Lemon Thyme Pine Nut “Cheesecake”

by Susan on March 21, 2013

Raw Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Cheesecake @Rawmazing.com

Raw Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Cheesecake @Rawmazing.com

Raw Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Cheesecake @Rawmazing.com

This delightful Lemon Thyme Pine Nut “Cheesecake” was inspired by repeated requests for a substitution for cashews in raw desserts. It is completely cashew free and gluten free. The combination of lemon and thyme pairs beautifully with the pine nuts and the texture is dreamy. And thanks to my lovely friend, Rose Roesch for lending me her darling cake plate!

This is part one of a three part series on substitutions.

It happens multiple times a day and I cringe every time. What am I talking about? The famous substitution question. It frustrates me on many different levels, mostly because I really want to help but there isn’t a simple answer.

I realize that many people have allergies or an intolerance to certain ingredients. I wish I could say, sure, substitute walnuts for the almonds. Or coconut for the avocado. But I can’t, and here’s why. 

When a recipe is developed, many different elements come into play. Mouthfeel (how the food feels in your mouth) taste, balance, and visual appeal all need to be considered. After all, we eat with our eyes first. 

When I create a recipe, I work hard to make sure all of those elements are properly represented so that when you make one of my recipes, you will love it. A simple substitution, if not tested and adjusted for, can completely throw off the recipe. 

The most important consideration in recipe development is flavor balance. There are 5 main tastes that your mouth recognizes. Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (a pleasant savory taste). If any of these tastes is too strong, or imbalanced, the recipe simply will not taste good. 

Did you know that different parts of your tongue taste different things? And while people have different sensitivities, these are some pretty basic rules that need to be followed to have good outcomes. 

How does this translate to writing recipes and substitutions? Every ingredient has it’s own flavor profile. Some ingredients get along, some don’t. And when they don’t, it’s ugly. When they do, it’s heaven. 

When I was doing my sommelier training we learned about pairing wine and food. What stood out in my mind was a description of what can happen when you pair the right wine with the right food. 1 + 1 can equal 0 when the elements are completely fighting each other. In other words, each element becomes less by being combined with the wrong thing. 1 + 1 = 2 when they get along. But when you really hit on the right combination, 1 + 1 = 3, meaning that the elements make each other better because of the combination. I always strive for recipes that follow the 1 + 1 = 3 rule. 

So, let’s look at scenario in terms of the humble nut, which is one of the most frequently asked about substitutions, especially cashews, especially in desserts. 

Cashews are the perfect nut for making creamy raw sauces, dairy substitutions, delicious raw “cheesecakes” and many other sweet and savory dishes. The beauty of cashews comes from the sweetness and the texture of the nut. Once soaked, they  become silky and creamy. You can’t get that same silkiness with almonds (mouthfeel). Or many other nuts. 

You also have to think of the sweetness of the cashew. Almonds don’t have that, walnuts certainly don’t have it, they are actually on the bitter side and would dramatically change the way all of the other ingredients are interacting. 

What the ingredient’s function is. Is it a filler, a binder?

As you can see, there are many different things you have to consider when trying to find a substitution. How is it going to affect the taste of the other ingredients, how is it going to function, how is it going to feel in your mouth (you are not going to be happy with a grainy cheesecake) and how does it look. So, you can see, it isn’t as simple as it sounds.

You may be starting to understand why I cringe when substitutions are asked for. It isn’t that simple when you want recipes that really work and are delicious. 

That said, I am sensitive to people who really need something different. And cashews are one of the nuts that come up frequently, especially for desserts. It got me thinking. It got me in the kitchen looking for substitutions for all of the people that want a yummy raw “cheesecake” but can’t eat cashews. 

For the first rendition, I used pine nuts. Expensive, I know, but a nut that could possibly work. Pine nuts can have a great texture when soaked. And they don’t have an overwhelming flavor of their own. They love lemon and thyme so those are the ingredients that I choose to work with. 

The results? I am really pleased. Creamy texture, wonderful flavor and easy to do. I could have eaten the crust all on it’s own. The only drawback is the cost of the pine nuts. Also, make sure you find pine nuts that are real pignolis. Some imported nuts contain nuts that are not digestible. 

And yes, you can substitute cashews for the pine nuts in this recipe. Cheers!

Equipment Needed:

     Food Processor

      7.5 – inch Springform Pan

Raw Lemon Thyme Pine Nut “Cheesecake”

Serves 8-10


  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, dry coconut
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar or liquid sweetener of choice
  • Pinch Himalayan Salt

1. Place all ingredients in the food processor. Process until well ground. 

2. Pat into 7″ spring form pan. (I use this one: Springform Pan)


  • 2 cups pine nuts, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4  cup coconut butter (or coconut oil – the butter gives a richer, creamier texture)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (approximately 3 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar or liquid sweetener of choice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon thyme
  • 1/2 cup dried large flake unsweetened coconut

1. Place pine nuts, coconut butter, lemon juice and agave in high-speed blender. Blend until smooth.

2. Add the lemon zest and chopped fresh thyme, pulse once or twice to blend. 

3. Pour over crust. Top with flaked coconut, if desired, refrigerate until set.


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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

ALICE March 21, 2013 at 7:40 pm

ohhh thanks a lot for this post, i am going to start raw dessserts and is so helpulf to read your words. THANKS!


