Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Bars are a bright and fresh winter dessert that can be totally vegan and gluten-free! Made with cashews and coconut cream, this plant-based cheesecake is easy to make and full of sunny flavor.
What is vegan cheesecake anyway?
While it sounds like an oxymoron, vegan cheesecake is a rich dessert made primarily from cashews, coconut cream, and maple syrup. It of course takes inspiration from traditional cheesecake but these plant-based ingredients take the place of dairy-laden cream cheese and heavy cream.
If you are someone who does not care for the heaviness of traditional cheesecake (like me), you may prefer this vegan version. While still decadent in flavor, it’s texture is much lighter and made even brighter with the addition of fresh lemon juice. The crust is a simple shortbread that can likely be made with ingredients you already have on hand.
For ease of serving, we’re making this recipe into bars in an 8×8 pan.
What You’ll Love About This Recipe
It’s full of bright lemon flavor that’s perfect for brightening up dreary winter days.
Easier to make than traditional cheesecake, no water bath is required for this dessert.
Pantry-friendly, plant-based ingredients are the star of the show, with staples such as coconut milk and cashews taking center stage.
Totally customizable, these cheesecake bars can just as easily be flavored with lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice.
Finally, this recipe is very easily made both vegan and gluten-free, when (gluten-free) oat flour is used in place of all purpose.
Ingredients Needed for Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Bars
For the shortbread crust:
- ½ cup (one stick) melted vegan butter (like Miyokos)
- ¼ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 cup + 2 TBS all purpose flour (or fine oat flour for gluten-free)
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
For the filling:
- 1 cup roasted cashews, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes to soften
- 1 cup coconut cream, chilled (solid portion scooped from the top of a chilled 15 oz. full fat coconut milk can, leaving behind liquid)
- ½ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 2 TBS cornstarch or arrowroot starch
- 1 TBS lemon zest (optional)
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Pinch of turmeric (for color, optional)
- ¼ cup maple syrup
Vegan Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Bars Ingredient FAQ
What is the difference between Meyer lemons and regular lemons?
Meyer lemons are smaller that conventional lemons, with a thinner skin and less pith. They are slightly more round and more orange when ripe. Their flavor is slightly more floral than regular lemons; many people say they are less “biting” and sharp. Meyer lemons are a hybrid fruit, made from a combination of a citron and a mandarin/pomelo.
Where can I buy Meyer lemons?
Depending on where you live, Meyer lemons can be difficult to source. In Florida and California these fruit trees are often incorporated into landscaping, so you may have luck searching around your neighborhood! For most people, these are most easily found in the winter at a well-stocked grocery store like Whole Foods. If you do not have access to Meyer lemons, you can certainly use regular lemon juice in this recipe. I even think these would be good with lime or grapefruit juice.
What is coconut cream?
Coconut cream is the solid portion of coconut milk. When a can of coconut milk is chilled, the “cream” will rise to the top of the can, as it is the fattiest part. For this reason, coconut cream is an excellent substitute for dairy cream in many recipes as it is very rich and easy to source. You can also buy individual cans of coconut cream only, though they tend to be a bit smaller.
In this recipe, you will need one entire cup of coconut cream. This is about the amount that you’ll find in a 15 oz can of coconut milk that has been chilling overnight in the refrigerator.
Forget to chill a can? No worries! Oftentimes, room temperature cans of coconut milk will still have relatively solid portions of coconut meat inside of them (if you avoid shaking the can too much to integrate. When scooping the meat out, try to avoid bringing along too much liquid as this can impact the texture of your filling.
What is turmeric for in this recipe?
Used for coloring the filling, ground turmeric is optional in the ingredient list (though highly recommended). When using such a small amount, you cannot taste its earthy flavor. However, it helps to impart the bright yellow color that many of us associate with “lemony” foods.
If you decide to use another type of citrus juice (like lime or grapefruit), be forewarned that the turmeric will skew the color very golden! If you’d prefer a pink color, I recommend adding one TBS of pomegranate juice while subtracting 1 TBS maple syrup. For a green color, feel free to add 1 pinch of culinary-grade matcha green tea powder.
Special Equipment Needed for Baking:
- High speed blender, to ensure a creamy and smooth filling
- 8×8 glass or metal pan
- Parchment paper, to line the baking dish
How to Make Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Bars
1. To begin, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper. Leave a slight overhang of parchment on each side of the pan so that you can easily remove the final product.
2. In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt. Stir to combine until you have a very sticky mixture. Press the crust across the bottom of the parchment lined pan, flattening with your hand or the back of a glass. Try to make the layer as even as possible. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges.
3. While the crust is baking, we can prepare the filling. Drain the cashews that have been soaking and add them to a high speed blender along with chilled coconut cream, Meyer lemon juice, cornstarch, optional lemon zest, salt, optional turmeric, and maple syrup. Blend on high speed until thoroughly combined and smooth.
4. Once the crust is done baking, remove from the oven (but leave the oven on) and evenly pour lemon filling on top of the crust. Add the pan back into the oven and bake cheesecake for 23-30 minutes, until the top is fully set with no ripples. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly to room temperature. Once the pan is cool enough to handle, transfer cheesecake to the refrigerator and let cool at least 4 hours. I know this is a long time but I promise this is what will help it set!
5. Once cheesecake is fully cooled, grab the ends of the parchment paper and remove cheesecake from the pan. Using a chef’s knife, remove any irregular edges to make a perfect square. Slice into 9 or 16 individual squares to serve.
How to Thicken Vegan Cheesecake and Help It Set
Cashews and coconut cream make up the bulk of this recipe; these are natural thickening agents that will ensure your final product is not at all runny. With their high fat content, they play a similar role to that of cream cheese in a traditional cheesecake recipe. Furthermore, cornstarch also helps absorb liquid and create a solid structure. Finally, baking the cake for 30 minutes and letting it chill for 4 hours ensures a texture that is very sliceable. It can be tempting to slice the cheesecake bars prior to this, but cooling it fully allows for an even texture.
Substitutions for this Recipe
- Regular lemons can be used in place of Meyer Lemons.
- To make this recipe gluten-free, substitute an equal amount of finely-ground oat flour in place of the all purpose flour.
- If you are not vegan, honey can be used in place of maple syrup.
- In a pinch, raw cashews can be substituted for roasted. Macadamia nuts would likely also work, though I have not tried as those can get expensive.
Can this Meyer Lemon Cheesecake be made in advance?
Yes! This entire recipe comes together in under an hour and can be made up to 5 days before you plan to enjoy it. It will keep best when inside a covered container in the fridge.