High Country Baking: Lemon cream cheese bars
High Country Baking
As soon as there’s a hint of spring, I turn to recipes that call for lemons. I think their bright color and fresh taste match the season. On the first mild day in April, I made these lemon cream cheese bars and have had requests for more of them ever since. With a graham-cracker crust and a rich, smooth filling, they’re like cheesecake but a lot easier to prepare. They’re a lovely dessert accompanied by a rosette of whipped cream and a scatter of fresh berries, or cut them smaller and serve them as a cookie.
The strength of the lemon flavor is up to you. Two tablespoons of fresh juice results in a mild flavor, so add up to another tablespoon or a little more lemon oil if you want more pucker.
Lemon cream cheese bars
Make in an 8-by-8-inch shiny metal baking pan. Works at any elevation.
- 1 1/4 cups finely ground graham crackers (seven to eight 2-by-5-inch crackers)
- 3-3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest or 1/4 teaspoon lemon oil
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line your pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular foil, extending it several inches on two opposite sides to use as handles when removing the baked bars. Grease the regular foil and any exposed parts of the pan with a baking spray that contains flour, and set the pan aside.
Make the crust: Combine the ground crackers and 3 tablespoons of melted butter in a bowl and stir/toss until well combined. Squeeze some between your fingers: It should just hold together. If it doesn’t, add the additional half tablespoon of melted butter, a little at a time, until it does. Too much butter will make the crust hard to cut, so add only enough for the cracker crumbs to hold together. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth and level it, and bake until the crust is set, about 8-10 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack.
Make the filling: Cut the cream cheese into 16 pieces and place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar, zest/oil, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Pulse until the mixture is completely smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, pulsing after each addition, stopping as soon as it’s blended. If you over-process the filling, it can become thin and runny. This step can also be done with an electric mixer at medium speed.
Scrape the filling over the crust and level it. Bake until the filling is almost set but still quivers in the center when you jiggle the pan. Don’t overbake or you’ll lose the velvety texture. Remove the pan to a rack and cool completely. Then, lightly cover the pan and refrigerate for at least four hours.
Take the chilled dessert out of the fridge and use the foil handles to remove the baked slab. With a thin-bladed, sharp knife, slice it into bars, cleaning the knife after each cut. Cut 3-inch squares if serving for dessert or 1-inch squares if serving as a cookie. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Editor’s note: This recipe is a variation of one published by Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at email@example.com.
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