Susan March 21, 2013 at 7:44 pm

You are welcome! I love doing raw desserts. Have fun!


ILona James March 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm

What does lemon thyme mean? Is it a lemon? just a thyme???????



Susan March 21, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Lemon thyme is a type of thyme. You can use regular thyme if you wish.


kaia March 21, 2013 at 9:26 pm

yumm looks delish mom !!!!!!!!!


Susan March 21, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Glad you like it, Kaia! Maybe you can have a piece one of these days! I will make it for you next time you come to San Francisco! xo -Mom


ALICE March 21, 2013 at 9:44 pm

So kind….. xoxoxo


Susan March 21, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Thanks, Alice!


Rose Roesch March 22, 2013 at 12:07 am

This cheesecake tasted amazing! I loved the citrus flavor and creamy texture…thanks, Susan!


Shernell March 22, 2013 at 2:09 am

This is just awesome Susan, I’m loving the information and the photography. I really have to set some time aside and make this.


Faith March 22, 2013 at 11:05 am

thanks for this Susan! I feel your pain at all the requests for substitutions. And I know people mean well and think you will know intuitively what to substitute for them. But the truth is, the only way to know if a substitution works is to try it!!!


sandra March 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm

wow – does that ever look good. I love the flavor combo of lemon and thyme. Going to make this soon. Thanks!


Susan March 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Faith…yes, I do wish I had a magic answer but there just isn’t one. :-)


Susan March 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Sandra…It is one of my favorite combinations, too!


Susan March 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Thank you, Shernell. I love doing it.


Dot March 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Love the recipe and the time you take to explain things, Susan. Really appreciate it! Can’t wait to try this one.


Susan March 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Thanks so much, Dot (Dorothy). I am glad you like it!


Sakinah March 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm

how long should it stay in the frigid to set


Susan March 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm

It will take at least 6 hours. You will be able to tell when it is done. :-)


Judy March 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm

That is just beautiful. I have to make that.


Susan March 22, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Thank you, Judy!


Maritza Acevedo March 23, 2013 at 4:45 am

I always look at your website and admire the beauty and care of how you put everything together. I also thank you for this note.


Juliann March 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm

This sounds delicious but I have a question. All these raw recipes say “soak” the nuts….. Soak them in what? just plain water? Seriously every single raw food recipe says “soak” the nuts and I assume water but how much what temperature, in the refrigerator? Any help? thanks much!


Susan March 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Juliann, nuts are soaked for two reasons, First to release the enzyme inhibitors that make them hard to digest. Second, to soften them so they will blend easily and also add moisture to a recipe. I normally soak them overnight in the refrigerator, just in water. You always want to drain and rinse the nuts before you use them. Cheers!


Rosie @ Blueberry Kitchen March 23, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Your tart looks absolutely beautiful, I just love your photos!


Susan March 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Thank you, Rosie! I am obsessed with food photography!


Juliann March 23, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Thank you! That’s good to know. I want to make sure I’m doing it correctly.


Sathya March 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Thanks, this looks delish. Do you have a source for reasonably priced pine nuts?


Susan March 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I would search on-line. :-)


MaryLou March 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm

I understand your feelings about substitutions but I do have a question and maybe because it a binder it won’t matter so much. I hate the taste/mouth feel of flax seeds. If I substitute chia seeds in the same proportion do you think it will work?


Susan March 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Chia can work instead of flax seeds. See this post: http://www.rawmazing.com/rosemary-almond-crackers-two-ways/


Amy @FragrantVanillaCake March 24, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I hear ya on the substituitions, it is tough sometimes ;). This cake sounds amazing, and it totally makes me want to try using pine nuts in a cheesecake! Too bad I can’t afford it ;). Someday :)! Love the flavor profile for this as well with the lemon and thyme, genious!


Tammy March 24, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Very very good. I did have some trouble blending it smooth in my Vitamix. I had to add liquid and it did end up a bit in the soft side but I would make it again. I might try it with cashews since they are a lot cheaper than pine nuts.


Pam March 25, 2013 at 4:01 am

What about those of us who cannot eat coconut?


Susan March 25, 2013 at 10:48 am

Right now I am dealing with cashew substitutions in desserts. Cheers!


Jan March 27, 2013 at 7:53 pm

By the way, how did you remove this from your spring-form pan? And did you line the bottom of it with parchment?


Susan March 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm

It’s a spring-form pan. You just release the sides. I did not use parchment. Cheers!


Jan March 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

Yes, I understand the sides of the pan will release from the cake, but what I was specifically interested in was how the bottom releases from the pan?



