Lemon Cheesecake Bars — bar cookies , cheesecake , dessert , lemon — For Two, Please

September 18, 2010

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

I hear (or so I've been told) that "life events" come in waves. Engagements, weddings, golden birthdays, promotions, 10 yr HS reunions, babies, etc -- they're all starting to trickle in lately. Not that I can complain. Who doesn't love birthday cakes? Or an excuse to see old friends? Or all the free booze at weddings (best life event ever!)??

Anyway, one of our friends recently hit a huge milestone that definitely warranted celebration -- becoming homeowners in Alameda! Though this actually happened late last year, they just had their housewarming party the other weekend (better late than never, right?), and we were tasked with bringing a dessert.

I decided to make these because they are #1 relatively quick and easy and #2, deliciously tart and creamy. Call me crazy but when it's hot outside, the last thing I want to eat is something heavy, rich, and chocolate-y. These dainty cheesecake bars are refreshingly light and simple, and make the perfect finger food. The buttery graham cracker crust offsets the smooth tart filling wonderfully, and the fresh berries add a bit of "summer" to each bite.

Speaking of which....when did it suddenly become Fall?? Next thing I know, we'll be 50.

Lemon Cheesecake Squares
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2009

9 whole graham crackers
6 tablespoons butter

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fresh berries
[note: you can also double the filling to make it more like a cheesecake, rather than cheesecake bar cookie]

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Fold 16-inch long piece of foil to 8x16-inch strip; place in 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan, leaving overhang on 2 sides. Repeat with another sheet of foil in opposite direction, lining pan completely. Butter foil.

Place graham crackers in heavy-duty plastic bag. Using rolling pin or mallet, crush crackers finely. Melt butter in medium skillet over low heat. Remove from heat; add crumbs and toss to coat. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust until deep golden, about 12 minutes. Cool crust while preparing filling.

For filling:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in egg and sour cream, then lemon juice, lemon peel, and vanilla. Spread batter over crust.

Bake cheesecake until slightly puffed and set in center, about 25 minutes; cool completely in pan on rack. Chill cheesecake until cold, at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; keep chilled.

Using foil overhang as aid, lift cheesecake from pan. Cut into 16 squares; arrange on platter. Top each square with a small dollop of whipped cream and berry on top. Chill until ready to serve, up to 3 hours. Serve chilled.

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