Cheesecake: A dessert so delicious that even the lactose-sensitive can’t resist indulging in it from time to time.
Some like it classic, while others prefer to be adventurous in their flavour combinations. Whatever your preference, Van Foodster’s Cheesecake Challenge has something for you. With 13 restaurants and bakeries participating, the options are limitless and include decadent chocolate and fruity creations, as well as savory and sweet combos. Hell, there’s even one with your favorite ever-so-versatile protein, bacon.
I went on a media tour with a dozen other food writers, TV personalities and industry professionals, including the eccentric Cassandra Anderton, the lovely photog duo, Sean Neild and Alvin Lee, and the sweet as pie Alyssa Dawson.
Our first stop of the day was at Gramercy Grill where we sampled Chef Dennis Huang’s Strawberry Cheesecake.
This cheesecake is “simple” as explained by Chef Huang, but its simplicity is nothing to shrug off. In fact, because there isn’t much going on, you are able to focus on how smooth and creamy the cheesecake is – not overwhelmingly sweet even with the strawberry coulis pouring off the sides. The fresh strawberries are a nice touch visually while also making me feel less guilty about eating the whole slice…sort of.
“I tried to make it simple, because not only did I have to cook it, but everyone else had to cook it. The base is just cream cheese, and a very tiny bit of sour cream, sugar and…strawberries for the coulis. I think the graham cracker crust is not too bad for flavour – it’s made with graham cracker, butter and a little salt.”
The only thing that needs some work on this bad boy is the crust, it may be tasty on its own, however it was far too weak next to the uber flavorful cheesecake. It needed to be twice the height, with a more intense graham cracker taste to stand up to the rest.
The fruity cheesecake was paired with a sparkling raspberry cocktail garnished with strawberries.
“Because it’s strawberry cheesecake, I’ve pre-frozen some raspberries as a garnish/ice cube and covered that with a little bit of Chambord, which is a raspberry-based liqueur, to add some sweetness. I’ve paired it up with Confidence Rosé from 8th Generation here in BC. It is a brut to off-dry so it’s not super sweet it is dry, the Chambord should sweeten it up just enough to pair beautifully with the cheesecake, enough so that they both shine.”
At this point I abandoned my bike, foreseeing that after three cheesecake samplings my pace would decrease dramatically and I might not make it home.
Gramercy Grill’s Strawberry Cheese Cake
Description: Baked Strawberry Cream Cheese Cake with Graham Wafer Crust ($7.50)
Ingredients: Cream Cheese, Milk, Sugar, Flour, Orange Zest, Lemon Zest, Strawberry, Eggs, Vanilla Bean, Butter, Graham Crackers
Created by: Chef Dennis Huang
Address: 2685 Arbutus Street, Vancouver
Our second stop of the day was at Salontea, an adorably vibrant tea and baked goods shop on South Granville.
Upon entering, we were ushered to a table adorned with pink, purple and blue tissue paper “poofs” and delicate “Grandma’s cabinet” tea cups. Staff was busy preparing our tea-infused mini cheesecakes as we sipped on The Society Hostess, The Romantic and The Dancer.
While I enjoyed the tea and their colorful space, I was less enthused about their gluten free tea-infused cheesecake.
“The crust is on top and throughout, it’s chocolate hazelnut flourless crust and he (the mystery creator) has infused The Lover which is our chocolate Chai tea. There are three different kinds of tea in it.”
I loved their creativity and originality, but I found it a bit dry and crumbly. It lacked the ability to give me the bittersweet guilt of eating something obviously unhealthy. In other words, although knowing it wasn’t healthy, it still tasted that way as it lacked that creamy, fat consistency. The brownie pieces weren’t sweet but tasted of cocoa powder and the shriveled poached blueberries on top should be replaced with fresh blueberries or a different berry altogether.
While it didn’t satisfy my love for cheesecake, I saw many in the group gobble it up; to each their own.
Salontea Tea-infused Cheesecake (Gluten-free)
Description: Their Salontea Vanilla Chai tea-infused cheesecake is made with a flourless brownie and hazelnut base, with a hint of orange zest. It is topped with Salontea Dancer tea-poached fresh blueberries. Their cheesecake creation is gluten free and served individually sized. ($5.95)
Ingredients: Cream Cheese, orange zest, eggs, sugar, flourless brownie mixture, ground hazelnuts, wild blueberries, Salontea Dancer and Vanilla Chai teas
Address: 3010 Granville Street, Vancouver
Our third and final stop of the day was at Satori Factory on Victoria.
