Thursday, 9 August 2012

Chocolate Ricotta no-bake Cheesecake - SUCCESS!!

I have to say... this is the most decieving dessert I have ever eaten. For something that tastes so incredibly sinful - I cant believe how nutritious it is, not to mention easy to make. Probably even good enough to have for breakfast, dare I say! :O

In the last few months, I have been on this constant mission to either find a recipe for or develop a dessert dish that resembles a tart or a cheesecake – mainly for the texture. In my mind the dessert iv been looking for is something that would be served chilled (or frozen) and would have a crust with a creamy yet firm filling. I visited a wonderful raw caf√© in Sydney a month or so ago for breakfast and when we were leaving I noticed the range of raw desserts they had in the window. Mum and I got some to take home for later and they were among the most delicious desserts I have ever tasted – not a surprise to me but that could be a surprise to others who are resistant to or unaware of the benefits of (and the incredible satisfaction that can come from enjoying) a raw food diet. I think it might be safe to say that this is where my mission began.

During my 'research' I found that many raw desserts that fit the description of my perfect dessert contain either coconut oil, coconut butter or both. Since then, I have extensively researched and found many benefits of coconut, coconut oil and coconut butter despite the high saturated fat content. The alleged nutritional benefits are extremely extensive and I have to say that all of the scientific information I read regarding the benefits makes total sense. Coconut does contain high levels of saturated fat which is commonly known to be very bad for us, however it is believed that due to variations in the chemical structure of the saturated fatty acids in coconut compared to animal products, coconut saturated fat is neither detrimental to heart health nor weight management*. Unfortunately, it is taking me a while to adjust to the idea of filling a dessert dish with oil or something reffered to as "butter" and calling it healthy even while being aware of the favourable evidence. One day I am sure that I will use both coconut butter and coconut oil, but in the meantime, I was determined to develop a recipe that used something that would give a similar texture without the high fat content. Ricotta Cheese! I have mostly used Ricotta Cheese in savoury dishes in the past - maybe to top a vegetable lasagne or to add creaminess to a vegetable stack, but the mild flavour of the ricotta was easily masked by the other ingredients and acted as the perfect base for my Chocolate Ricotta no-bake Cheesecake.

Chocolate Ricotta no-bake Cheesecake

What makes this decadent Chocolate dessert so good for you?

I put this together feeling that there was a biiiig chance it would be only mediocre. Thinking about the ingredients I was using compared to what would typically be used in a cheesecake dessert recipe made me a little bit doubtful that it could be as amazing as I was hoping. This means that I was SO pleasantly surprised when it came out SO much better than I expected and after calculating the nutritional breakdown (which can be found below), I was all smiles.

Ricotta Cheese which is actually defined more as a cheese by-product (made from the whey that is drained off during the production of mozarella and provalone cheese) than an actual cheese, is a good source of calcium to the diet which has a known link to the health of our bones and teeth. Whey (mentioned above) is a great source of protein, making ricotta cheese a wonderful addition to the daily diet when increased protein is the goal. High protein foods are known to maintain fullness for longer and also aid in muscle groth and repair. Alongside Cottage Cheese, Ricotta Cheese is lower in fat than many other cheeses and has a fairly mild flavour which is handy when pairing with both sweet and savoury foods!
Cocoa Powder (unsweetened) is actually fairly low in energy (63kilojoules/15 calories per tablespoon) so without being accompanied by the typical ingredients that are mixed into many chocolately desserts (eg butter, cream, sugar), cocoa doesnt have to be the enemy - especially if a dessert like this ^ curbs your chocolate cravings and saves you from eating something that doesnt fit with your healthy eating plan. Cocoa is also known to contain antioxidants which fight free radicals and consequently can be linked to a reduction in heart disease incidence. Unfortunately this does not mean that 'chocolate' is not of potential detriment to heart health as the additives to the cocoa to create chocolate can sometimes override the benefits of the cocoa in its natural form - worst news ever.
Natural Sweeteners. The natural sweeteners used in this recipe are dates, apple sauce, natvia, vanilla essence and honey. There is no denying that these each contain some amoung of 'sugar' however one of the most important things to note when using natural sweeteners is that each of the above mentioned provides significant nutritional benefit while sweetening our food. In contrast to using refined sugars, our bodies have something to gain from using natural sweeteners, whether it is the high vitamin, potassium and fiber content of dates while they manage to be completely fat and sodium free or its the alleged natural medicinal benefits of honey (antiseptic, antioxidant and cleansing properties). I know personally that I would much rather get my daily sugars from something naturally grown in nature that not only adds sweetness but a wonderful flavour to whatever it is that you're creating.

