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. marykays1 wrote on April 27, 2013

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

  2. 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!

  3. Sunniva wrote on April 26, 2013

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

  4. Sunniva wrote on April 26, 2013

    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!

  5. Mara wrote on April 17, 2013

    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 wrote on April 17, 2013

      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!

  6. Gabriela wrote on April 16, 2013

    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 wrote on April 17, 2013

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

  7. JJ wrote on April 13, 2013

    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 wrote on April 14, 2013

      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. 🙂

  8. Carol wrote on April 8, 2013

    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 wrote on April 8, 2013

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

  9. Robin wrote on March 30, 2013

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

    • Susan wrote on March 30, 2013

      So glad you liked it, Robin!


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