I’ve been in a margarita mood ever since my pre-Cinco de Mayo Blood Orange Margaritas, and have been keeping my eye out for desserts that could use a margarita twist. Plain cheesecake does have the slightly tangy flavor of cream cheese, but it is relatively plain and is a good canvas for showcasing other flavors. This is one of the reasons why there are so many flavors of cheesecake out there to choose from. And it is why these Margarita Cheesecake Bars are so delicious, especially if you’re already a fan of classic margarita flavors.
A basic margarita is made with lime juice, sugar/simple syrup, Triple sec or another orange liqueur and tequila. It’s a simple drink and has just the right elements of sweet, tart and spice to it. I used fresh lime juice, triple sec and tequila in these bars, along with some more conventional cheesecake ingredients, like cream cheese, sugar and eggs. The resulting bars have a creamy cheesecake layer on top of a crisp, salty-sweet graham cracker crust. You can really taste the margarita flavors in with the cheesecake, though the cream cheese mellows out the lime and tequila to make the whole dessert rounder and more cohesive. They’re quite addictive and have just enough citrus to seem refreshing – making them a great choice for dessert on a warm summer evening.
I personally like my margaritas served on the rocks with a salt rim, and lately I’ve been opting for a spiced salt rim to add yet another flavor element to my drink. The spiced salt is made with equal parts Tajin – an addictive Mexican spice mix of chile peppers, lime, and salt – and coarse salt. It really brings out the sweetness in any margarita and it has the same effect here. It might seem strange to sprinkle a little salt (let alone spiced salt!) onto a cheesecake before serving it, but it really works here.
The bars are best within a day or so of being made, but they can be stored for a couple of days in the refrigerator if you don’t eat them right away. If you decide to try them with a little salt, just add the salt immediately before serving. And even though margaritas aren’t typically thought of as an after-dinner drink, you could certainly serve some up with one of these cheesecake bars for dessert.
Margarita Cheesecake Bars
1 recipe Salty-Sweet Graham Cracker Crust (recipe below)
8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2-3 tsp lime zest
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp triple sec or cointreau
3 tbsp tequila
1 1/2 tbsp all purpose flour
Salt or Tajin-salt mix, for garnish (optional)
Prepare graham cracker crust (below) in an 8 or 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 eggs, lime zest, lime juice, triple sec and tequila until batter is very smooth. Sift in all purpose flour and whisk in thoroughly to combine. The cheesecake can also be prepared in the food processor.
Pour into prepared baking dish on top of cooled graham cracker crust. Bake for 20-24 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.
Garnish with a sprinkle of salt, if desired.
Salty-Sweet Graham Cracker Crust
8 large graham crackers (approx 1 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup mini pretzels (salted)
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 egg white, lightly beaten (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F.
In the food processor, whiz graham crackers and pretzels until reduced to fine crumbs. Add in sugar, vanilla extract, salt and melted butter and pulse to combine. Mixture should resemble wet sand.
Pour into an 8 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.