Most of the people I know enjoy cheesecake and, if I had to guess, I would say that you probably know a lot of fans of the rich and creamydessert, too. But full-sized cheesecakes can be difficult to make. Water baths are often required to achieve the perfect texture and if you’re pressed for time, you can’t just wait around for a cheesecake to bake, cool and then chill in the fridge before you get your fix. This is where cheesecake bars come in. They deliver a creamy texture, great cheesecake flavor and take far less time than a regular cheesecake. As an added bonus, they also travel well and can easily be sliced, tucked away without fear of smushing them and eaten without requiring a fork and knife (although you are more than welcome to use them when eating the bars).
This recipe is a favorite of mine and I have used it many times. The crust dough comes together very quickly and the filling is poured in while the crust is still hot from the oven, so there is no time spent waiting around for things to cool and an entire batch can be made from start to finish in about an hour. An additional bonus is that the recipe is open to lots of flavor variations, so there is a lot that can be done with the basic recipe.
For the vanilla flavoring, I scraped the seeds from a vanilla bean into my cheesecake batter, and used vanilla sugar in the crust to further boost the flavor. Vanilla sugar is a wonderful ingredient to have on hand to add a final – and flavorful – touch to muffins, cookies, etc., but you can easily use plain sugar instead, or use plain sugar and add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract. You can also use vanilla extract, vanilla paste or a similar product as a substitution for the vanilla bean in the cheesecake mixture, although I would recommend using something that contains specks of vanilla bean (as vanilla paste and some vanilla extracts do) to get the vanilla bean “look” in your final product.
Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars
1/3 cup sugar (pref. vanilla sugar)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup half & half/light cream
2 (8-oz) packages plain cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan (or used the Baker’s Edge).
Begin by making the crust. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until smooth and fluffy. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly. Press evenly into prepared pan and bake for 15-17 minutes.
While the crust bakes, combine sugar, half & half and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add in eggs one at a time, waiting until each in incorporated before adding the next. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture (or add extract) and add the flour. Pulse until smooth.
Pour the filling over the hot crust when it has finished baking. Return pan to oven and bake for 23-26 minutes, until the filling is set (baking time should be reduced slightly if using a 9×13-inch, as the filling will be slightly thinner) and not jiggly.
Cool completely before slicing (don’t be alarmed if the cheesecake appears to deflate somewhat as it cools), or refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 20-24 bars.