Peanut Butter Cheesecake with a Pretzel Crust

May 20, 2015

Shavout, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, is coming up this weekend. I have spent the week going over different versions of my holiday menus, and I think I finally have it settled. (If you want to know what I am making let me know it the comments) It is traditional to eat dairy meals on Shavout (here is more info about that if you are curious), which means that when you ask my kids about Shavout they talk about blintzes and cheesecake. It is the one of the only times during the year that I bake a dairy cheesecake and we all look forward to it. Because what would Shavout be without the cheesecake?

Although it is traditional to have dairy on Shavout, many people are unable to have dairy or do not want to eat dairy at every meal. That does not mean they have to miss out on the cheesecake. This peanut butter cheesecake is every bit as delicious as its dairy counterpart. This is not a compromise cheesecake, it is every bit as good as the “real thing”. In fact, I actually think it might be better. Now before you roll your eyes skeptically at the suggestion that a dariy-free cheesecake could be better than a cream cheese laden one hear me out.

Here is the thing about cheesecake. By nature it is a very heavy dessert. All that richness that makes cheesecake delicious also makes it very heavy. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore a good New York style cheesecake (this is the recipe I always make). But cheesecake is so rich and intense just as it is that I find it overwhelming to add other heavy flavors like chocolate, or peanut butter, or even caramel. I am not one who usually says a dessert is too rich or intense, but that is how I feel about typical cheesecakes with all the additions. But that is the great thing about dairy-free cheesecakes. Because the vegan cream cheese doesn’t have quite the same richness as its dairy counterpart, the finished cake doesn’t have quite the same dense richness. While this might seem like a bad thing, I find it actually opens the door to all kinds of flavor additions that in my opinion would make a dairy cheesecake too much.

When I make parve desserts it is important to me that they are truly delicious, it is not enough that they are “good considering they are dairy free.” In the past when I have made parve cheesecakes, the plain New York Style cheesecake has tasted a bit like a compromise. It is good, but not great, since without other flavors the lack of dairy is more noticeable. But this cheesecake does not taste like a compromise in any way. Rich peanut butter cheesecake nestled in a pretzel crust and topped with chocolate ganache and crunchy peanut brittle, this is a dessert to dream about. The cake has that tang of cream cheese that is perfectly balanced by the creamy peanut butter and the sweet crunch of other ingredients. Even my husband, who is used to me tinkering with dairy free dessert recipes for this blog and expects my desserts to be dairy free, took a bite and had to ask me if the cake was really parve.

This show stopping dessert is sure to be a big hit with anyone who tries it. I know I will be making this a lot more often than once a year.

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Ingredients & Quantities

For the Crust

  • 2 cups (7 oz or 196g) finely ground pretzel crumbs*
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz or 56g) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz or 112g) margarine, melted
*To make this cake gluten-free simply use gluten-free pretzels for the crust.

For the Cheesecake

  • 4 (8oz or 224g) containers tofutti cream cheese
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 oz or 280g) dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups (11.5 oz or 320 g) creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon (.5 oz or 14g) lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) vanilla extract

For the Topping

  • 8 ounces chocolate,very finely chopped
  • 4 ounces canned coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped peanut brittle, homemade or store bought

Preparation Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325. Wrap the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan tightly with two layers of aluminum foil. (Or, even better, place the springform pan inside a 9 inch silicone round cake pan).

Combine the pretzel crumbs, brown sugar, and margarine in a medium bowl, and stir until well combined. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the springform pan and one inch up the sides. Press firmly to make sure the crust sticks together. Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the crust from the oven and let it cool while making the filling. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Add the sugar, peanut butter, lemon juice, and vanilla and beat until the whole mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat a few more seconds to make sure the batter is well mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Place the springform in a larger roasting pan (if you do not have a roasting pan that will fit the springform a disposable 9 x 13 pan will work, just bend out the sides a bit to make room for the springform to sit flat on the bottom.) Place the roasting pan in the oven and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it come about half way up the sides of the springform.

Bake the cheesecake for until it is mostly set, but there is still a tiny jiggle just in the center, approximately an hour and fifteen minutes. Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven. Remove the springform from the roasting pan and place it on a cooling rack. Cool the cheesecake to room temperature, then refrigerate it until firm, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. (The cheesecake can be made up to this point up to three days in advance. Once it is chilled cover it tightly.)

Remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and remove the springform. Transfer the cheesecake to a serving platter.

Place the chocolate in a large heat proof bowl. Heat the coconut milk until it is just boiling. Pour the coconut milk over the chocolate and let it stand for two minutes. Gently stir the mixture until the chocolate melts and the ganache looks like shiny chocolate pudding. (If the chocolate isn’t chopped small enough it may not fully melt. If there are lumps gently microwave the mixture at 50% power in 10 second intervals, stirring each time, until it melts) Pour the ganache into the center of the cake and, using an offset spatula, gently spread it to the edges. Sprinkle the peanut brittle over the top of the cake and refrigerate just until the ganache is set, approximately twenty minutes.

(If you want to make the cheesecake with the ganache ahead of time you can do this step after the cheesecake has chilled and then store it in the refrigerator up to three days before serving. Add the peanut brittle right before serving, but know that it will just be balanced on top of the cake rather than stuck in the ganache.)


    • No, cream of coconut is a sweetened coconut product that is used in mixed drinks, it is not the same thing. This is the coconut milk I use, but there are many other brands. You can usually find it in the asian section of the grocery store, it is commonly used in Thai food. I hope that helps.

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