Thai Tea Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumb Crust from The Heart of the Plate: A Tribute to Mollie Katzen


Thai Tea Cheesecake from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen
This post is about three things: a wonderful dessert, a great new book, and how the work of one woman—Mollie Katzen is her name—put me on the path that had led to this blog. I’ll address them one by one, in that order.

The Dessert:
I used to say that I didn’t think tea and tangy cultured dairy products belong together. This cheesecake has proven me wrong.

This is an easy dessert to make. There’s no baking involved. And it is delicious.

Be sure to use unsweetened Thai tea mix which looks like what you see in the photo below (I recommend Pantai brand which is shown here). Do not confuse unsweetened Thai tea mix with the instant Thai tea mix with added sweetener and powdered whitener. Using the wrong type of Thai tea mix in this recipe will not affect the gelling of the filling, but it will surely change the intended taste of both the filling and the topping.

I tested this recipe as it is written twice with consistently great results. (Incidentally, I also tested it using dairy-free substitutes for cream cheese and sour cream (Tofutti brand), and it turned out fine albeit just a tad runnier. The crust can also be made with melted extra virgin coconut butter.)

Thai Tea Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumb Crust from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen

The Book:
Anyone familiar with the American culinary history of the past 40 years certainly knows of the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, a book that has become an American classic. Katzen has come a long way from her Moosewood years, however, and The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for the New Generation, her newest book, reflects the way she has been cooking and eating in recent years which is somewhat different from what it used to be when the Moosewood Cookbook first came out in the late 70s. One thing you will notice as you go through the book is that vegetables have assumed a much prominent place in the recipes.

I have tried 4 different recipes from The Heart of the Plate, namely this cheesecake recipe, hazelnut-wilted frisée salad with sliced pear, asparagus puff pastry tart, and banana-cheese empanadas. They’re all great. If you haven’t bought this book, may I please encourage you to do so?

Thai Tea Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumb Crust from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen

Mollie Katzen:
I wasn’t born early enough to count myself among the first users of the Moosewood Cookbook when it was released. But long before I came to the United States to further my education, I knew of Mollie Katzen. And this is how it happened.

When I was growing up, my mother had a group of acquaintances who were American missionaries working in Bangkok. It was through them that she discovered this brilliant, amazing American thing called, “yard sale.” And whenever Nancy, one of Mom’s missionary friends, called saying she was having one of those sales, my mother would set aside whatever she was doing and jump in the car. Knowing there would be lots of old American food magazines and cookbooks — my favorite things — to be had, I, of course, always asked to tag along. Our giddy exuberance of unholy proportions is kind of hard to explain to people outside our little cookbook-crazy family, but that’s how it was with us.

I remember this vividly as if it happened last week.

As we went through piles and piles of books for sale at Nancy’s house, I found a charming cookbook so well-used and worn out that the spine was coming apart. I flipped through its stained pages and immediately fell in love with the drawings and handwriting even though, not knowing much English back then, I barely knew what it said. But it didn’t matter. I told Mom I wanted that book. Finding no price sticker on it, Mom took the book to Nancy to ask how much it cost. Instead of naming a price, Nancy responded by shrieking, snatching the book from Mom’s hand. She had no intention of ever parting with that book, Nancy explained; it was put in the sale bin by mistake.

The book was now safely cradled in the arms of its owner, and I felt a little heartbroken. All I could do was looking longingly at it for the last time. Moosewood Cookbook. Mollie Katzen. I never forgot either name.

Mollie Katzen

Mollie Katzen (photo credit: Lisa Keating)

Fast forward several years. This time I was a new student in the US, visiting one of my American classmates’ home one afternoon as her mother was watching a cooking show which she had taped a few years prior. On the screen was a lady — beautiful, soft-spoken but charismatic. She was making—I think—a chocolate cake. I stood there, hypnotized.

After Mom’s missionary friends had gone back to their home country and there were no more spiral-bound church cookbooks to buy, I spent quite a bit of time at the American University Alumni Association library in Bangkok, reading American food magazines and cookbooks. I was definitely gaining more knowledge on the subject, but American cooking was still something I had experienced solely through written words.

Watching this lady cooking, explaining, smiling, lovingly plating her food on TV, I could feel that what I had read up to that point in my life was drawing its first breath – it came alive.

Is she a chef?” I asked my friend’s mother.
That’s cookbook author, Mollie Katzen,” she answered.

Wait, I know that name.

I don’t recall much of what happened afterwards. But I remember that all of the little extra money I had saved up from working part-time in the school library went into a brand new copy of Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven, the book that went with the PBS program I saw at my friend’s house. It was the very first English-language cookbook I ever bought in the United States. I started cooking from it right away, and, in the course of that, my understanding of a cuisine other than my own grew in ways that extended beyond the intellectual realm. My comprehension of English and English cooking terms grew. My love for cooking grew.

My mother was the one who inspired me to cook. She was the one equipping me with all the resources to help me retain the cooking tradition I grew up with. But Mollie Katzen is the one whose work inspired me to venture out of the safe and familiar territory of Thai cooking. Through her books, I found comfort and strength during the period of adjustment to a new place, a new culture, and a new cuisine. I even began dreaming about what it would be like to write about food, how much joy it would bring me to share what I knew with people.

