This classic vegan cheesecake is a long time coming. It’s the first traditional cheesecake that I’ve shared on the blog, and it’s taken me a while to get it right.
Early in quarantine, I hopped on Instagram stories and took a poll. I asked what sort of recipes readers would like to see more of during quarantine. Some of the answers were predictable: recipes featuring pantry staples, legume recipes, soups and stews, etc. There was enthusiasm for recipes featuring shelf-stable ingredients, which made sense at the time.
One answer surprised me: cheesecake. I knew that everyone (including me) seemed to be craving comforting baked goods. But I didn’t expect vegan cheesecake to rise to the very top of the list. It was the number one dessert that readers requested, by far. And I didn’t have a recipe to offer them—yet.
Cashews or no cashews? This was my first question about making a dairy-free, classic cheescake recipe.
My love of cashews in any kind of creamy-textured recipe is no secret. I use cashew cream in pretty much everything, from soups and stews to whipped cream to pasta dishes. Not to mention my love of cashew cheese, cashew queso sauce, and even homemade cashew yogurt.
But there are nut allergies to think of. Not to mention the fact that cashews require a high speed blender or a food processor for breaking down, and not every home cook has one of those appliances. It’s tough for me to not use cashews in recipes, because they’re my favorite source of creaminess for non-dairy eaters, but I also try to give other options.
I tried so many different bases for this classic vegan cheesecake. All of them involved vegan cream cheese for the characteristic flavor, along with something else. That something else ended up being coconut milk, coconut cream, silken tofu, non-dairy milk + cornstarch, and vegan yogurt.
Not a single one of these recipe trials was unpleasant to eat! But in the end, the one with cashews really did turn out best. By best, I mean a perfect texture: set at the edges, soft but still sliceable in the center. Yogurt and plant milk varieties were always a little too jiggly on the inside. Silken tofu varieties had that slight flavor of, well, silken tofu. Not a bad thing, but not quite the cheesecake I remember from my pre-vegan days, either.
Fortunately, my recipe attempts encouraged me to test a bunch of options for the cheesecake base. In place of the cashews in this recipe, you can use one of the following:
This cheesecake will be more wobbly in the center than mine, but the flavor will be wonderful. Increase the cornstarch to 2 tablespoons if you make this substitution.
You may be able to taste the silken tofu in this version if you’re accustomed to knowing what silken tofu tastes like. But those who don’t use it in cooking regularly probably won’t be able to detect a big difference. It’s a nice option for making this cheesecake a little lower in fat and richer in protein. Increase the cornstarch to 1 1/2 tablespoons if you make this version.
A great option if you’d like to customize this for special dietary needs or food allergies. If you try this version, increase the cornstarch to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Aim for an unsweetened or plain yogurt, so that the ratio of sweetness remains the same with the substitution.
I’ve now made this classic vegan cheesecake recipe enough times to know the steps that make it turn out best.
This is especially important if you’re using a food processor, which is what I used. I recommend at least 4 hours of soaking, but overnight in the fridge is fine. If you’re in a pinch with time, you soak the cashews in boiling water instead. This way, they’ll only need 1-2 hours of soaking. Drain them completely before moving on.
The recipe calls for blending up your cashews a bit before adding the cream cheese to your food processor (or high speed blender). You’re aiming for about the same texture as my cashew cheese, but a little less smooth. This will ensure that the cashews continue to blend easily once you add your cream cheese.
Once you add your sugar and cream cheese, allow your food processor to run a whole 2-3 minutes. You want the cheesecake batter to be silky smooth before it enters the oven.
I learned a lot about the art of baking and cooling cheesecake as I constructed my own classic vegan cheesecake. Namely, I learned that one is aiming for a subtle wiggle, but not a sloshy jiggle, when a traditional cheesecake is done. I also learned that vegan cheesecake works a little differently.
The trick to getting this cheesecake right is to allow it to cool for about an hour (preferably in a cool part of your home) after it emerges from the oven. Then, you want to cool it overnight in the fridge. Don’t skip this step! The overnight chill is completely essential for getting a set texture. Once in the fridge, the cheesecake can sit for 2-3 whole days before slicing and serving, so it’s a good dessert to make ahead.
This cheesecake is what it claims to be: a classic vegan cheesecake. You don’t have to give it a bunch of interesting toppings or add any sauces or flourishes if you don’t wish to.
I liked adding a simple vegan blueberry lemon sauce to my cheesecake, because a) blueberries are still in season near me, and b) I love the pop of color and the tart flavor. I’m including that sauce, which could be made with berries or plums or peaches or apples, too, in the recipe.
Other fun classic vegan cheesecake toppings could be melted dark chocolate, chocolate shavings, vegan caramel sauce, or fresh berries. But really, this rich enough that it doesn’t need too much adornment. You do you.
This classic vegan cheesecake recipe calls for three whole containers of cream cheese, which is a lot! The good news is that it doesn’t really matter which brand you pick. I tested Kite Hill Foods, Miyoko’s, Violife, and Tofutti. They all worked equally well.
Since three containers of cream cheese is a lot, I’d recommend Tofutti, simply because it’s usually the least expensive vegan cream cheese. But you can pick whichever brand you like, or choose the one that fits your health needs.
Ditto, by the way, with graham crackers! Here’s a list of some store-bought vegan options.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about moving slowly. It’s a tendency that seems to be creeping up on me more and more, and I’m learning to appreciate it for what it is.
When so many readers asked enthusiastically for a classic vegan cheesecake recipe all the way back in March, I was sure I’d be able to come up with one within a few weeks. Clearly, that didn’t happen. And the cheesecake I did construct isn’t a quick and easy recipe: it takes a lot of time, if you take into account the cooling/chilling.
But some things are worth waiting for. This cheesecake was worth the wait. It was worth tinkering and testing until I’d found a recipe that I loved: creamy, luscious, sweet and subtly tart. And, once prepared, the cheesecake is worth a wait before eating. Trust me.