have to settle for a trip to The Cheesecake Factory.

    1. Once you get the hang of soft and hard peaks, it's easy. Although, the simplicity of heading to the Cheesecake Factory is enticing.

  10. These photos are stunning! I'm a fellow cheesecake lover!

  11. I absolutely adore your blind date / cheesecake analogy. Left a huge smile on my face. Best piece of culinary writing I've read in a while. xo

  12. Any time I eat/make cheesecake, I'm always less than satisfied with the plan graham cracker crust. So I love love love the idea of adding nuts and coconut to the crust. I will definitely be trying that!

    1. Let me know how it goes. I am a fan.

  13. This is the most gorgeous looking cheesecake, it sounds absolutely divine too!