If this site has been helpful to you these past few years, if there’s anything of beauty, value, and usefulness in it which has made your life better in any way, know that it is only because of people such as Katzen who have paved the way. And, so because of this, I’d like to dedicate this post to Mollie Katzen who wrote books, sketched vegetables, painted flowers, taught people things, and made chocolate cake on TV — all the while probably having no idea the kind of impact she had on the life of someone from the opposite side of the globe.

Thank you, Mollie.

Thai Tea Cheesecake from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen

5.0 from 3 reviews
Thai Tea Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumb Crust from The Heart of the Plate: A Tribute to Mollie Katzen
 
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • Crust
  • 10-11 graham crackers (6-7 ounces)
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
  • Filling
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1½ cups strong brewed Thai tea (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
  • Topping
  • ⅔ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons strong brewed Thai tea
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Make the crust by placing the graham crackers into a food processor and pulse until you get fine crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl. Stir in the cocoa powder and sugar; pour in the melted butter. Mix well. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan, making sure the thickness of the crust is even throughout and that the crumbs on the sides of the pan are flush with the rim. Set aside.
  2. Make the filling by combining the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Stir in the tea and vanilla. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. In about 5 minutes, the mixture should become thick and glossy.
  3. Remove the saucepan from heat and whisk in the cream cheese, one piece at a time, making sure the mixture is smooth and completely free of lumps after each addition.
  4. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Let it cool to room temperature, about 40 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
  5. Meanwhile, make the topping by whisking all of the topping ingredients together until smooth. Spoon the topping mixture on top of the chilled pie, spreading it all the way to the edges (I kind of broke this rule, because I wanted the contrast between the dark orange filling and the light orange topping to show in the overhead shot). Cover the pie with a fresh sheet of plastic wrap, being careful not to disturb the topping. Chill the pie for another 2-3 hours (this much time should be sufficient, although I've found that overnight is much better, especially if you plan to make this for company and want each slice to hold its shape well and the filling and topping forming 2 distinctly separate layers).
  6. Serve the pie cold.
Notes
For this recipe, steep ½ cup of Thai tea mix in 2½ cups of boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing out as much liquid as you can from the tea leaves. This produces enough strong tea to use in both the filling and the topping.

 

25 Responses to Thai Tea Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumb Crust from The Heart of the Plate: A Tribute to Mollie Katzen

  1. Pilau October 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    Hey Leela, what about Number One brand (the one used to make chah-yen by street vendors all over the Phrathet)?

    • Leela October 27, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      Pilau – If you can find it, definitely use that. If I were in Thailand at the time I made this, I would have used it too. But those in the US (and Europe?) will find Pantai and Porkwan easier to find.

  2. Aisha H Jimoh October 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    oh my gosh, this looks amazing! <3

  3. Marla October 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    What a lovely tribute and an even lovelier story of your journey and a delicious looking cheesecake. I look forward to discovering your blog.

  4. simone October 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    This is such a beautiful post! I love the kind of influential power that food and lovers of food can have on us.

    On a side note, is there any way to replicate the Thai tea that is sometimes featured on this blog? The only type of available Thai tea in my area is labelled as a “diet aid”, so heaven knows what it tastes like. If I were to supplement some black tea with spices, which ones would you recommend that would best approximate the taste?

    • Leela October 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      simone – If it says “diet aid,” it’s definitely not the kind of tea you want to use in this. If you can’t find Thai tea mix in your area, have you considered an online store? Even Amazon has it.

  5. Gorey October 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    The weather has just turned from crisp autumn to miserably wet winter here and my desire for comforting but not too rich desserts has sky rocketed. This, I think, will fit the bill very nicely.
    I tend to use ‘No. 1 Brand’/Hand Brand Thai tea for my drinking and baking purposes as Pantai is eternally sold out at my local place and I can never spot it when I’m in Thailand. Speaking of ‘No.1 Brand’ tea, I wondered if you’d used their Green Milk Tea much in your cooking and if you had any particular suggestions/recommendations for it? If anything just to stop me from making your Thai Tea Fudge with it and ultimately gorging myself silly.
    Thanks.

    • Leela October 27, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

      Gorey – Hand brand is the most popular one in Thailand. I haven’t found it here. Pantai and Por Kwan kind of dominate the US market.

      I have never used green milk tea. Sorry. :(

      • Gorey October 28, 2013 at 9:18 am #

        Ah, that would explain why it’s the only brand I can ever find to buy when I’m in Thailand. It also seems to be more present at online places here in the UK compared to the other brands although more expensive.

        Not to worry I think I’ll start by working my way through your current recipes which include Thai Tea and see how it works. It’s got more of a floral fragrance to the usual one. I suspect there is some Jasmine, Mulberry and pandan in there and overall it has a slightly ‘lighter’ flavour and is less sweet.

        Now I just need my parent’s to restock me with both normal and green versions when they get back from Thailand next month.

        Thanks again, and a general thank you for your whole site as it has really helped me relive some of the wonderful tastes and memories from spending part of my childhood growing up in Thailand.

