Vegan Coffee-Cashew Cheescake Bites

So for some reason I got a bit of a reputation on TGCBS for producing “ugly but delicious” items. I have literally no idea where this reputation came from  …

… well ok I have some idea but the point is have been keen to try and prove that I can also do pretty (given enough time!). So when I got invited to come up with some vegan petit-fours for a posh party I thought this is my chance to show I can make something delicious and pretty! Unfortunately the party got cancelled but I did come up with this tasty little treat.

I wanted to make a sophisticated dessert and was inspired by a fantastic cashew based cheesecake I had at Be Love in Victoria last year. So this starts off as a cashew cream infused with coffee. This is then treated like a custard and thickened with arrowroot powder. The base is loosely based on the nutty pie crust from “How it all Vegan” by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer – one of my favorite cookbooks. I don’t have lots of little molds and whatnot for making mini cheesecakes so I hit on the idea of doing it with ice-cube trays. It turned out pretty well.

The desserts have a strong coffee flavor and are best served a little chilled – they start to get very soft when they reach room temperature and you will definitely not look elegant and sophisticated if you try to eat them like that!

Warning: these have quite a few steps, are a little fiddly and since they use a lot of cashew nuts they are kind of expensive so you might want to save these until you have a special event.


0.5 cups of almond flour
0.5 cups strong white flour
0.5 cups of walnuts
1 tbsp brown sugar


1 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked for 4 hours
1 1/4 cup  Brewed coffee, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract, plus more to taste
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp of cocoa powder
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp ground coffee
1 tsp cinammon
2 tbsp arrowroot powder


85% Dark chocolate tempered (no milk ingredients)
1 cup cashews
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp corse salt


  1. Drain the cashews, and discard the soaking water.
  2. Pour half the brewed coffee into the blender, and add the soaked cashews with the maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Blast on high for 30 to 60 seconds, until smooth and creamy.
  3. Add the cashew cream to a saucepan with the rest of the coffee, coconut oil, cocoa powder, ground coffee, sugar and cinnamon. Simmer very slowly stirring all the time until thickened to avoid burning.
  4. Once fairly thick, strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Try to get as much liquid through as possible. I use a wooden spoon to continually stir and push the mixture through the sieve and then a rubber spatula to scrape the material from the underside. Reserve the residue from the sieve.
  5. Put the strained liquid into another pan, add the arrowroot powder. Just to a simmer stirring until a pipe-able consistency.
  6. Whip the cream vigorously (I’m not 100% sure this achieves anything but it seems a bit lighter as a result) and let it cool for a while.

Make the crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F
  2. In a food processor mix the flours, walnuts and sugar until a fine crumb.
  3. Mix in the reserved residue from the filling (should be about 1/3 cup) until it comes together as a dough.
  4. Roll about 5mm thick and bake for about
    8-10 minutes (should still be fairly light and spongy)
  5. Cut into pieces rectangular pieces 1″ x 1.5″ (or whatever size your molds are going to be)


  1. Pipe the filling into prepared molds. Press on bases. Freeze until set.
  2. Once frozen top with lines of tempered chocolate (I used 85% dark chocolate – for a good tutorial on chocolate tempering see: Food52 or about 1000 YouTube videos!)

Maple roasted cashews.

  1. Mix whole cashews maple syrup and salt a dspread on baking sheet 10-12 minutes until nicely browned
  2. Place a single roasted cashew on each dessert (stick with tempered choclate if necessary)
  3. Bring to room temperature before serving






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Bake #11: Maple Cookies

The Challenge:

Make N identical Maple Cookies

What happened?

So I was rather surprised by this bake. They are rather plain looking maple shaped shortbread sandwich cookies with a maple butter filling. It occurred to me straight away that this was going to be a close one to judge. Any baker of reasonable skill should be able to make shortbread cookies. So the trick here was obviously going to be to have them absolutely identical, perfectly baked and flawless. So right in my ballpark … erm, maybe.

Well I turned out some pretty good looking cookies. But then so did everyone else! This is going to be close


There was really not much to tell between all our cookies by looking at them. Bruno and Rochelle must have had a genuinely hard time ranking them. But never the less I came second and I’m pretty proud of that!


This was quite an enjoyable bake. However the thing I remember most from it was one little moment. I was putting the raw sugar on top of the cookies before baking. I was leaning close over them concentrating hard on getting an even distribution. The sunlight was coming in from my left and the light was just beautiful with the golden sugar. The cameraman was really enjoying capturing the light and getting a great shot. I think the only shot from it that made it to the cut was the featured image here.


