Eli's logoI’m in heaven! The last time I had a really good cheesecake was before 2004, before I was vegan. Sure, I’ve tried a few at various restaurants and you know what? They really didn’t cut it for me. But that’s all changed now.

This week, Chicago’s own cheesecake darling, Eli’s, with their 39-year experience with cheesecakes, created the first seriously good vegan options for retail and they’re also launching a food service version for restaurants at the National Restaurant Association show next week.

photo of both cakes

Both desserts include a moist vegan cake layer under the cheesecake layer. The Belgian chocolate is very rich and would pair really well with almost any fruit topping, fresh fruit, or even a dollop of coconut cream. You could really build a lot of interesting platings with the chocolate. The carrot cake is very well thought out and even has a dusting of grated lemon rind on top. The addition of the lemon creates a very fresh flavor and the cake layer itself would be considered mild if you prefer your carrot cake with lots of spices. There are folks on either side of the carrot cake spice level debate and I could see easily garnishing this cake with candied or spiced pecans.

Two important points to this awesome news:

  1. Eli’s is not afraid to use the word “vegan” instead of safer phrases like “dairy-free” and the like. They feel so strongly about serving the vegan market, they aren’t being shy. In fact, these cakes are even certified by the Vegan Awareness Foundation.
  2. And this is a big one for me personally, they are NOT launching with vanilla! They dove into the deep end with Belgian chocolate and carrot cake flavors. Big kudos for those choices!

When Great Minds Think Alike

When Bob Mariano from Mariano’s Market caught wind that Eli’s was making custom vegan desserts for Gwyneth Paltrow and Bill Clinton, he wanted in on the action. Mariano partnered with Eli’s to offer vegan cheesecakes to consumers looking for non-diary, healthier and cruelty-free ready-made desserts. Eli’s will eventually expand to more stores but for now, Mariano’s has an exclusive and are selling both flavors in all Mariano’s locations. Eli’s will also include them in their online store later this fall.

team

Chef’s Notes

I spoke with two Eli’s chefs at the press event and learned a lot about how they finally nailed the flavor profiles and what impacted various decisions. One of the big questions that vegans have been asking is why these cheesecakes are a combination of a bottom layer of cake with a cheesecake top layer. Sort of a 50/50 split between the two.

The story goes something like this: they started out working on a solid cheesecake from top to crust but then began to wonder what type of dessert would they want to eat every day versus occasionally. The flavors and textures they were working with were so rich, they felt it may be better to launch with a dessert that would work every day, if someone (like me?) felt like it. I thought back to when I bought a slice of vegan cheesecake at Whole Foods and realized, they’re right. I couldn’t finish the whole slice and it really didn’t seem like bonafide cheesecake anyway.

This doesn’t mean they won’t create a 100% cheesecake in the future. They’ve got big vegan plans. BIG! They’re even working on some special seasonal flavors for 2015.

carrot cake photo

The carrot cake flavor has a cheesecake topping instead of the usual sour cream topping. Nuts and carrot shavings decorate the edge and the top is slightly dusted with grated lemon rind.

Hitting the Right Notes

The chefs also answered questions about how they arrived at incorporating a smidge of Daiya® cream cheese into the recipe. They tried various cheesecakes from restaurants and other vegan manufacturers but found that everything pretty much tasted the same. They were striving for something that was more authentic in texture and flavors. They also tried several brands of ready-made cream cheeses as well as other ingredients, searching for just the right amount of sour. It’s a challenge, evidently, to get something that’s not so sour that it overpowers sweet flavors like chocolate and carrot cake but also sour enough to have spunk.

Texture was another factor they had to perfect. And I can tell you that the Belgian chocolate flavor is perfectly smooth. The cheesecake on the carrot flavor was a little more sugary and less smooth but seemed appropriate to the carrot cake concept. I honestly had a difficult time choosing between the two. I almost bought one of each.

The tofu they use is from another local Chicago darling, Phoenix Bean. Phoenix provides Eli’s with a special batch of silky smooth tofu that lends the extra creamy texture to the cakes. Phoenix Bean’s artisan tofu is crafted by hand daily from locally farmed, single-source, non-GMO beans and they’re chemical and pesticide free.

chocolate cheesecake

The chocolate cheesecake is layered on top of a very dense and moist chocolate cake.

Vegan vs. Traditional Cheesecake

Just a few numbers comparing the health benefits of the new flavors:

Chocolate

  • 18% fewer calories
  • 38% less fat
  • 100% less cholesterol
  • 33% more iron

Carrot Cake

  • 14% fewer calories
  • 36% less fat
  • 100% less cholesterol
  • 42% less sodium
  • 50% more vitamin A

Vegan Certification

Eli’s chefs educated themselves about what constitutes vegan food and steered clear of sweeteners like honey and sugar bleached with bone char. One of their goals was to be certified so there was absolutely no question about any of the ingredients and they flaunt their certification proudly on the label design.

Where can you score?

Mariano’s Markets in the Chicagoland area sells whole cake only and they are located in the frozen cakes near the bakery. Use Mariano’s store finder to find a location near you. The cakes are sold frozen and Eli’s recommends you keep them frozen until needed. They also stated that you’ll get a cleaner slice if you slice while frozen.

If you only want a slice, you can stop by Eli’s Cheesecake Bakery Cafe.

Eli’s is also showcasing these new goodies for food service at next week’s National Restaurant Association show. I sure hope some of my favorite restaurants add these to their menus.

packgaing shot

Look for packages like these in the freezer case at Mariano’s Market.

Betcha can’t guess which one I bought for my birthday?