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


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  1. Susan wrote on March 29, 2013

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

  2. Jan wrote on March 29, 2013

    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?


  3. Jan wrote on March 27, 2013

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

    • Susan wrote on March 28, 2013

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

  4. Pam wrote on March 25, 2013

    What about those of us who cannot eat coconut?

    • Susan wrote on March 25, 2013

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

  5. Tammy wrote on March 24, 2013

    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.

  6. Amy @FragrantVanillaCake wrote on March 24, 2013

    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!

  7. MaryLou wrote on March 24, 2013

    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?

  8. Sathya wrote on March 24, 2013

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

    • Susan wrote on March 24, 2013

      I would search on-line. 🙂

  9. Juliann wrote on March 23, 2013

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


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