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Bake #10: Tourtiere

The Challenge:

Make an interpretation of a Tourtiere along with a sauce or relish to go with

My Bake:

A vegetarian tourtiere with spicy tomato relish

What happened?

So this particular bake I practiced a lot. My family were subjected to 3 tourtieres one particular week. In the middle of summer! But I think it paid off. Although confident my tourtiere was a great vegetarian version I still had some nervousness that the vegetarian option might count against me. A lot of professional chefs are somewhat dismissive of vegetarian cooking and Bruno certainly raised an eyebrow when I told him there was going to be no meat!

The bake starts with a rye shortcrust. Rye is great to make shortcrust pastry with. Not only does it add a lovely slightly nutty flavor, but because it relatively low in gluten. Too much gluten formation ruins a shortcrust leading to tough dough and soggy bottoms. That’s why you work cold butter into the flour and use tiny amounts of very cold water, water also activates gluten production. In this pie I used just under 40% Rye. I also used cold vodka instead of some of the water. This is another good trick – it adds moisture to make the dough workable but does not promote gluten formation. The vodka evaporates off in the oven and leaves no flavor.

As I say, I was feeling pretty confident but things didn’t actually start all that well. To make the shortcrust I grate frozen butter with a box grater. Now a box grater is one of those kitchen tools that pretty much everyone has. If you’re like us it kicks around in a drawer, gets fairly heavily used. You’ve probably had it for ages. Can’t even remember where you got it. Probably you bought a super cheap one when you first started making grilled cheese sandwiches for yourself as a student. Maybe a relative gave you their crappy extra one when you moved into your first home. Most importantly – it is not sharp. It has never even occurred to you that it could be sharper than it is. Well in the tent we had brand-spanking new ones from show sponsor Cuisinart and they were SHARP! As I grated my butter, as often happens, the butter slipped and I ran my thumb-knuckle down this little wall of evil razor blades. There was a surprising amount of blood pretty much instantly and I stuck my hand in a nearby bowl of ice-water while the paramedic came to sort it out. For the rest of the show you’ll see I was wearing gloves a lot of the time. The cut (or rather multiple cuts one on top of the other) took weeks to heal and I still have a scar – suffering for my art I guess 🙂

Other than that everything went smoothly. The filling came together nicely while I blind baked the pie case. I must say the tent smelled fantastic on that challenge and we all appreciated baking something savory after all the sweets. I had got hold of some swim goggles for the pool at our hotel – I hate swimming without goggles – so I thought it would be totally hilarious to wear them while I chopped my onions. It’s an old gag but hey what the hell!

We had one last hicup. With about 20 minutes left on the clock a huge thunderstorm rolled in. Rain was battering the tent and some serious mopping needed doing. The for a short while they had to turn off some of the power including the ovens. We all stood around biting our nails and worrying about our bakes. As long as you don’t open the door a new oven should hold its heat pretty well and so they did. So it didn’t really make much of a difference to anyone other than adding a layer of stress!


I was very happy with my tourtiere – it looked pretty good and smelled pretty good but I was still nervous when Bruno and Rochelle got to my bench. I will never forget how surprised they both looked when they cut into the pie and took out a slice. I held it’s shape perfectly. It looked delicious. And both were very surprised by the taste. To be clear it does not actually taste of meat. But it has a texture which is very close to the texture of a ground meat filling and has a very strong rich flavor which somehow reminds you of meat. Someone said it tasted somewhat like stuffing. Whatever, Bruno and Rochelle were both very impressed.


As I said in my after-bake interview: “Mission accomplished”. I had been particularly worried about Bruno not liking the vegetarian angle. But I think in the end I pretty much knocked that one out of the park!

I have had some comments that my pie was not a tourtiere for the simple reason it was vegetarian. To which I say – meh.  This was a signature challenge not a technical so by definition there is going to be a wide range of interpretations. I think my tourtiere was actually closer in flavor to a traditional one than some of those that used meat. I tried to deliver a tourtiere-like experience without the meat and I think I succeeded. Can I call it a tourtiere? I can call it whatever I like – I made it. I’m not a great believer in tradition anyway – rules were made to be broken. Plus, I’ve been vegetarian for coming up to 28 years – I’m not about to make a meat pie now, baking show or no baking show!


This recipe is available on the CBC website at here.


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Bake #9: Pavlova

The Challenge

Make a pavlova

My Bake

A grilled plum and chocolate pav with praline shards

What Happened?

