“Cake is not always the answer to our baking addiction. For our second meetup, let’s try some of our favorite bars! No, not the kind where you can get your favorite drink (though feel free to add some of that to those delicious baked goodies!), but the ooey, gooey, crispy, crunchy, delectable and delicious kind! Bake up your favorite bar and bring it on over for this delicious event.”
This is the description Mindy typed up for our second Chicago Bakers Anonymous meetup. Sure, brownies would have been easy and chocolate chip cookie bars are always a satisfying treat, but I wanted to try something I’d never done before: cheesecake bars. Now, I’m a huge fan of cheesecake, but I don’t often like what people do to it. I like a nice, simple, dense cheesecake with a little hint of lemon and maybe a cherry or berry sauce spooned lightly on top. What I don’t like is fluffy cheesecake with whipped cream, chocolate chips, peanut butter, toffee, caramel, M&Ms, almonds, marshmallows, and fudge. In other words, I don’t like the Cheesecake Factory.
Although I love a simplified cheesecake, I’d never tried to make it on my own. Doing cheesecake bars seemed like a good introduction and I already had a recipe I’d saved from Cooking Light. The recipe was for a holiday cheesecake with cranberry topping, but I had my heart set on a dark cherry topping. Perhaps inspired by the proximity to Valentine’s Day – although, not really, because I’m not one for celebrating Hallmark holidays, so I’m not sure what made me want to do this – I decided to make an Oreo cookie crust, to mimic the romantic pairing of chocolate and cherries, and to sweeten the deal even more, I would make heart shapes with the cherry topping. Why? I have no idea.
Oh, and I decided to make a cheesecake ice cream with a cherry swirl. Because I can.
I actually ended up using a different Cooking Light recipe that I found online. It was specifically for cherry cheesecake bars and I thought the proportions would be better if I used that. Since this was from Cooking Light, it incorporated some lighter elements to decrease the calorie and fat count. Some non-fat Greek yogurt went in with the reduced-fat cream cheese, along with some sugar for a very basic custard. I’d previously ground some Oreo cookies in my food processor for the crust (and yes, just the cookies, not the cream, which I’d scraped off and, you may call this food blasphemy, threw out because I do not like Oreo cream), mixed in some melted butter, and baked. The cheese custard went on top and I set to making the heart decorations from the cooled cherry mixture. I took a half-teaspoon of the mixture and tried to ever so carefully set it on top of the custard…and promptly dribbled it everywhere. Okay, so no hearts, I thought. The mixture was too liquid to hold any sort of intentional form, so I just dolloped half-teaspoons of the sauce over the top and then dragged the back of a knife through it all to create a crazy swirly design. I must say, it was quite pretty for being the salvaged remains of an accident.
The bars came out of the oven just as pretty, too. Most importantly, they tasted really good. There are a few things I would change – the Oreo crust needed more butter to hold it together and the cheesecake layer was just too thin – but overall I was very happy with my first attempt at a cheesecake-like treat and will definitely return to these in the future.
And how did the ice cream turn out? First of all, my illusions of doing a cherry swirl were shattered when I added some cherry mixture to the almost-finished ice cream and it immediately mixed in, creating a bubblegum pink mass. I guess it needed to be thicker, and probably colder, to achieve the intended effect. As for the taste, it was okay. I wasn’t overly impressed and although I did spoon some out of the container the next day, I threw the majority of it away and have no plans to try it again.
Here is the cheesecake bar recipe as I made it. When I try this again, I’m going to double the amount of custard to create a taller bar. That probably takes it out of the “light” realm, but hey, it’s cheesecake! I believe in enjoying a good slice every once in a while, fat and all. I just don’t eat it every day.
Cherry Cheesecake Bars with Oreo Cookie Crust
23 Oreo cookies, cream scraped out
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 ¼ cups frozen cherries
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¾ cup 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/3 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with a sling – layer two pieces of parchment paper or foil in the pan, perpendicular to each other so they hang over each edge. When it comes time to get the bars out of the pan, you’ll just lift up and pull back the parchment or the foil.
Pulse the cookies in a food processor until finely ground. Drizzle with melted butter and pulse until combined. Press the mixture into the pan in an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes and let cool while you prepare the other elements. Reduce the oven to 325°.
Place the cherries, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer a few minutes until cherries are completely thawed and soft. Combine lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir cornstarch mixture into cherry mixture and cook for 1 minute or until thickened. Let the mixture cool and little bit and then puree it in a food processor.
Clean out your food processor, because you’re going to use it again. Place the cream cheese and remaining ingredients in food processor; process until smooth. Spoon the cream cheese mixture over the cooled crust and spread evenly. Dollop cherry mixture over cream cheese mixture, and swirl together with a knife. Bake at 325° for 30-40 minutes or until set. Cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill at least 3 hours.
Makes 16 bars