Your whole food, plant-based life.

Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Vegan Cheesecake

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

This delightful Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Vegan 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!


Raw Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Cheesecake


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.


Raw Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Cheesecake


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.


Raw Lemon Thyme Pine Nut Cheesecake


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 Vegan Cheesecake



  • 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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  1. Filmaker wrote on January 10, 2015

    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

  2. Rebecca wrote on November 18, 2014

    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 wrote on November 21, 2014

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

  3. Rainie Sunshine wrote on November 12, 2014

    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?

  4. julia wrote on March 29, 2014

    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 !!!

  5. Kathleen wrote on January 5, 2014

    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.

  6. Coach K wrote on August 14, 2013

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

  7. Desiree wrote on August 6, 2013

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

  8. marykays1 wrote on April 27, 2013

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

  9. Susan wrote on April 26, 2013

    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!

  10. Sunniva wrote on April 26, 2013

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


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