Well pavlova is a popular dessert in our household and we’ve made quite a few so feeling good. Plus I am really happy with my recipe, it’s come out well in practice. The main star of the show here of course is the meraingue which should be crispy on the outside with a nice chewy center. Meraingue is very susceptable to the ambient climate so to get it just right you have to take into account the weather. Practicing in Richmond it had worked very well. But it had been a warm summer and not too humid. In the tent in Toronto the humidity was very high and i was very worried about the meraingue not drying out at all so I made a decision to leave it for longer in the oven. A decision I would regret!

For the plums I was grilling half and cooking down some other to make a sauce. Then there was a marscapone cream. Marscapone goes beautifully with grilled plums. In fact if you want a simple but yummy dessert just grill some halved plums with a little honey drizzled on, then whip some sugar into marscapone and dollop it on the plums – fantastic! For the sauce component I had been peeling the plums so I could get a nice smooth sauce but after a raised eyebrow from Bruno and Rochelle I switched to leaving the skins on – great idea – much more colorfull sauce!

So we come to final assembly. All the components looked great. I had also made a sheet of almond brittle. Actually I’d made two sheets – one of which had come out far too thick so one of the cameramen had been nibbling it all through the bake! I was aware that we were getting close to time but I wasn’t sure how close. I had my meringue cream layers piled up along with the grilled plums and now I was carefully cutting up my brittle into artfull shards for the top when someone said “15 seconds left”. What???!!!! So I picked up the entire sheet and smashed it onto the bench. Then grabbing shards in both hands started ramming them into the top. Time’s up!!!

Adreneline rush but overall pretty happy


So the thing about pavlova – like so many baked goods – it might look fine on the outside but you really have no idea if it’s worked until someone cuts into it. So with my pav – the judges liked the look (for once!) but as they cut in we discovered it was dry through and through. I had overcompensated for the humidity. On the plus side they enjoyed the flavor so I think all in all I should be ok


I was still very happy with the bake. I delivered it on time and looking pretty good and tasting delish! Shame about the meringue but I felt it was an honest misjudgement which didn’t take too much away. Plus it was a meringue with incorporated chocolate which the judges acknowledged was trickier so all good. Feeling in the middle of the packish


Well us boys are not doing well! I was very sad to see Cory go he’s a star and had a lot of great baking experience. As the show progresses we are all bonding more and more and it gets harder and harder to say goodbye!

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Bake #7: Elegant Pie or Tart

The Challenge:

An elegant pie or tart

My Bake:

Coffee and salted caramel custard tart

What happened?

Hmm, elegant you say? Weeell I’ll see what I can do. So this pie uses a beautiful French butter crust. Unlike a traditional shortcrust where you try to keep everything as cold as possible, here you heat butter and start to caramelize it before adding the flour. It makes a beautiful sweet, nutty flavored crust. That’s going to be baked separately because what I’m making here is a “composed pie” – filling and crust are made totally separately and then just put together.

So basically there are just 3 elements: the crust, the custard and the caramel. Crust goes fine, came together nicely, rolled out and into the oven. Custard also fine but I slipped behind a bit on the crust and the custard – a coffee infused cornstarch thickened custard – had to go into it hot which made me very worried about it setting. Unfortunately it had also thickened a bit too much before adding it to the pie which meant it had to go into the pie hot – not good for setting.

It was all a bit tight but the custard was more or less set and although I was rushed it was all going not too bad. Then came the caramel. So the idea here was to pipe a fairly elegant little design also incorporating the Greek letter pi – geddit?!  It was meant to be salted caramel but when I came to add the salt I discovered I only had coarse kosher type salt on the bench. I was getting a bit pressed for time so I quickly through it in rather than asking for fine. This was my downfall. I put the caramel in a paper cone I’d made and cut a very small tip so I could pipe fine lines. Unfortunately one of those big salt flakes got caught in the end and as I pressed to push it out the bag burst in my hand. Now my hand was completely covered in caramel. I had none spare and anyway the pie was now covered with splats of caramel. I hoped I’d be able to maybe just spread it all over but it just stuck all over my hand and was a total mess.

Overall it looked like a poop in a pie dish. I was pretty disappointed.


Bruno and Rochelle both noticed it did not look very appetizing. Bravely they went ahead and tasted it anyway – they are both pros. Bruno liked the crust and they both thought it tasted great. So may have scraped through that again. Not feeling confident though!


Bit disappointed. Made a silly mistake and I think it would otherwise have been pretty good.

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Bake #3: Chocolate Layer Cake

The Challenge:

A chocolate layer cake

My Bake:

A chocolate record player illusion cake. Featuring a mirror glaze, wood-effect fondant and molded chocolate controls.

What Happened?