Susan March 29, 2013 at 9:06 am

I just slide a thin spatula under the cake and slide it off. You certainly can use parchment if you wish. :-)


Robin March 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I made this delicious cake…thank you for posting/sharing :)


Susan March 30, 2013 at 3:28 pm

So glad you liked it, Robin!


Carol April 8, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I made this for Easter. I didn’t tell anyone what it was made of until they had all scraped their plates and wanted more! (I knew no one had allergies to nuts) I made it with cashews, and it was the creamiest, yummiest (it that a word?) dessert. I also made Raw Almond Joy Bars—my guests were pleasantly surprised at the good, healthy substitutions. Maybe I’ll convert a few??!!
Thank you Susan for all you “experiments” that turn into yummy, raw dishes for us to enjoy. Please keep up the good work :-)


Susan April 8, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Carol, so good to hear! I am glad everyone liked it!


JJ April 13, 2013 at 2:08 am

Wow what a recipe! So easy, thank you. Just started making this for my mums birthday, the base tastes incredible, even my meat-eating ‘why do we have to buy organic’ husband loved it :) Now for the filling! Am very excited as mix of flavours sounds delicious. Its my first raw vegan dessert, so have a couple of questions:

1. just soaked the nuts overnight (made it with cashews) do they need to be dried in an oven/dehydrator for the filling or just mixed staight in?

2. Also does the final cake go in the fridge or freezer or both? Read somewhere good to freeze then fridge for an hour before?

Many thanks!


Susan April 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm

If the recipe calls for nuts, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained…that is what you do. You do not have to dehydrate soaked nuts unless the recipe tells you to. :-)


Gabriela April 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Tried this recipe and it turned out amazing! I cannot wait to try your pineapple coconut ‘cheesecake’ since I will be going nut-free for a little while. Thank you :)


Susan April 17, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Gabriela, so glad you liked it. It was a fun one to do! Cheers!


Mara April 17, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Hi Susan! I found your website about a week ago when looking for raw dessert recipes, and you have so many that I’m eager to try out–this one in particular.

I’m wondering, though–why do many of your recipes call for Himalayan salt specifically? Why not just any salt? Does it have to do with the processing?



Susan April 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Mara, I never touch regular salt. I love Himalayan salt for the flavor and the nutrients that it provides. Regular salt is highly processed and can contain many chemicals that you don’t need. Plus the flavor just isn’t the same. A tiny bit of the Himalayan salt can bring a divine taste where regular salt would just ruin it. Cheers!


Sunniva April 26, 2013 at 12:46 am

This looks so delicious! I’m making this today for my birthday tomorrow, and I love that it’s nut-free! Finally my mum can taste a delicious raw food dessert.

Just two questions: Is the thyme chopped, or whole leaves? Where I live there is no lemon thyme, so I’ll just use regular, do you think it’ll be all right?

2. Did you soak the pine nuts?

So looking forward to making (and devouring) all of this!


Sunniva April 26, 2013 at 12:47 am

Oh, I’m sorry about the question about the thyme. Just read it in the description…


Susan April 26, 2013 at 11:16 am

As stated in the recipe, the pine nuts for the crust are used dry, the nuts for the cheesecake are soaked. If you are not instructed to soak, drain and rinse, you don’t need to. Cheers!


marykays1 April 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I would have never in a million years thought to use thyme in a cheesecake!!!!


Desiree August 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I made this last night and it turned out SO good. Your website is quickly turning into my favorite recipe stop.


Coach K August 14, 2013 at 11:40 pm

This recipe looks fabulous! I can’t wait to give it a try. Thank you for all the work you put into creating it.


Kathleen January 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm

This is amazing, made it today, waiting on it to set, made the crust with pine nuts
Filling with cashews, sample some of each soooooo good
Thanks so much.


julia March 29, 2014 at 12:59 pm

You are my greatest inspiration ! Just made your version of this fabulous looking cake using Myer’s Lemons and glased with mango.
had to use what i had in my pantry, instead of pine nuts used cashews, chilling in fridge , can not wait to cut it , it’s my hubby’s birthday today. Thank you !!!


Rainie Sunshine November 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Aloha, good morning. I live on Maui and have been working with using Macadamia Nuts and Coconut as a base for cheesecakes (they both grow prolifically here). It has been very challenging to get the correct ratios going. Have you worked with either fresh coconut meat, fresh coconut yogurt and/or mac nut in cheesecake recipes?


Rebecca November 18, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Hi. This looks so delicious! I am thinking of making it for Thanksgiving,but would like to make it early to minimize my stress next as the day approaches. Does it freeze well? Thanks.


Susan November 21, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I haven’t frozen it but it should do just fine. You might want to test it out first. Cheers!


Filmaker January 10, 2015 at 8:19 pm

I am new to coconuts ~~ who knew there was coconut sugar. When I search “Unsweetened dry coconut” all types of coconut options appear. For the filling you have a different type of coconut, so I assume there is a difference. What is used for the crust? Is it more like flour type ingredient? I have coconut flakes on hand


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