  6. Judy October 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    Such a beautiful post and a lovely tribute to Mollie. I WAS born early enough to be among the readers of the Moosewood Cookbook when it was first published, and still have my falling-apart original copy with the covers and spine held together with ducting tape.
    That book and its beautiful author changed how I cooked and felt about food …. and each of Mollie’s books since Moosewood have done the same thing.
    I’m so pleased to find your blog, and look forward to reading your future posts … and catching up with what you have already written. Cheers from Australia!

  7. toniamees October 23, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    You touched my heart with your story, Leela. Thanks

  8. Hal Hershey October 23, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Thank you so much, Leela, for this moving account of your odyssey into American cooking, via the inspiration of my friend, Mollie. Her new book is truly awesome!

  9. Allison (Spontaneous Tomato) October 23, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Wow, that cheesecake looks amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever made a cheesecake before, but even just seeing your top photo sold me; this will be the first cheesecake I make!

    I’m not surprised that Thai Tea goes well with creamy, sweet cheesecakes, either (even though cheesecakes are also a little tangy), because it also goes so well with creamy, sweet condensed milk…

    Also, thank you for sharing your stories about how you discovered (then re-discovered) Mollie Katzen and how she’s been influential in your life and as a blogger! I guess we all owe her an even bigger debt since she inspired your blog, too!

  10. hudsondebb October 26, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Aw, that is such a nice post!!! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, and like you I’ve been inspired by Mollie Katzen ever since I bought the first Moosewood Cookbook when it first came out. (I’m a little older than you!) And I’ve been a vegetarian all those years. I can’t imagine what I’d be eating all my life without Mollie Katzen!

  11. Mollie Katzen October 27, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Leela! You are so welcome, and thank you back. This is the most beautiful post! I am still trying to gather the words to express what this means to me. Love to you, Mollie

  12. Kristin October 28, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Reading this post gave me shivers. The emotional ones, not the brink-of-winter, I-should-put-on-some-socks shivers. Thank you. I just heard Mollie interviewed on America’s Test Kitchen radio last night. It’s a terrific interview (that also gave me shivers!) and highly recommended to any Mollie fans.

    On another note, I love your blog, cook (or at least reference) your recipes frequently, but have never commented. Just wanted to say how much I appreciate and enjoy your efforts!

  13. Peggy October 28, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    I, too, love Mollie’s cookbooks and plan to buy her latest one. I have have of hers and two from the Moosewood collection. Thank you so much for your always enjoyable blog. I look forward to each one.

  14. ding October 29, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    You made an impact on my cooking. Thanks a lot. I owe Ms Katzen for marinated vegetables and for tofu mayonnaise. I love “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest”

  15. Todd October 29, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    LEELA!!! I am SO damn excited- saw this post & as you know I have had issue getting a real “thai tea” here in Switzerland. So on a whim I wrote down the “BOT TRA THAI” & swung by one of the Vietnamese/Thai market here in the neighborhood & asked the lady if they had it- she reached behind & WHAM!!!! Exact same brand- “Pantai”!!!! So I have been living here- 2 blocks away from this market that I go to regularly & they had it all along…… Le sigh :) Cant wait to make the tea cake & the cheese cake!!!! Its a lot of tea in the bag- so I gotta get cooking!!!! :)

  16. Joy L October 29, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    I made the cheesecake last weekend! Yummy! Eating now as I typed this. I used premade pie crust that I have on hand and lazy to make a chocolate crust. Might try your chocolate crust one day.

  17. Utchi:) October 31, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Leela:)

    I tried making this recipe but the filling turns out to be very salty even if I followed the recipe exactly. Do you know what could have gone wrong then? Should I just omit the salt??

    Also, I don’t think 7 grams Graham Crackers is the right amount though. I substituted digestive biscuits for Graham crackers. Do you have any idea how much biscuits I would need to get the same amount??

    Thank you:) Can’t wait to try making this again:)

    • Mary November 3, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

      Utchi, I made this for a party this weekend and found the same two issues (wound up winging the graham crackers, guessing based on how the mixture looked). For the saltiness, which distressed me when I first tasted the filling after making it and the next morning, I found it mellowed and the other flavors came out after sitting for 2 or 3 days in the fridge. Maybe not a great answer and I’m guessing next time I’ll just use less salt, but thought I’d mention it.

      Also, my pie came out the consistency of pudding pie (and was very loose the first morning after an overnight chill, to the point I worried a bit). Which was fine and tasty once I realigned my expectations. That’s probably how it’s meant to be, especially considering it’s not baked, but a heads up there too.

      • Utchi November 4, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

        Thanks Mary:) I’ll try again with less salt and more sitting time in the fridge then;)

  18. lu ellen November 6, 2013 at 1:27 am #

    Ah, I simply loved this post! You are a wonderful writer. Thank you. And I, too, love Mollie Katzen and all she has given the world. Bravo to you both!

  19. Two Red Bowls December 10, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    This is so incredibly unique, I’m in love with it! I love that the gorgeous Thai tea color shines in this cheesecake. I would have never thought to combine these flavors — simply genius. Thank you so much for posting.

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