I used to hate cream cheese. Well, really, I never gave it a chance because I had a real aversion to anything cheese. And while cream cheese is a very, very distantly removed cousin from Gouda or Brie, I just had a mental block against it. This mental block didn't affect my life much because when I was growing up, my house never really had cream cheese or bagels. Those things were just for sleepovers. I didn't even consider them "treats." It was just what my Caucasian friends ate. Kind of like pizza. It wasn't something my family ate often, and it was never something I craved or wanted.
Then one day, a bunch of my friends had a movie night at my house. It was potluck style and people brought various different things. One of the guys brought a cheesecake that his mom had made. No one ate much during the movie, but afterwards while we hung out to talk, someone asked if we could slice into the cheesecake. Everyone took a slice as we sat down at the table, so out of politeness so did I. I was only going to eat a teensy bit of the cherry sauce on top and maybe take a scrape at the crust, but then we kept talking and talking and I felt like I looked so rude, not eating the cheesecake when everyone else was, so I hesitantly took the smallest bite possible. And to my surprise, it was good. It was slightly tart and slightly sweet, and fluffy and creamy and much lighter than I ever though cheesecake could be. I was hooked. I ended up asking to keep the entire cheesecake, and I ate at it slowly over the next few days. After it was gone, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
I bugged him and bugged him for the recipe, but he never gave it to me, and now I haven't spoken to him in about two or three years, so that cheesecake recipe will probably never be mine. But that's okay. I did some research and I've made my own mini cheesecakes before (delicious) and I finally decided today that it was about time I tried making flavored cheesecakes.
Of course, the first flavor I wanted to try was strawberry. My friends who know me now understand that I have a very serious relationship with strawberry cream cheese. Our café has daily changing flavors of "special cream cheese," and I get very excited when strawberry shows up. My roommate finally asked me why I don't just buy my own strawberry cream cheese, and so I went ahead and made my own strawberry cheesecake bars. Not exactly the same thing, but close enough. And very satisfying.
The recipe below is fairly flexible. You can use it to make plain cheesecake bars if you use regular cream cheese (and omit the orange zest and strawberry sauce), and you can make strawberry cheesecakes bars using strawberry cream cheese or regular cream cheese. I used a combination of both. Also, I like my cheesecakes a little tart, and so the sugar level is a bit lower than you normally find in cheesecake, and sometimes I actually add a bit of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice as well. Part of the reason for this is because I tend to use heavy whipping cream instead of sour cream, but if you use sour cream, the extra acid won't be necessary. Also, I like to have a pretty even crust to cheesecake ratio, so I don't do tall cheesecakes. I really enjoy the taste of the crust, especially when it's made out of crumbled gingersnaps. Delicious!
(Strawberry) Cheesecake Bars
10 oz. ginger snap cookies
7 tbsp melted butter
Crush and grind the cookie in a food processor by pulsing lightly.
Add the melted butter and pulse to combine.
Press mixture into a buttered 9 x13 inch pan.
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened (see note above about using flavored plain vs. flavored)
½ cup sugar
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream or sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp orange zest
3 tbsp strawberry sauce (recipe below, or use strawberry jam/jelly)
1 ½ tbsp flour
optional: 2-3 tbsp strawberry sauce for decorating
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Beat the cream cheese until lightened. Add the sugar and cream until smooth.
Add the whipping/sour cream and beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition.
Add the vanilla, orange zest, strawberry sauce/jelly, and salt. Mix until smooth and the batter is evenly pink in hue.
Sift the flour in (this can be done simply by shaking the spoon lightly) and beat until just combined.
Pour onto the prepared crust.
Optional: Lightly drizzle the strawberry sauce over the batter in smooth flowing lines. Using a spatula or chopstick, draw webs and lines over the lines of sauce to create a pretty pattern.
Bake for about 35-40 minutes. Remove and cool.
Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cut into bars and serve.
1 quart of strawberries, washed and hulled
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on how acidic your strawberries are)
Slice and dice the strawberries finely. Combine with the sugar in a sauce pan on medium high heat. The strawberry mixture will begin to bubble after a few minutes. Stir and keep an eye on it for about 5 minutes. Do not cover! You want water to evaporate.
After about 5 minutes, or when it seems thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and not drip for 3 seconds (count it! you don't want it to be liquidy), remove from the heat. Strain the strawberry sauce into a container. You should get a decent amount, though I've never measured it.
This can be used in the cheesecake, to decorate the cheesecake, and to serve with the cheesecake. It also tastes great with ice cream and any dessert that involves chocolate.
Reserve the strawberry "pulp" for eating with yogurt, ice cream, English muffins, or scones. (Or,if you have no plans on eating it, you can always compost it!)
Refrigerate both the sauce and the pulp. They will keep for about 1 week in the fridge, although, trust me, you won't have problems using them up long before then.