While I do enjoy a good slice of cheesecake, I prefer to make cheesecake bars at home when I’m looking for a cheesecake fix. They’re easy to make, have a short baking time and don’t need to be baked in a water bath. They also make a great basic recipe for putting all kinds of variations on for different flavors. For this batch, I wanted to add a key lime element to my cheesecake bars and get the richness of cheesecake and the tang of a key lime pie in one dessert.
Most of the flavor comes from a homemade key lime curd that is swirled into the cheesecake batter before baking. This curd is a twist on a lower fat lemon curd recipe that I absolutely love. Made with tart key lime juice, the curd is very bright and citrusy. It makes for a nice contrast with the rich tasting cream cheese filling. I simply added a few dollops of the curd into the cheesecake and lightly swirled it around with a butter knife before baking. In some places where there was more curd than others, the lime curd sank below the cheesecake (other places it remained lightly swirled on top), creating a nice layered effect. The whole dessert is much less sweet than key lime pie, with a wonderfully rich cheesecake texture and a very refreshing lime flavor. If you don’t have key limes, you can use regular limes in the recipe for lime curd.
The bars have a vanilla crumb crust that is made with crushed vanilla wafer cookies and butter, and is baked and cooled before being filled with cheesecake mixture. Graham crackers would work for the crust, as well, but the vanilla adds a nice mellow flavor that goes very well with the flavor of the cream cheese. The crust holds up very well to the filling without getting soggy, and while it would be crumbly if you tried to slice it on its own, the filling adds the perfect amount of moisture to keep it together and still slice easily.
Key Lime Swirl Cheesecake Bars
1 recipe vanilla wafer crumb crust (recipe below)
8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/3 cup key lime curd (recipe below)
Prepare vanilla wafer crust in a 9-inch square baking dish. Allow to cool completely.
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese and sugar until well combined. Beat in milk, eggs and vanilla extract until very smooth. Sift in all purpose flour and whisk in thoroughly.
Pour into prepared baking dish on top of cooled crust. Add dollops of key lime curd and swirl in gently, using a butter knife.
Bake for 22-26 minutes, until cheesecake is set and jiggles only slightly at the center when pan is tapped.
Cool completely before slicing. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Vanilla Wafer Crumb Crust
2 2/3 cups vanilla wafer cookies
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 egg white, lightly beaten (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F.
In the food processor, whiz vanilla wafer cookies until reduced to crumbs. Add in sugar, vanilla extract and melted butter and pulse to combine. Mixture should resemble wet sand.
Pour into a 9-inch pie plate (or 9-inch square baking dish) and gently spread into an even layer over the bottom and sides. Press crumbs in firmly to create a tight crust. Use a pastry brush to gently brush the beaten egg white over the surface of the crust (you do not need to use the whole egg white).
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until crust just begins to turn golden brown around the edges.
Cool completely before using.
Key Lime Curd
1/3 cup strained, fresh key lime juice (or regular lime juice)
1-2 tsp lime zest
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, dissolve sugar into lime juice. Add zest.
Lightly beat egg in a small/medium bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly pour lime/sugar syrup into the egg. Whisk vigorously for 1-2 minutes, until very smooth and well blended, then transfer mixture back into the saucepan.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it just starts to bubble at the edges.
Transfer to a small container and cover with plastic wrap. Store in the fridge.
Makes approx 2/3 cup