01/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Just Because You're Vegan, Doesn't Mean You Can't Use a Springform Pan

Pumpkin cheesecake is one of my favorites, so I saved it for last. I make it every year and it seemed like the ultimate vegan challenge with a dairy product right there in the name.

First, I had to research if it was even possible to make vegan cream cheese...but I found a recipe at The Veggie Table and I was good to go. I needed tofu, cashews, soy milk, raw sugar and salt. (The recipe also called for pepper...but it was supposed to be a savory spread, so I made the executive decision to make mine sans pepper.)

My mother's cheesecake recipe is my standard...but it has two layers - one of which requires sour cream. I admit I did not even research vegan sour cream. Epicurious (another old standard) has 12 pumpkin cheesecake recipes to choose from. I opted for the spiced one. Part of my logic (other than the usual, "How many forks did this recipe receive?" and "How many people would make it again?") was -- and please don't take offense, tofu lovers -- that it would be better to have as many flavors as possible to mask any potential "Hey! This isn't really cream cheese!"-weirdness. (In addition to pumpkin, the recipe I picked had cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.) I haven't tried it, but I think a plain vegan cheesecake would be hard to pull off.

My recipe called for a water bath, but I never do that. Technically I don't have a roasting pan anyway...but it just seems more trouble than it's worth. I have made my peace with cracked cakes. A follower on Twitter told me there is a way to prevent cheesecakes from cracking without a water bath, but I haven't tried it yet. And I figured a vegan cheesecake was not the time or place to start.

I have both round and square springform pans. The square pan was an exciting discovery when I was in Wisconsin last December. I tried to make a peppermint cheesecake in it for Christmas but made a rookie mistake -- I added the crushed mint garnish *before* putting the cake in the refrigerator to cool. When I brought it out the next day, not only had the cake cracked, but the mints had melted and turned the cake I had what in essence looked like brains.

This new recipe calls for cinnamon in the crust...which I thought was a nice touch. (Mom's is just graham crackers, butter and sugar.)

While the crust was baking, I made my cream cheese...but I made a really big mistake in the process. My cream cheese recipe called for eight ounces of tofu...which is exactly the same as a block of cream cheese. I needed four blocks for the cake (Don't freak out. That's pretty standard.) and so I needed 32 ounces of cream-cheese-like stuff. This meant quadrupling the recipe, so a cup of cashews (and I feared I had eaten too many of them and wouldn't have enough) but also a staggering EIGHT teaspoons of raw sugar and FOUR of salt. That seemed excessive...but we bakers are a precise breed! We don't just throw things in the way cooks do! We like everything to be measured just I figured I couldn't override the recipe. However, when I *tasted* the faux cream cheese, I don't even know how to describe how overwhelmed I was by sweet and salty at the same time. It was like my tastebuds were arguing over who could freak out more. CLEARLY I had made a big mistake. I was able to cut down the sugar in the rest of the recipe to compensate...but I was really worried about the salt. Adding a cup of coconut milk didn't make me feel much better. But ultimately I decided there was nothing I could do and I should just add the spices and blend it up and hope for the best.

It looked like it was going to overflow in my Cuisinart (par for the course?)...but thankfully it didn't and when I sampled it, it wasn't actually all that bad.

I remember thinking that the crust seemed awfully thick, so I wasn't surprised when I couldn't fit all the filling into my springform pan (perhaps I should have used the square one after all). It was supposed to be in the oven for an hour and a half, but I decided to check every 30 minutes as I haven't really baked with tofu before in such an overt way. About five minutes later, I realized I had forgotten the vanilla, so I had to bring the poor sucker out again and pour vanilla in and try to stir it up IN the pan. Shameful. After that, the cake darkened quickly, but was still jiggly for pretty much the entire time. I had to put a tray under it toward the end as it was leaking all over the bottom of my oven and burning something crazy (but this isn't all that unusual at my house).

When I took it out, I admit it had a beautiful almost caramel-like texture to it. And it smelled wonderful. After a night in my fridge, it looks substantially gooier...but I hope if I take it out an hour or so before serving that it will lose some of that cold, wet goo effect.