If you think it's impossible to make a rich-tasting cheesecake without dairy products, you need to try our delicious Vegan Cheesecake recipe. It's made with a luscious blend of coconut cream, tofu, and cashew or macadamia nuts (instead of eggs, cream cheese and sour cream), plus the crispy crust is made with pecans and oat flour rather than graham crackers. And, great news if you're entertaining guests with dietary restrictions: the cake is not just vegan, it's also gluten-free!
Watch our IGTV series, Veganize It, to see how to make this recipe and more vegan versions of your favorite dishes.
The first step in making this cheesecake is to soak the nuts for the filling—soaking the nuts softens them and makes for a creamier filling. For this cheesecake, you can use cashews or macadamia nuts. When I was developing this recipe, we tried both and all the testers agreed that both were delicious. Cashews are the cheaper option and create the smoothest texture, but macadamias give this coconut cream-based dessert a luxurious tropical feel.
While the nuts are soaking, make the nut crust by using a food processor to pulse toasted pecans, oat flour, melted coconut oil, maple syrup and a little salt. Be sure to only pulse until the mixture comes together—otherwise you'll end up making nut butter instead of a crust.
Ingredient note: Oat flour, which is made from finely milled whole oats, is a good source of dietary fiber and whole grains. Look for it with other whole-grain flours or near gluten-free flours. Or make your own, by grinding old-fashioned rolled oats in a blender or food processor until they're the texture of flour. Just be sure to buy oats or oat flour that are labeled gluten-free: oats themselves are gluten-free but are often cross-contaminated with wheat or barley.
After you've prepared the crust, press it into a springform pan that's been coated with cooking spray (you don't want your crust to stick!) and then bake it until it's set but not browned. You can move on to making your filling while the crust is baking and cooling.
Related: More Vegan Dessert Recipes
The filling for our cheesecake is super-easy to make: Simply drain the nuts, then whirl them together with a few other ingredients—including coconut cream and silken tofu—in a food processor or blender until very smooth. Be sure to buy silken tofu, not firmer varieties, as this type of tofu makes for the silkiest filling (as its name would suggest). Lemon zest gives the cake a wonderful bright flavor. Don't forget the salt in the mixture either—salt is a flavor enhancer that's just as important in sweet dishes as savory ones. Pour the mixture into your prepared crust and bake the cake until the edges look very slightly dry and the center appears only slightly jiggly but not liquidy.
After baking the cake, be sure to let it cool for at least three hours for the best texture and flavor. To serve, run a sharp knife along the edge of the pan—pressing against the pan, not the cake—to loosen the pan sides before removing. Decorate the cake with your favorite fruit, such as strawberries; some lemon zest is a nice touch too. Then all that's left is to slice, serve and enjoy!
For a look at the price difference between traditional and vegan cheesecake, we turned to vegan celebrity chef Chloe Coscarelli (aka Chef Chloe on Instagram and YouTube). Coscarelli admits that the vegan version of cheesecake does cost slightly more to make than the traditional version: The vegan cake costs $16.05 to make, while a traditional cheesecake clocks in at about $12.40 (that's about 30 cents more per slice for the vegan version). "This is because we're using premium ingredients like pecans, coconut cream, maple syrup and cashews to get that delicious, creamy taste you expect from a cheesecake," Coscarelli explains, adding that it's worth every penny.
Pictured recipe: Vegan Cheesecake recipe
In terms of the environmental impact, our vegan cheesecake has a softer footprint than traditional cheesecake, which is full of dairy ingredients, including butter. Butter ranks third among 10 common climate-damaging foods, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, falling just behind beef and lamb. It takes a whopping 21 pounds of milk to make just 1 pound of butter.
As for nutritional differences, our vegan cheesecake has 174 fewer calories than traditional cheesecake per serving. It also has 2 grams of fiber per serving, compared to 0 grams in traditional cheesecake, and is 10 grams lower in saturated fat and about 300 milligrams lower in sodium.
Vegan cheesecake is a wonderful dessert year-round—you can vary the toppings according to the season, using berries in the spring and summer and citrus fruits in the winter. It would be delicious any time of year with a drizzle of chocolate sauce or some decorative chocolate curls, too. Check back in with Veganize It soon—we'll be rolling out a new vegan version of a favorite dish every week on IGTV.
Culinary nutritionist and EatingWell Test Kitchen manager Breana Killeen is a Le Cordon Bleu–trained cook, dietitian and sommelier who loves dogs, classic cars and a cool glass of rosé.