Oh god! Do I really need to talk about this one? Can’t we just pretend it never happened? Way back, when I was just a GBBO fan and they hadn’t even announced a Canadian version, I authoritatively mansplained to anyone who might listen that the optimum strategy for the first few episodes of these kinds of shows was: aim for the middle. Pick things which you know will work and which you can execute well. Don’t try to do anything too elaborate or novel that might not work and leave you in danger of getting kicked off.

That’s great advice, which I totally ignored in this bake. Somehow I got it into my head that, I needed to make a cake which looked like something – an illusion cake – which was not in the brief so I really have no idea where that came from. Next I decided it required showing a million different skills – most of which I had only a rudimentary handle on. So I had a mirror glaze, 3-tone chocolate fondant, white-chocolate marscapone butter cream and molded, filled chocolate details for which I 3d printed my own molds. So like I say, not too elaborate. On top of that, although I had practiced all these elements separately, I apparently thought that just sticking them together in the tent wouldn’t really present a problem.

The one sensible decision I made was to use a base cake which I know works. Based on the Moosewood Cookbook’s “Six-minute Chocolate Cake” – this is a cake risen with baking soda and vinegar which is mixed directly in the pan – no bowl needed – it does take about six minutes to throw together and then it goes straight in the oven. We make this cake regularly at home, it tastes fantastic and I figured if I get that in quickly I have hours to do all the other stuff.

Yeah well that was the plan.I was worried about getting the cake out of the pan in one piece because it wasn’t spring form and I thought it might stick. We don’t really worry about that at home because we just take slices straight from the pan. So I lined the pans with parchment paper. The problem was though that as I mixed the batter the parchment came away from the pan and the batter leaked under it so I had to fish the paper out again. I did this by hand and in the process things got messy – really very messy.

Since I already had my hands covered in batter by this time I just continued trying to mix the whole thing by hand. This apparently caused some controversy in some quarters. A few people have claimed this was “unhygienic”.  I’m not buying this: Bread dough is mixed by hand, so too is shortcrust pastry, in fact all manner of baked products are mixed by hand, it’s just easier in most cases. I washed my hands first, the batter itself was completely vegan (mostly just oil, cocoa and flour) so no this was not a health and safety issue! A totally messy ridiculous thing to do – sure.

Anyway, I was now slipping behind schedule. I started work on molded chocolate. So that involves tempering the chocolate. Tempering is a process which controls the crystallization of chocolate to make it predominantly crystallize in a single form which is stable and has a slightly higher melting point which makes the finished product nice and shiny and solid and is less likely to melt to the touch. There are several important rules to follow when tempering, perhaps the most important rule is: “don’t temper chocolate in a tent when it’s 30ºC and 90% humidity and you’re in a hurry”. I got the chocolate in the molds anyway and put them into the freezer without much hope of them working out.

Next up buttercream and mirror glaze – both were pretty straightforward but I was starting to get panicky now and more and more dishes were piling up. The real problem though was the fondant. Fondant usually has gelatin in it and as a vegetarian I do not eat it (plus it generally is a bit gross tasting!) So I was making my own using agar agar – a seaweed based gelling agent which takes the place of gelatin. However in the heat it was just turning into a sloppy mess. I kept adding icing sugar to firm it up – I used several kilos of the stuff! But no matter, it just wouldn’t  turn into the the lovely rollable plastic dough it should have been. It was meant to roll out into a nice large sheet but it just wouldn’t stay together so I stuck it onto the base of the cake in strips. It had totally lost it’s wood grain look. Instead it looked more like the skin of one of those iron age bodies they dig out of Irish peat bogs every now and then – yum!

I had the mirror glaze on the “record” and melting iron-age bog body fondant on the base. It looked absolutely dreadful. But perhaps with the chocolate knobs and arm it would be ok? Nope. The chocolate wouldn’t come out of the molds. I was going to roll a little disk of white fondant to put on the top as a record label but there frankly wasn’t a clean enough inch of workspace left to roll white fondant.

Time was called. It was a horrible mess. I started preparing my gracious going home vox-pop ready for judgement.


Rochelle and Bruno were very kind. They pointed out all the bits that didn’t suck – the mirror glaze was not bad, it looked overall vaguely like a record player. Like a record player that had been rescued from the wreckage of house fire maybe. On the plus side it did taste good. Both the cake and buttercream had worked. I was still pretty sure I was going home.


Overall it was probably the worst looking cake I have ever made in my life. I learned what I already knew – be authentic, do what you do and do it well. I don’t make fondant covered illusion cakes. I didn’t have to. And it didn’t work!


I was astonished it was not me who went home. When I first met Pierre I thought “well I wonder who will come second in this series?”  He knows everything about patisserie and I was sure he would be going the distance. He was unlucky, he had a marginally worse day than me.


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