A few weeks ago for a festival in Toronto called Winterlicious, I ate a delicious meal with one of my best friends at a really interesting restaurant called Hawthorne Food & Drink. The restaurant is a social enterprise and gives back to the community in two ways. It uses local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients, while providing free training and career development for people in need of skills and employment. This includes people with disabilities. How cool is that? I loved the meal and the restaurant so much that I decided I wanted to re-create and re-imagine one of the dishes that I was served -a winter vegetable cheesecake. What I ended up baking was so far different from the cake at the restaurant, but it used the same essential ingredients: carrots, pumpkin and beets. Instead of a delicate miniature cheesecake with carrot cake crumbled on the plate and a small swish of chocolate beet ganache, my creation turned into a large, messy layered cake (one layer pumpkin cheesecake, one layer carrot cake) smothered in beet cream cheese frosting.
I wanted to share the recipe and experience on the blog because I think cooking is so therapeutic and a very useful self-care act. This cake was extremely elaborate and took many hours and involved a lot of work. The measuring and chopping and grating and stirring was repetitive in nature, yet required a lot of concentration. Thus, it forced me to be mindful and embrace the present moment – it was truly an act of medititation. Ironic, because I typically hate meditating.
The act of cooking can really benefit a person’s mental health in many ways and truly use food as a source of “medecine. In fact, culinary therapy is becoming increasingly popular as a tool for coping with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. Cooking can reduce stress, increase your appreciation for life, encourage creative expression and can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Cooking with a partner can also improve a person’s communication and cooperation skills.
Anyways, if you are reading this article, you probably like to cook and bake too. Or you at least like cake – and that’s all that matters. So without further ado, here are some photos from the experience and the recipe. It was adapted from several of my favourite food bloggers and websites.
Winter Vegetable Cheesecake
Pumpkin Cheescake Layer: Adapted from a recipe on The Kitchn
Carrot Cake Layer (Base): Adapted from a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
Beet Cream Cheese Icing: Adapted from a recipe from Joy the Baker.
3 (8-ounce) packages (1 1/2 cups) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup plain greek yogurt, at room temperature
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs (about 8 crackers)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or a bunch of gratings of fresh
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons neutral oil or melted butter
1 large eggs
1 cups peeled and grated carrots (about 3 large carrots)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated beets, mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons milk, depending on desired consistency
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
Start the cake at least a day and a half before you want to serve it, as the cheesecake needs to be refrigerated for 24 hours.
First, prepare the cheesecake according to the instructions in the recipe above. However, there is no crust in my version – so make sure to skip that step and put parchment paper on the bottom of the pan so it can be easily removed.
While the cheesecake is cooling, you can prepare the carrot cake layer and the frosting.
Carrot Cake: Prepare according to the Smitten Kitchen directions, except that we are only creating one layer, not three.
Frosting: Prepare according to the Joy of Baker directions.
Putting it all together!
Once the cheesecake and carrot cake are cooled to the appropriate temperature, it is time to assemble!
Place the carrot cake on a cake stand or cake plate (or a regular plate like I did, if you don’t care about presentation.) Spread a generous amount of frosting on top, coating the top of the cake evenly. Remove the cheesecake from the springform pan and flip onto the carrot cake. Frost the rest of the cake, covering the top, sides and bottom. You will likely have frosting left over. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes and serve!