Ingredients (Serves roughly 8 slices depending on size)

1.5 cups (115g) Wholegrain rolled oats (ground into a "flour")
1tsp cinnamon
1tbs cocoa
3 fresh medjool dates (remove seeds)
2 tbs apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla essence

250 low fat ricotta cheese
2 tbs cocoa
1tsp cinnamon
1 tsp natvia (brand of stevia - natural sweetener)
1tsp chia seeds
1 tsp apple sauce
2 fresh medjool dates (seeds removed)
1tsp honey
1tsp vanilla essence


Place oats in a food processor and process into a fine flour and add dates to process together until dates are broken up (if small pieces of date are still visible, that's ok)
Add remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until combined. As can be seen below, the mixture should not be smooth - it should simply be wet enough to press together into a firm crust.

Once combined, thinly spread mixture into a pie dish and aim to spread it as evenly as possible. The crust should be fairly thin and it should be spread as far up the sides of the dish as possible.

Place pie dish in the fridge to begin chilling the crust.

Now for the filling!

Once seeds have been removed from the dates, simply place all filling ingredients in the food processor to combine! Remove pie dish from the fridge and evenly spread the filling into the crust! As the ricotta might be a little soft due to processing and the little heat that might have been produced, I would suggest placing the cheesecake back in the fridge to chill before serving, however you could probably serve immediately if you're extra desperate : ). 

I actually made mine a day in advance as I was making it for mine and my boyfriends 9 month anniversary the following day : ) - it was very difficult to wait, I can assure you. I was worried that the cheese would separate and become watery on top but thankfully this didnt happen and it was still in perfect condition two days after it was made - im sure it was okay for longer but there was none left to test that theory : ).

Now for the specifics!

Nutrition information (per slice - based on a yield of 8 slices)
Energy:            583.8 kilojoules/139 calories
Total Fat:         3g
Saturated Fat:  1g
Protein:           7g
Carbohydrates: 20g
Sugars:             7g
Potassium:        7g
Dietary Fiber:   3g
Sodium:           40mg

*Based on my reading (and im happy to be corrected);
Coconut Butter - A blend of both the meat of the coconut and the coconut water (the liquid within the coconut)
Coconut Oil - Extracted from the meat of the coconut meat.

At the end of the day, I must say that the purity and simplicity of the production of these two products has me confident that the benefits of coconut and everything that comes from it are legitimate. For me, converting from using ZERO oil and ZERO butter in recipes to using the above coconut products liberally might never happen. I do believe that the "everything in moderation" rule still applies, even with natural products such as this, but I daresay, I will look at using coconut products in the future for the many nutritional benefits they do seem to provide. More information about coconut products and the scientific reasons why the saturated fat contained within them is not dangerous like the saturated fats in unhealthy, processed foods and many animal products, can be found here.

"Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is a unique and different from most all other fats and possesses many health giving properties. It is now gaining long overdue recognition as a nutritious health food." -Coconut Research Centre

I really hope that some of you have the chance to make this and realise how unexpectedly wonderful these ingredients are together. This result gives me so much confidence in healthy food and its ability to replace the things that contribute to the terrible health issues surrounding obesity and related comorbidities such as diabetes and heart disease - which are often partly traced back to food consumption. If you like it, please spread it around : ) - I would love to encourage as many people as possible to feel motivated and equipped to enjoy delicious food while enjoying a long and healthy life.

One recipe at a time : )

- Mel

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