As we walked inside escaping the rain we were welcomed with warm smiles and instant hospitality.
We took a seat at their long table in front of the window and were offered a hot coffee, tea or latte. Options ranged from your average Americano, to a rose latte, and even avocado tea. I opted for a soy rose latte, to test their barista’s skills; they did not disappoint.
While waiting for the cheesecake, some opted to ask Owner Maria Huynh questions about the cheesecake, others explored and took photos, but Cassandra and I “stole” the Novus TV microphone and put on a duet. Fortunately, the video camera was turned off.
“Our cheesecake is a Spiced Apple Pie Cheesecake, initially we called it the Vanilla Bean Apple Pie Cheesecake but we thought we would say Spiced Apple Pie just to let people know that their is a little bit of ginger and cinnamon on top. The filling is a blend of cream cheese as well as goat cheese to give it a little bit of tang. It’s all gluten free and the crust is a mixture of gluten free flours and we also put almond meal in there to add that extra crunch. On the top we put organic green apples that are reduced with a little bit of organic cane sugar to make a little bit of a jam that we spread on top. We garnish it with freshly grated orange zest and gluten free ginger cinnamon crisp to top it off with a little bit of crunch.”
I liked everything about this cheesecake; it was presented beautifully, was stimulating texturally and was unique with both familiar and new flavor pairings.
The cheesecake is gluten free but you don’t miss the gluten at all and probably wouldn’t guess it if you didn’t know. One complaint raised at the table was that the center was still a tad frozen, explained by the fact that they freeze bigger batches after making them in order to preserve them and to make a cleaner cut. Then, they garnish meticulously and serve it on a wooden board, giving it that rustic appeal. The apple slices are more for garnish than anything else, as I don’t think their tart taste complemented the rest of the cake.
So what inspired this tasty creation?
“We were playing around with a lot of different ideas, we wanted to create something that people were familiar with, but at the same time a little bit unique. We went through so many different variations like chocolate orange and a vegan version, but we decided that we wanted something that was homey for people and since everyone is so familar with apple pie and vanilla ice cream (one of my favorite things) we decided to make it in to a cheesecake.”
This cheesecake isn’t as smooth as Gramercy’s, but it’s delicious and worth trying. I recommend eating it all in one go though as it didn’t taste nearly as good the next day.
Satori Factory’s Vanilla Bean Apple Pie Cheesecake (Gluten free)
Crust: Almonds, garbanzo flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, fava flour, sugar, butter, free-range egg, organic sugar, cinnamon, salt
Filling: Cream cheese, goat cheese, vanilla bean, cream, sour cream, free range eggs, corn starch, organic sugar
Topping: Organic green apples, organic sugar
Ginger cinnamon crisp garnish: Corn starch, fava flour, garbanzo flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, organic sugar, canola oil, ginger, cinnamon, salt – finished with fresh orange zest ($4.50)
Created by: Chef Sandra Lee
Address: 5054 Victoria Drive, Vancouver
My day of shoveling cheesecake in to my mouth ended on a high note and was followed by a Thomas Haas cake at St. Regis Hotel’s 100th anniversary celebration. My dress felt a bit tighter and my blood sugar level was spiked, but I felt spoiled and happy nevertheless.
There is still time to take part in the Cheesecake Challenge and vote for your favorite in the city. Will it be Trees Organic, who has been claiming they have the best in the city, or will it be the little restaurant that you’ve never eaten at?
Some that may be worth checking out (I haven’t had them yet so don’t yell at me if they sound interesting, but taste terrible):
Meyer Lemon Brûlée Cheesecake – Pier 7
Triple Threat: Hot Fudge Brownie Cheesecake Tart – Tarts Bakery
Triple Chocolate Stout Cheesecake – Darby’s Pub
Banana Bacon Cheesecake with a whiskey maple caramel – Fet’s Grill
For the complete list of cheesecakes check out Van Foodster’s Cheesecake Challenge page.
The Cheesecake Challenge ends on the 28th, at which point voting takes place, so pitter patter and start eating!
Voting details: vancouverfoodster.com/cheesecake-challenge/
To see more Cheesecake porn check out my set on Flickr.