It’s been awhile since I’ve been on vacation. In fact, this past Sunday was the first day I’ve taken off work in 2020! I don’t applaud this decision and don’t recommend going this long a period without a vacation. I did have a weeklong vacation scheduled for late March and a long weekend trip scheduled for May, but obviously those didn’t happen.
And with everyone on lockdown and nowhere to go but my one-bedroom apartment, “taking time off” has not seemed very alluring. For one, I don’t sleep in, and two, I don’t enjoy watching TV in the middle of the day (I’ve been called a robot, I’m fine with that). Given these stay-at-home circumstances, “taking a vacation” would’ve involved me reading books for 10 hours a day on my couch. No, thanks. I’d rather keep working!
If you are in a similar position where (i.e., itching for a tropical vacation but can’t take one right now), these Vegan Piña Colada Cheesecake Bars are the next best thing! They’re a mashup of everyone’s favorite adult tropical beverage and cheesecake. These bars are creamy and rich yet cooling and refreshing, sweet yet a little tangy, and perfect for summer!
Why you’re going to love this recipe
Tropical delight. Let these Piña Colada Cheesecake Bars transport you to a tropical oasis! They’ve got a rich, creamy cheesecake filling infused with pineapple and coconut cream and a crust made with macadamia nuts and coconut. If you love pineapple and coconut together, these are a must make!
Healthy yet decadent. Eating cheesecake always feels decadent, and these bars are certainly an indulgent treat. But compared to classic cheesecake, they are quite healthy! Instead of dairy-based cream cheese, I use cashews, coconut cream, and vegan cream cheese. And there’s fruit in here, so there’s that.
Summer perfection. If summer has turned you into a sweaty mess, these cheesecake bars are the perfect way to cool down! For a seriously cooling treat, I freeze these bars for 30ish minutes before devouring. It is so refreshing, I can *almost* imagine myself poolside with a frozen piña colada in hand.
Gingersnap cookies. I love using gingersnap cookies in my vegan cheesecake crusts because many store-bought varieties are naturally vegan, whereas the more traditional option for cheesecake crust—graham crackers—almost always have honey. Plus, I love the zingy flavor from ginger. I think it brings more flavor to the crust than graham crackers.
Raw macadamia nuts and shredded coconut. To add a tropical flair, I also use raw macadamia nuts and shredded coconut. I typically use pecans or walnuts in my crusts, but macadamia nuts pair SO beautifully with pineapple and coconut, it felt like a no-brainer. That said, macadamias are pricy and not as widely available, so if you don’t have them, feel free to substitute with pecans.
Melted coconut oil and maple syrup. To bring the crust together, stream in some melted coconut oil and a tiny bit of maple syrup. I use refined coconut oil (which is fairly neutral in taste compared to unrefined/virgin coconut oil) since we’re already getting the coconut flavor from the shredded coconut. I add a pinch of salt to the crust to bring out the sweetness, but you might want to omit it if your macadamia nuts are salted (many macadamia nuts are sold as roasted/salted).
I’ve done a fair share of cheesecake recipe testing over the years, and my go-to filling consists of three main ingredients: raw soaked cashews, coconut cream, and store-bought vegan cream cheese.
Raw Cashews. These babies need to be soaked in order to soften them up and make them all creamy. When I soak cashews, I often give the option to soak them overnight in cool water, or for just 1 hour in boiling water. But since there’s not enough liquid in the cheesecake to use my high-powered Vitamix (which could easily pulverize these babies even with a quick 1-hour soak), I prefer to soak the cashews overnight.
Coconut Cream. This is the thick white cream from a can of full-fat coconut milk. You want the cream to be solidified, and in order to do that, I recommend storing your coconut milk in the fridge for 24 hours – this will give it ample time to solidify.
Note: This recipe calls for 3/4 cup of coconut cream. Some brands of coconut milk have 3/4 cup cream, but some only have about 1/2 cup cream. You can avoid this possibility by buying canned coconut cream (affiliate link), as there will be a greater quantity of cream than in a can of coconut milk.
Vegan Cream Cheese. When I make cheesecake, the brand of cream cheese I love using is Tofutti (affiliate link). It tastes just like traditional cream cheese, which helps this cheesecake taste just like traditional dairy-based cheesecake!
If you can’t find vegan cream cheese, take a look at the FAQ substitution below for a substitution.
Lemon Juice. Along with the vegan cream cheese, this brings the tart, tangy flavor you associate with cheesecake. The lemon juice also helps mask the taste of cashews. Be sure to use freshly squeezed lemon juice, as it will notably affect the taste if you use those plastic bottles of lemon juice.
Orange Zest. The orange juice brings the most perfect sweet, bright flavor.
Crushed Pineapple. This is a piña colada cheesecake, so obviously we have to use pineapple! You can use canned crushed pineapple to keep it simple, or fresh pineapple (see the “Tips” section below).
Coconut rum. This ingredient is totally optional, but if you have happen to have Malibu rum or another coconut rum or even white rum, add a few spoons for that authentic piña colada flavor!
Make the crust. In a food processor, blend the gingersnaps and macadamia nuts until they are finely ground.
Then add the coconut flakes, salt, and melted coconut oil. Blend until the crust comes together and can be pressed between your fingers. If the mixture is not sticky enough, add a splash more of coconut oil (or maple syrup, if you’d like more sweetness).
Once you have a slightly sticky crust, you’ll press it into the bottom of a square baking pan (lined with parchment paper). I use a flat bottomed glass to press the crust down evenly around the pan. Pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes to set while you make the filling.
