November means peak cranberry in the US. Cranberry sauce, relish, and salads are staples on Thanksgiving tables.
But cranberries like dessert, too. As in these Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars.
Because why should pumpkin pie have all the fun?
Recipe: Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars
This recipe has four basic prep steps: First, make the cranberry sauce (for the swirl topping). Second, make the crust. Third, make the cheesecake batter. Fourth, create a swirlable purée from the sauce. It’s a pretty straightforward recipe, though. Even with several moving parts, nothing is that time consuming or difficult.
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the dessert maven in our household. She adapted this recipe from one she found at Broma Bakery.
Prep time for this recipe takes about 30 to 45 minutes (depending on how quickly you work). Baking time is about 45 minutes. Cooling time is an hour or two.
This recipe yields about 9 to 16 servings, depending on how large you cut the bars (see Notes). Leftovers will keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
For the Cranberry Sauce:
- 12 ounces cranberries (fresh or frozen)
- zest of 2 oranges (see Notes)
- ½ cup granulated white sugar
- ~½ cup water
For the Crust:
- ~10 graham crackers (about 5 ounces or 145 grams)
- ¾ cup shelled walnuts
- ¼ cup sugar
- 8 to 10 tablespoons butter, melted
For the Cheesecake Batter:
- 16 ounces full-fat cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
- ~¾ cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (that tablespoon isn’t a typo, and you may want even more; see Notes)
- 2 large eggs
- Make the cranberry sauce: Add all the ingredients to a saucepan and place over medium stovetop heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries burst open and begin to break down. Stir the mixture a few times, using the back of a spoon to break down the cranberries and bring out their juices. Set aside to cool. (You may want to reserve some of the cranberries for garnish; see Notes.)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper.
- Make the crust: Add the graham crackers to a food processor, then pulse until they’re reduced to coarse crumbs. Add the walnuts and sugar, then pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Pour in the butter and pulse until the mixture holds together. Press the crust around the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Make the cheesecake batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese until it’s soft. Gradually add the crème fraîche, the powdered sugar, the vanilla extract, and the eggs, beating until all the ingredients are smooth and well combined. Pour the cheesecake batter over the crust in the prepared pan.
- Strain the cooked cranberry sauce to create a swirlable purée: Pour the cranberry sauce into a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl. Use a spatula to squeeze the liquid part of the cranberry mixture through the strainer, pressing down to get as much liquid out as possible. Dispose of the solids left in the strainer.
- Pour the strained cranberry purée into a small squeeze bottle. Squeeze dots of cranberry purée over the top of the cheesecake batter, using about half the purée. Then use a chopstick to create a swirl pattern. Reserve the remaining cranberry purée.
- Bake the cheesecake for about 45 minutes, or until the top begins to look puffy. If you’re unsure, use an instant-read thermometer to test for doneness. Once the internal temperature of the cheesecake reaches 160F degrees, it’s done. Don’t overbake.
- Cool the cheesecake to room temperature, then refrigerate until it’s completely chilled. You can speed up the process by popping the cheesecake into the freezer for up to an hour.
- Cut the cheesecake into bars and serve. Garnish each plate with some of the reserved cranberry purée. (See Notes for alternative garnishing ideas.)
- The cranberry purée in this recipe has a very understated orange flavor. If you want something more citrus forward, just add more orange zest.
- Don’t have walnuts on hand? Just leave them out and double the amount of graham crackers.
- Crème fraîche is similar to sour cream. But crème fraîche has a higher fat content – and a richer taste.
- Many supermarkets stock crème fraîche (we often see it shelved in the dairy section with the whipping cream or sour cream; sometimes we find it in the cheese case). It’s easy enough to make your own, though: Just combine 1 pint of heavy cream with 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a nonreactive container. Cover and let the mixture sit at room temperature until it’s as thick as you like (this will take about 12 hours). Then refrigerate until ready to use.
- Vanilla extract seems to make the flavor of cheesecake pop. So adjust the amount to your taste. Cheesecake craves vanilla, in our humble opinion.
- We’ve made our own vanilla extract in the past, but these days we find it easier just to buy good quality commercial brands. Do buy pure vanilla extract, though. Its flavor is so much better than imitation.
- We’ve discussed this in the past, but a refresher: Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol for several months. The FDA stipulates that pure vanilla extract must contain at least 35% alcohol (it’s a preservative). If the label doesn’t say “pure,” that means it’s made from synthetic vanilla. The artificial kind is usually made from the sapwood of conifers, or sometimes from coal extracts. So appetizing. Not.
- If you haven’t made a swirl pattern on a dessert before, it’s easy. (We’re decorating challenged, and even we can do it.) We find it easiest to produce swirls when we use a chopstick. BTW, there are plenty of videos on the interwebs that demonstrate how to make swirls.
- We usually cut this cheesecake into bars about 2 inches square, but anywhere from 1½ to 2½ inches square works. This is rich stuff, so you don’t want to cut pieces that are too large.
- We usually garnish each plate with some dots of the cranberry purée. Or with orange zest. Sometimes we reserve a few of the whole cranberries and garnish the plate with those (as we did in the pictures accompanying this post).
“Boy oh boy,” I said. “Love me some cheesecake. Nice cranberry swirl, too.”
“This is good stuff, I’ll admit,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And a piece of cake to make.”
“So this week you get to take the cake with your jokes?” I said. “But those swirls! Weren’t they difficult to make?”
“Nah,” said Mrs K R. “I just channeled my inner Jackson Pollock.”
Guess that explains the abstract expression on my face.
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- Cranberry Walnut Bread
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