I missed the greek yogurt fervor of recent years. There was a point where nearly every baking blog that I followed was raving about it and its use. I was intrigued, but never got around to purchsing some for myself. Besides, I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. I mean, I enjoy yogurt just fine; it's great for a quick snack. But come on, yogurt is yogurt. Right?
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Last weekend during a visit to my parents' place, I noticed a container of berry greek yogurt at the back of the fridge. It had been opened, but looked a tad neglected. Always late to the party, I figured this would be my opportunity to give it a try. My first taste was nothing short of earth shattering. Well, as earth shattering as eating yogurt can be. It changed my entire perspective on yogurt. All others seemed to pale in comparison.
It was thick. Really thick. And super smooth and creamy with this wonderful tangy flavour. I think I ate half the container. And then my mind started to wander and wonder how I could eat in ways other than with a spoon. For some reason I imagined it on a bagel, like cream cheese only lighter, smoother and creamier. And then it dawned on me: Cheesecake
Only, not cheesecake.
I knew I couldnt be the first person to think of this, but subsequent searches have not revealed anyone who has done it quite as I have. Simply take a basic cheesecake recipe and replace all the cream cheese with greek yogurt. Easy peasy.
To make the filling I started with the cheesecake pie recipe from last year, doubled it, and replaced all of the cream cheese with greek yogurt (by weight). I decided to use an unbaked graham cracker crust, if only because I didn't feel like waiting for it to cool after baking. Besides, my mother typically makes her cheesecake with an unbaked crust and I rather like it when the crust is a bit softer.
Watching the not-cheesecake bake was kind of nerve racking. In general cheesecakes are a bit of a guessing game as to when they're done, not to mention that I wasn't exactly sure if the yogurt would bake the same way. It looked pretty much perfect when it came out of the oven, but there would be no way to know for sure until after an overnight stay in the fridge.
On a side note, the original intention for this cake was to make it a chocolate not-cheesecake, but forgetting to buy oreos or oreo crumbs kind of squashed that idea (graham cracker crust with chocolate cake just doesn't seem right). Not to mention that it might be one risk too many. Especially as I hadn't proven the base recipe would work. My compromise was to top it with a chocolate ganache. However, I also had the option to go with a more traditional strawberry sauce. Seeking some input, I asked my mother; who, when I suggested chocolate, looked at me like I had called Johnny Depp a tool (probably the most offensive thing you could say to my mother).
Strawberry it was.
Actually the sauce ended up being one of the more annoying parts of this entire thing. I'm no stranger to these types of sauces, having made them many times in the past, but these strawberries (frozen from here) must have had a run in with Bunnicula. I actually had to add another 1/4 cup of sugar right at the end just to make sure it was sweet enough (and I'm a person that doesn't really like sweet).
Early Sunday afternoon it was finally time to cut into the cake. Pulling out that first piece and prepping it for pictures, I was astonished at just how much it looked like cheesecake. My first taste was amazing. Let me say that if this were a cheesecake it would be one of the best baked cheesecakes I have ever had. Every bite is light, almost airy, and creamy. I love cheesecake (a lot) but it can be quite heavy, and as much as you enjoy it, you feel every bite; especially if it's following a meal. Not this cake. It seems rich, it should be rich, but it's not. Like a cheesecake it has a tanginess to it but the flavour is lighter, more fresh, and distinctly yogurt. What's more, I can easily eat it wihout the sauce. To me, a fruit topping on cheesecake is used, in part, to lighten the flavour, but this cake doesn't need it. The flavour stands on its own, yet is never overpowering. Unsurprisingly, when it is paired with the strawberry sauce the flavours work incredibly well together. Honestly, it's yogurt and strawberries, what could be better? (okay maybe peanut butter and chocolate :))
I couldn't be anymore happy with how this turned out. It's not often that things like this pay off so completely, meausring up to all of my expectations. This is not exactly cheesecake, and it's not exactly not-cheesecake. It's neither better nor worse, just different. It will satisfy your desire for cheesecake but with a milder lighter flavour. This has the potential to make it more dangerous than a standard cheesecake. Greek yogurt has less than half the calories of cream cheese, but that only counts if you don't eat three times as much :).
Greek Yogurt Not-Cheesecake
22 Graham Crackers (149g)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (57g)
16 oz (by weight) 2% Plain Greek Yogurt (452g)
1/2 cup sugar (100g)
2 large egg, room temperature
3/4 tsp vanilla
Adapted from me1 pint fresh or frozen strawberries, cleaned and halved (approx 3 cups)
2/3 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (50g-100g), depending on your strawberries
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
Have ready a 9” pie plate -- because cheesecakes are normally baked in a springform pan, I used a metal non-stick pie plate
Add graham crackers to food processor and pulse until only crumbs remain, crumble up any larger chunks by hand.
Add graham cracker crumbs and butter to a medium bowl and mix until all the crumbs are moist.
Add crumb mix to pie plate and press evenly on the bottom and up the sides. Using a fork, poke a few holes into the crust to prevent bubbling.
Fill a 9x13 inch baking pan half way with water and set in oven. Preheat oven to 325F
In the bowl of a mixer, add yogurt and beat until completely smooth. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
Add eggs one at a time and beat until each is just incorporated. Once all the egg is incorporated, stop your mixer immediately.
Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter a few times to make sure that there is no unmixed yogurt at the bottom of the bowl.
Pour filling into crust and bake for 45 to 50 minutes (mine was perfect at 45). Allow to completely cool on rack before moving into fridge to chill for at least 4 hours (my suggestion is overnight).
In a medium saucepan add water, sugar (start with a 1/4 cup), cornstarch and salt and whisk to combine.
Add strawberries and place saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook down the strawberries until the sauce reaches your desired thickness, 30 to 40 minutes. Periodically check the flavour to make sure it is sweet enough, add some of the remaining sugar if it is not.
Allow to cool and place in fridge to chill with cheesecake.
To serve, spoon as much or as little sauce over cake and enjoy.
**Pro-tip: Use leftover sauce on ice cream :).