Cheesecake Bar Cookies
These little bars can satisfy a hankering for cheesecake without much time or effort. Not as filling as a big slice of cheesecake, these cookies are light enough to satisfy cravings without making you hold your stomach and moan about eating too much. Not dry at all, they belong in the silky, creamy category, rather than the dense and rich style of cheesecake. Both types of cheesecake are good, but if you want melt-in-your-mouth lusciousness, these little treats are for you.
If you want to try to control yourself even further, you can freeze these and bring one out when the urge strikes. In fact, these are usually on my Christmas cookie list because they can be made ahead and frozen. They thaw quickly if you leave them out on the counter for about 30 minutes. They will taste as silken and luscious as before freezing. Unless you live with a wily cookie thief who strikes when your back is turned-then they disappear. Better put two out, just in case.
You can easily adapt this recipe to be lemony by substituting lemon juice for the milk. Then add additional lemon zest to the filling. Don’t have a lemon on hand? Just leave out the zest and the vanilla flavor will be great on it’s own.
Line the pan for easy removal
Line the pan with parchment paper that extends up and over two sides for easy lifting after cooking. You can also use foil. Turn your pan upside down first and smooth the foil over and down on all four sides. Lift it off, invert the pan, and help the foil settle back down into the corners of pan. This method prevents lots of rips, tears, and muttering at the foil. Either way works.
The base of these bars is like soft shortbread. Since the butter needs to be cut into the flour, it can still be chilled, but not rock hard. (Did you know that room temperature butter should bend in the middle when you pull both ends down but should not break? I know I read that somewhere; I don’t think I dreamt it.)
After combining the flour, brown sugar, and zest, cut chunks of butter directly into the bowl. Use a pastry cutter, fork, or fingers to work the butter into the flour until you have a mixture of small and medium crumbs. Scoop out a cup of this crumbly stuff and set aside. Then press the rest firmly down onto the bottom of an 8-inch square pan.
Make it smooth
While you bake the base of these bars, mix the cream cheese and sugar until completely blended. I prefer to use Neufchatel cream cheese, to shave off a few calories. It really helps make the filling smooth and light. No matter what you use, start by making sure your cream cheese is completely softened. If it isn’t, you will end up with lumpy polka dotted bits of unflavored cream cheese in each bite—not so appetizing.
Your finger should be able to mush down on the block of cream cheese with no resistance. Neufchatel is softer than full-fat cream cheese and will soften on the counter in about 1- 1/2 hours. If you don’t have time to let it sit out, you can microwave. Unwrap it and place it in on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave it for 10 seconds, check to see if it is soft. If not, add more time in small increments until it is ready.
I use a hand mixer, but you can use a wooden spoon on the Neufchatel and sugar if preferred. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla, stirring to combine completely. Pour this mixture over top of the partially baked shortbread base; don’t forget to sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over top of the cream cheese!
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted in the middle comes out almost clean. You can see in the photo that there are some smears on the knife, but that is fine. Just like cheesecake, this cream cheese filling will continue to set up a bit as it cools.
Wait until it is completely cool before cutting into 16 squares or 20 rectangles. Refrigerate any leftovers.
CHEESECAKE BAR COOKIES
- 1 Cup Flour
- 1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 -1 teaspoon Lemon Zest
- 6 Tablespoons Butter, room temperature or slightly chilled
- 8 Ounces Neufchatel Cream Cheese, softened
- 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 1 Large Egg
- 2 Tablespoons Milk or Lemon Juice
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line bottom of 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, extending ends up and over sides. Combine flour, brown sugar, and lemon zest in bowl. Cut in butter until medium to fine crumbs are formed. Measure out 1 cup of mixture and set aside. Press remainder over bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Meanwhile thoroughly beat cream cheese and granulated sugar together until smooth. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well. Spread batter over partially baked crust. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until small knife inserted in middle comes out almost clean. Cool and cut into 16-20 pieces for serving. Keep chilled until serving time. Refrigerate leftovers.