What is a Baklava Cheesecake?
Hello! How are you? How have you been! I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen and came up with a marriage of divine flavors – baklava cheesecake. Baklava is Middle Eastern dessert made with phyllo dough, crushed nuts like pistachios, and a honey syrup. It’s comprised of crispy, flaky, buttery layers divided by sticky sweet honey and nuts. It’s sooo good! I’ve made baklava a few times before, to win brownie points with my in-laws who are from the Middle East. After their critique and constructive criticism of each batch of baklava, I eventually figured out how to make a crowd-pleaser. So I was ready for the next level – combining crunchy, flaky baklava with something utterly creamy and decadent like dairy free cheesecake.
So what exactly is “baklava cheesecake”? Well, I first read about the idea of this genius creation in the book Why We Cook. It described a baklava cheesecake as having a graham cracker crust, a cheesecake filling flavored with cardamom and rose water, and layers of phyllo dough and nuts on top. I thought adding the baklava on top may be difficult. And I wondered if there was a way to completely take out the traditional graham cracker crust to make this dessert something entirely new. So why not make the baklava the crust of the cheesecake? It’s already flaky and crunchy, just like a crust!
So my version of a baklava cheesecake is layers of phyllo dough with chopped pistachios and honey on the bottom. The phyllo dough also goes up the sides of the cheesecake, enveloping it all in buttery-flaky-goodness. The cheesecake is spiked with rose water to give it that extra Middle Eastern flavor.
Keeping it All Dairy Free
Since both my father-in-law and myself have trouble digesting dairy, I try to keep the desserts I bring to their home dairy-free. For instance, the vegan knafeh I made during Ramadan last month was made with dairy free cream cheese! And since that dessert was a hit, I figured making this baklava cheesecake with the same dairy free cream cheese was likely to be a home run. But there are a lot of different types of dairy free cream cheese. My go-to for baking it into cheesecake is a brand I found in the grocery store that’s made from tofu. It’s really thick and has a mild flavor, perfect for holding its shape as it bakes. You could also make dairy free cream cheese from cashews, coconut oil and potato starch, or even butter beans.
If you want to keep everything strictly dairy free, use dairy-free Greek yogurt in the cheesecake filling. And use dairy-free butter when making the baklava layers.
Baking a Cheesecake
There are two schools of thought on how best to bake a cheesecake. To use a water bath, or not to use a water bath? I’ve tried both methods with relatively equal success. The purpose of a water bath is to ensure the cheesecake bakes evenly throughout. By wrapping the cheesecake pan in aluminum foil and then placing it in a high-walled baking dish filled with hot water, you can ensure your cheesecake won’t crack on top or over-bake. The water bath prevents the cheesecake within it from ever getting hotter than 212°F, regardless of your oven temperature.
I had all intentions to bake this cheesecake in a water bath. But as I was about to wrap the cheesecake tin in aluminum foil and pop it in the preheated oven, I realized I was completely out of foil. There were just two measly inches left on the cardboard roll. So to the internet I fled in a frantic panic! I didn’t have time to run to the store to grab more. Thankfully, I found a method of baking cheesecake without a water bath that worked seamlessly. All the details are in the recipe below.
- 2 cups chopped roasted pistachios, plus extra for topping
- ¼ tsp salt (only add if the pistachios are unsalted)
- ½ cup raw organic honey
- ½ cup (one stick) butter (or dairy-free butter), melted
- 15 sheets phyllo dough (at room temperature)
Dairy Free Cheesecake
- 32 ounces dairy-free cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp rose water
- 1⅓ cup dairy-free plain Greek yogurt
- 4 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- Mix the 2 cups of chopped pistachios with with sale and honey in a mixing bowl until it's sticky and well-coated. Set aside.
- Grease a 10-inch or 11-inch springform pan. Gently pull apart one sheet of phyllo dough and place it in the springform pan. Use your hands to flatten it on the bottom and in the corners and rise up the sides to hang over the top of the pan. Use a pastry brush to brush a little melted butter on the phyllo dough sheet, including up the sides. Repeat with 9 more sheets of phyllo dough, until you have 10 stacked, each layered with melted butter on top.
- Spread half the pistachio-honey mixture into the pan and press it in an even layer.
- Add five more sheets of phyllo dough and melted butter.Spread the other half of the pistachio-honey mixture into the pan and press it in an even layer. Set aside.
Dairy Free Cheesecake
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl with an electric whisk, beat the room temperature cream cheese for 4 to 6 minutes, until it is smooth and creamy. If there are any lumps, you'll end up with a lumpy cheesecake. Scrape the sides of the bowl during this process, to make sure all the cream cheese gets creamed.
- Beat in the granulated sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt into the cream cheese for another 4 minutes, until it is smooth.
- While mixing on low speed, add the rose water and then add the whole eggs, one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully mixed in before adding the next egg.Then add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
- Add the dairy-free plain Greek yogurt and continue to mix on a low speed until it's smooth, creamy and fully combined.Scrape the sides of the bowl again and give the mixture a few last stirs by hand, to ensure there are no pockets of ingredients that aren't fully mixed.Pour the batter into the springform pan with the baklava cheesecake crust.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the hot oven with the door closed for at least 1 hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to come to room temperature, after about 3 hours.
- Refrigerate the cheesecake overnight to set (at least 8 hours).When ready to serve, release the walls of the springform pan and top with chopped pistachios. Slice up and enjoy!