My P.S. dug a couple of containers of strawberries out of the depths of the freezer and suggested they should be used soon. I had no idea we owned strawberries, but was game to find new ways to highlight them. I was thinking some kind of bundt cake or bars. Or both!
My first discovery was a recipe for strawberry lemon cheesecake bars. They sounded so good I pulled two bricks of cream cheese out of the fridge immediately to reach room temp. One of the few times I planned ahead! Usually I’m the woman microwaving the cold bricks in short spurts to get them close to room temp because I hate to wait.
The recipe had a butter and flour crust and required a bunch of cutting them down to crumbs with a pastry cutter. Having had great success recently making a butter pie crust just pulsing the ingredient in my food processor, I took the fast route and did just that.
I put the flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest and slices of butter into my Cuisinart and pulsed until it was fine crumbs, about 4 quick pulses. The butter was perfectly incorporated and no arm was harmed in the process.
The crumbs went into my sprayed 9×13-in pan, pressed down evenly, then slid into the preheated oven for 20 minutes. I peeked at 18 minutes and it was browned around the edges so I took it out 2 minutes early.
While the crust had baked I put the cream cheese bricks into a mixing bowl with sugar and beat them with my electric mixer until they were smooth and fluffy. The recipe called for a stand mixer but again I decided to do it my own way with my electric mixer.
I added both eggs then groaned; they were supposed to be added separately. I was really adapting this recipe, by choice AND by accident! I added the lemon zest and the lemon juice and beat the mixture another minute or so and it was smooth.
The day before I’d opened one of the tubs of strawberries in juice and put them into a small saucepan with ½ cup sugar. I let them come to a boil then simmer for about 20 minutes until they reduced down and thickened. They still weren’t very sweet so I added another ½ cup of sugar. They weren’t super sweet, just right.
When the crust was done I removed the pan from the oven and spread the strawberry jam over the top. It was slightly over a cup worth. Over the berries I spread the cream cheese mixture. Into the oven again for 25 minutes.
The recipe said to bake until the center was “set” and I wondered how I would know. I used a toothpick to draw a very short line in the center and it remained parted so I assumed it was “set”. I let the pan cool on the counter for 30 minutes, then another 30 minutes in the fridge. They were nice and firm and easily cut.
I cut the pan into small squares, 7 the long way and 6 the short way for 42 bars. That was about two bites per bar, a good size when there’s a buffet of sweets to sample.
I found the bars creamy and delicious and not overly sweet. The crust, jam and cream cheese layers were all less sweet than you’d have expected and I liked that. The lemon was a good zip of flavor to accompany the butter crust and strawberry jam flavors. It was similar to eating a piece of cheesecake with strawberries, all piled on a piece of shortbread.
Strawberry Lemon Cheesecake Bars
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest; divided
¾ cup cold butter; cut into tablespoon sized pieces
16 ounces cream cheese; room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup strawberry preserves
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9×13-in pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl combine flour, powdered sugar, 1 tsp lemon zest and butter. Cut together with a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly. It will be very dry. You could also pulse the ingredients in a food processor until fine crumbs.
Press the mixture into the pan and bake for 20 minutes until edges begin to turn golden.
In a large bowl beat together cream cheese, remaining zest and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, stirring until combined. Or do both as I did. Stir in lemon juice.
When the crust is golden, remove from oven and spread strawberry preserves evenly on top. Spread cream cheese mixture on top of preserves.
Bake for 25 minutes more or until cheesecake is set in the middle.
Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes then chill in refrigerator for another 30 minutes. Cut into squares and store covered in the refrigerator.
Adapted from Cookies and Cups