Classic Vegan Cheesecake | The Best Dairy-Free & Vegan Cheesecake
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.
Classic vegan cheesecake base: to cashew or not to cashew?
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.
Cashew substitutes in classic vegan cheesecake
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:
1 can full fat coconut milk
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.
1 14-ounce container silken tofu
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.
1 3/4 cups non-dairy yogurt of choice
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.
Tips and tricks for a perfect cheesecake
I’ve now made this classic vegan cheesecake recipe enough times to know the steps that make it turn out best.
Soak your cashews beforehand
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.
Blend your cashews before adding cream cheese
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.
Blend to a silky smooth texture before baking
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.
Allow the cake to cool slowly
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.
Cheesecake toppings & flourishes
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.
Yields: 12 servings
For the crust
- 8 sheets (125 g) vegan graham crackers
- 1/4 cup (48 g) cane sugar
- 5 tablespoons (70) vegan butter, melted
For the cake
- 1 cup (120 g) raw cashews, soaked beforehand and drained (see notes above)
- 3 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 24 ounces (672) vegan cream cheese of choice (3 8-ounce containers)
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (216 g) cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon (8 g) cornstarch
Optional blueberry lemon sauce
- 1 pint blueberries (about 1 1/2-2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons cane sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup water
Preheat your oven to 350. Grease with vegan butter or lightly oil an 8 or 9 inch round cake or cheesecake pan with a removable bottom. Line the bottom of the pan with a round piece of parchment.
To prepare the graham cracker crust: place the graham crackers and sugar into a food processor fitted with the S blade. Process for about 20 seconds, or until the crackers are turning into crumbs. Drizzle in the melted butter and continue processing for about a minute. The crust is ready when a small amount will stick together when you squeeze it in the palm of your hand.
Remove the blade from the processor and pour the crumbs into your prepared pan. Use the back of a measuring cup or a regular cup to smooth it out over the bottom and to the sides. You can use some pressure here! Pack the mixture down till it’s smooth, solid, and even.
Transfer the baking pan to the oven and bake the graham cracker crust for 8-9 minutes, or until just starting to smell nutty. Remove the pan and set it and the pre-baked crust aside.
Clean and dry your food processor. Place the cashews into the food processor (fitted with the S blade). Alternately, use a high speed blender, such as a Vitamix. Add the three tablespoons of water. Cover the processor and pulse a few times. Run the processor for about 1 minute, until the cashews are broken down. Use a spatula to scrape the sides of the processor, then continue processing for another 2-3 minutes. The cashews should become relative smooth and blend without effort. Keep scraping the processor sides down if needed.
Add the lemon juice, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch to the processor. Process for 3-4 minutes, or until you have a completely smooth mixture. You can stop and scrape down the side of the processor as needed. You’ll have a smooth, thick mixture: pourable, but not runny, and it’ll coat a spoon or spatula.
Transfer the cheesecake batter to your prepared, round baking pan. Transfer to the oven. Bake for 40 minutes.
Remove the cheesecake from the oven carefully. At this point, the center will still be very, very jiggly! It’ll firm up during cooling. Allow the cheesecake to cool in a cool place for about 1 hour. Then, gently cover the top of the pan and transfer the cheesecake to your fridge. Chill the cheesecake overnight.
To make the blueberry sauce, place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. When the mixture becomes bubbly, reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Allow the sauce to cool before enjoying.
To serve, slice the cheesecake and top it as desired. Enjoy!
Leftover cheesecake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. It can also be frozen for up to 6 weeks.
Which vegan cream cheese should I use?
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.