Make the cheesecake filling. Add the soaked and drained cashews and coconut cream to the food processor. Blend until the mixture resembles ricotta cheese. Add the cream cheese, coconut oil, lemon juice, sugar, arrowroot powder, and salt. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides as needed.
Add the orange zest, vanilla, rum (if using), and 4 tablespoons of the reserved pineapple juice. Blend briefly to incorporate. Remove the food processor blade and gently fold in the crushed pineapple with a spoon or spatula.
Bake the cheesecake. Pour the cheesecake batter on top of the refrigerated crust and smooth out the top with a silicone spatula. Bake the cheesecake in the oven for 35-45 minutes. Let the cheesecake rest for 15 minutes at room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Before serving, top with fresh diced pineapple and toasted coconut flakes and slice into bars.
Tips for making this recipe
Advanced planning. You will need to do some advance planning, primarily by refrigerating the can of coconut cream/milk for 24 hours to solidify the coconut cream and soaking the cashews in water overnight. If you forget to soak the cashews overnight, you can soak them in boiling water for 1 hour, but as I mentioned above, I prefer the overnight soak to get a really smooth cheesecake batter.
Canned pineapple vs. fresh pineapple. Using canned crushed pineapple is obviously easiest, but if you have fresh pineapple on hand (it is in season right now!), you’ll get even more tropical fruity goodness and authentic piña colada flavor.
To crush fresh pineapple, add pineapple chunks to a food processor and pulse a few times until the pineapple is in small pieces. Approximately 2/3 – 3/4 cup pineapple chunks is equal to the amount in an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple. To get pineapple juice, add more pineapple chunks to a food processor with some water (1/4 cup water for 2 cups pineapple), blend until you have a smooth puree, and then strain over a fine mesh sieve.
Go slowly with the rum. If you are using the optional rum, start with the smallest amount, taste the batter, and adjust accordingly. Also, keep in mind, that once you bake the cheesecake, the alcohol will get cooked.
Frequently Asked Questions
I like Tofutti vegan cream cheese because it really tastes like classic cream cheese.
If you can’t find vegan cream cheese, you can omit it and use more cashews and coconut cream. You will need to increase the amount of each of those ingredients: use 2 1/4 cups/305-315g raw cashews (instead of 1 1/2 cup) and use 1 cup (240g) coconut cream (instead of 3/4 cup), along with an additional tablespoon of lemon juice.
Macadamia nuts are exquisite in this recipe (imagine you’re in Hawaii sipping a piña colada by the pool with a bowl of macadamia nuts to snack on!).
But, I know they are pricy and not as widely available, so if you don’t have them, you can substitute with pecans.
The arrowroot powder helps to thicken and set the cheesecake filling. You can use cornstarch if you don’t have arrowroot powder.
That’s all you need to know about these tropical Vegan Piña Colada Cheesecake Bars! I hope you give them a try, and if you do, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and leave a comment below!
- 5 ounces vegan gingersnap cookies
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (can sub coconut flakes)
- 1/2 cup macadamia nuts (can substitute with pecans)
- 1 pinch sea salt (if your macadamia nuts are salted, be very sparing with salt)
- 4 tbsp refined coconut oil, melted
- 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1.5 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for 8 hours or overnight
- 3/4 cup refrigerated coconut cream (I used canned coconut cream, but you can also scoop out the thick white portion from a refrigerated can of coconut milk)
- 8 oz vegan cream cheese
- 2 tbsp refined coconut oil, melted
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (70-75g) organic cane sugar
- 2 tbsp arrowroot powder or cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 medium orange, zested
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2-4 tbsp Malibu, or other coconut rum (optional)
- 8 oz can crushed pineapple or freshly crushed pineapple, juice reserved
- 1 small fresh pineapple, diced (or pre-chopped fresh pineapple)
- coconut flakes, toasted
- Make sure you’ve refrigerated your canned coconut milk or canned coconut cream for 24 hours so that it is solidified.
- Soak your cashews in cold water for 8 hours. Drain the cashews and rinse.
- Prepare the pan. Set a rack in the lower middle position. Line an 8×8-inch (20×20 cm) square pan or 9×9-inch (23×23 cm) square pan with parchment paper.
Make the crust
- In a food processor, blend the gingersnaps and macadamia nuts until they are finely ground. Then add the coconut flakes, salt, and melted coconut oil. Blend until the crust comes together and can be pressed between your fingers. If the mixture is not sticky enough, add a splash more of coconut oil (or maple syrup, if you’d like more sweetness).1/2 cup macadamia nuts
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/176°C and wipe out the food processor bowl.
- Press the crust into the bottom of the lined baking pan and press it down evenly on the bottom of the pan (I use a flat-bottomed measuring cup to get the crust even). Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set while you make the filling
Make the cheesecake filling
- Add the soaked and drained cashews and coconut cream to the food processor. Blend until the mixture resembles ricotta cheese. Add the cream cheese, coconut oil, lemon juice, sugar, arrowroot powder, and salt. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Add the orange zest, vanilla, rum (if using), and 4 tablespoons of the reserved pineapple juice. Blend briefly to incorporate. Remove the food processor blade and gently fold in the crushed pineapple with a spoon or spatula.
Bake the cheesecake
- Pour the cheesecake batter on top of the refrigerated crust and smooth out the top with a silicone spatula. NOTE: if using an 8×8-inch pan, you will likely have a bit of extra batter leftover.
- Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the edges look very slightly dry and the center appears just a little jiggly but not wiggly. Mine took exactly 40 minutes.
- Let the bars rest for 15 minutes at room temperature, then transfer the pan to the refrigerator. Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Before serving, top with fresh diced pineapple and toasted coconut flakes. Slice into bars. Store leftovers in the fridge.