Here's how labneh becomes the perfect crustless cheesecake
Not every idea for a new recipe works out exactly as expected. Here's my story.
In my previous column, I shared how to make labneh, a Greek yogurt-based fresh cheese that's a perfect, healthy appetizer since it's spreadable and dippable. I topped my labneh with fresh snipped chives and the honest feedback from my dinner guests was all positive.
What had impressed me about my labneh, besides its excellent flavor, was how much it reminded me of cream cheese. That cream cheese link charged my creative spirit, and I wondered if I could make more labneh and turn it into a sugar-free, wheat-free cheesecake. A worthy goal, but not necessarily easily achieved.
I started with Nan's recipe for her really good crustless cheesecake that became the foundation for my new labneh cheesecake.
Before we were together, Nan started making her cheesecake without sugar, substituting a blue-packet artificial sweetener to lower the total calories by nearly 600. I was on the same low-carb, sugar-free path as Nan and decided to try my new recipe using erythritol (sugar alcohol).
Why erythritol? As healthline.com states: " ... erythritol is generally considered one of the healthiest sugar alcohols. It's calorie-free, doesn't raise blood sugar levels, and is less likely to cause digestive upset than the other sugar alcohols."
It seems safe, and my erythritol (Pyure brand) is certified organic.
Draining two pounds of organic, plain Greek yogurt for two days, just as I had when I made my first labneh, left me with 24-ounces: equal to three 8-ounce cream cheese packages. Perfect.
I followed Nan's recipe as closely as possible. Erythritol products say that they can be used "measure-for-measure" for sugar. That's not what I found. Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar and, when I made my cheesecake batter, I found it not sweet enough. I kept adding erythritol, tablespoon by tablespoon, until it was perfect (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons versus ¾ cup).
I wanted to make my new low-carb-friendly cheesecake even better, so I ground a cup of fresh pecans and evenly scattered them on the bottom of my buttered springform pan.
I used three eggs from my local farmers market, and their deep yellow yolks made my cheesecake yellower.
Baking time was a touch longer than Nan's, for this cheesecake must jiggle just right. Too jiggly, and it's underdone; no jiggle, and it's overbaked and dry.
Once I'd chilled my new labneh cheesecake, it had some small cracks on the surface. Not pretty. So, I lightly sweetened a cup of organic sour cream with two packets of stevia and a teaspoon of vanilla and spread it on my refrigerated cake. The topping was a touch soft at first, but when refrigerated overnight, it firmed up nicely.
I learned that granulated erythritol doesn't dissolve into a cheesecake batter very well, so it ends up with a touch of random crunch.
Everyone who tasted my new cheesecake noticed that slight crystal crunch and all said it was "no biggie."
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@ theleanwizard.com.
Drained Greek Yogurt Cheesecake
24 ounces drained plain, whole milk organic Greek yogurt cheese (see recipe for homemade labneh)
3 large eggs (organic preferred)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic erythritol
4 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped fresh pecans
1 cup sour cream (organic preferred)
2 packets stevia sugar substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place an oven rack in the center position and begin heating the oven to 275 degrees.
Lightly butter the interior bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Distribute pecans evenly across the pan's bottom. Set aside.
Add drained yogurt cheese to a large mixing bowl and, with an electric hand mixer, mix until smooth. Add each of the eggs one at a time and mix until combined. Add erythritol and vanilla and blend until completely combined and smooth. Transfer to the prepared springform pan and bake for 55 minutes, or until the cheesecake center jiggles slightly when shaken. Turn the oven off, open the oven door slightly and allow the oven to cool down (about one hour). Take cheesecake out of the oven and place on a rack and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until cold (overnight is best).
Make the topping: Add sour cream, stevia and vanilla to a mixing bowl and whisk together until smooth and combined. Spread on top of the refrigerated cheesecake and refrigerate until set. Serves 12.
Note: You can substitute 18 packets of stevia for erythritol.
Nutrition values per serving: 182 calories (68.8 percent from fat), 14 g fat (4.9 g saturated fat), 4.8 g carbohydrates (3.9 net carbs), 4.3 g sugars, 0.9 g fiber, 9.5 g protein, 73 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium.
1 quart (32 ounces) organic, plain, whole milk Greek yogurt
Place a wire mesh strainer large enough to hold all the yogurt over a bowl sufficiently deep to keep the bottom of the strainer at least 1 inch from the bowl's bottom.
Cut a 1-yard square piece of cotton cheesecloth (preferably made from organic cotton) and rinse the cheesecloth under cold water, wringing as much water from it as possible. Spread the cheesecloth out and place it into the center of the strainer with the extra cheesecloth hanging over the bowl's sides.
Transfer the yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Fold the cheesecloth over the yogurt, place a clean plate over the yogurt so it sits on top of the yogurt and then place a large can or bottle on the plate. Place in the refrigerator for at least 24 and up to 48 hours.
Once drained (the liquid in the bowl's bottom is whey), transfer the cheese to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Makes about 24 ounces of cheese
Nutrition values per tablespoon: 21 calories (47.3 percent from fat), 1.1 g fat (0.9 g saturated fat), 1.3 g carbohydrates, 0.9 g sugars, 0 g fiber, 1.5 g protein, 5 mg cholesterol, 8 mg sodium.