I will be the first to admit I was skeptical that cashews, a savory nut, could be used to make a sweet delicious cheesecake. It just didn’t seem plausible. How can you have cheesecake without cream cheese (isn’t that the very definition of the dessert?). But the more I saw recipes for “cheese” sauces and desserts in which cashews were the main ingredient, the more my curiosity grew. Like they say, “don’t knock it before you try it.” Plus, the idea of substituting fatty, dairy cream cheese for a heart healthy nut to make a lightened version of cheesecake seemed worth trying.
Since I was going out of the box with this dessert, I decided to go out of the box with my flavors as well. I decided upon a pistachio walnut date cardamom crust, with a lemon vanilla bean cashew cheesecake filling, topped with a honey raspberry swirl. Sounds fancy but all the ingredients are super easy to find at any local market.
Now that I had my idea down, it was time to make the dessert. I was very excited to see how this would turn out. Along the way, I learned some important things about working with cashews in a sweet application that are critical to making this dessert turn out right.
First, you MUST soak the nuts in cold water to soften them before making the base so you do not have a chunky mess of a cheesecake (aka my first batch of these!). The longer you soak them the better. If you know you want to make this dessert for an event and can plan ahead, you should soak the nuts overnight in an airtight container. If you wake up one morning and are craving cheesecake (which happens to me often), then you can soak the cashews with cold water for 4-6 hours.
Another important tip: you will need to blend the base of the cheesecake for a long time in a food processor or blender to get the right consistency. When I first added all of my base ingredients into the food processor, I only blended it for 2-3 minutes and it didn’t look how I had imagined. I tried to blend it a little more, maybe another minute, but it still was not right. I even convinced myself that my food processor was just not powerful enough, so dumped the mixture into my ninja blender and cranked it to full speed! It appeared that was not working either and I started to panic and my skepticism for this dessert returned. I was about to throw the base down the drain, but stopped myself because I had gone too far to give up! I continued to blend the base for about 10-15 minutes total, and finally the cashews reached a smooth, creamy consistency (which very much mimicked cheesecake). Moral of the story: be patient and know this step takes about 15 minutes of blending.
Last tip: make sure to freeze the bars for 3-4 hours so they properly set and are easy to cut. But before you eat them, let them thaw for about 10 minutes so they have that creamy soft texture of real cheesecake (instead of a frozen dessert).
Despite a few hiccups in the baking process, I was pleasantly surprised with the end result! The cashews do actually mimic the consistency of cream cheese in a cheesecake and it taste almost identical. In all honesty, I might now like cashew cheesecake better than the real thing! The recipe does take time and patience, but I promise it is worth it in the end!! Plus, since you can freeze these cheesecake bars, it will last up to 3-4 weeks in the freezer, so you will have this delicious treat on hand for a while!
Vegan Raspberry Cheesecake Bars
- ½ cup pistachio
- ½ cup walnuts
- pinch sea salt
- 9-10 dates
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 tsp, cardamom
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
- 1 and 1/2 cups cashews (soaked for at least 4 hours and up to overnight)
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
- 2 tsps. vanilla bean paste or vanilla
- zest of one lemon
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1 cup raspberries
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- Soak the cashews with cold water for up to 4 hour or overnight.
- Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.
- For the crust, place dates in a food processor and blend on high until it forms a paste. Remove the date paste from the food processor and add the salt and nuts and grind until it forms a sand like texture. Add back in the date paste, plus, coconut oil and vanilla and blend until it incorporates with the nuts and starts to form a ball. Press the mixture into the greased pan. Set in freezer while you make the remaining parts of the dessert.
- Make the base by adding all of the ingredients into a food processor and blending until very smooth. This may take 3-5 minutes to correctly process and break down the cashews and get the right texture. Pour the base mixture on top of the crust with a spatula.
- Finally, make the raspberry sauce by blending all the ingredients in a blender for about a minute. Strain the mixture by pouring it into a sieve to remove the seeds. Pour the raspberry sauce on top of the base and use a toothpick to make pretty swirls.
- Freeze the dessert for 3-4 hour until it is set.
- Once set, remove the dessert from the pan by lifting the parchment paper. Let it thaw for about 10 minutes on the counter before cutting (makes it easier to cut and gives it s creamier texture when you devour it!)
- Cut into squares (I made 9 squares but you can make 12 if you prefer smaller size bars).
- Serve and enjoy!
- Store the bars in an airtight container in the freezer. Remove them from freezer about 10 minutes before serving.