Cheesecake Bars

These creamy, decadent cheesecake bars feature a citrus swirled top, vanilla cream cheese filling, and shortbread cookie base. We've been baking these for special occasions for over twenty years!

Cheesecake Bars

I started making these cheesecake bars twenty years ago. They're beautiful, wildly decadent, and the perfect special treat. Pools of citrus curd blend into a vanilla flecked cream cheese filling. A shortbread cookie crust provides crunch and structure as the base. With each bite you're hit with a blast of citrus intensity, and the swirl top is dramatic and beautiful.
slice of a cheesecake bar on a small plate with a fork

Cheesecake Bars: The Inspiration

There was a moment in the early 00s where ripple-topped cheesecake bars were having a real moment. I clipped a number of versions from newspapers and magazines including one from Food & Wine magazine and another from the Spring 2004 issue of Donna Hay. These bars were typically lemon flavored but I found over the years that I really love making zesty grapefruit versions, or my absolute favorite (pictured here) - blood orange. I include instructions in the recipe below.
cheesecake bars served on a marble table on plates

The Ingredients

The ingredient list for these cheesecake bars is quite straight forward. If you keep cream cheese on hand, you might have the rest of the ingredients in your pantry. A couple notes related to key ingredients.

  • Cream Cheese: Go for the real deal, full fat version here.
  • Citrus: I call for a blend of orange and lemon juice in this version of the recipe, but you can play around with whatever citrus you have on hand. I've had it on my list to experiment with a key lime version (or makrut lime!) for ages.
  • Sugar: Opt for a fine, granulated sugar here.

cheesecake bars baked in a glass baking dish

How To Make Cheesecake Bars

There are three main components to these cheesecake bars. The shortbread base, the cream cheese filling, and the citrus topping swirl.

  1. Make the cookie base: You can see the concept pictured here (below). Press and bake cookie dough into your pan and bake until golden.
    cookie dough crust as first layer in glass baking dish
  2. Make the citrus curd swirl mixture: This is done in a saucepan using egg yolks citrus juices, sugar, cornstarch, heat, and patience.
    curd ingredients in stainless steel saucepan
  3. Make the cream cheese filling: This step is a breeze. You basically whip up a lot of cream cheese, then sweeten and flavor it.
  4. Assemble and bake. One of the keys here is avoiding baking too long. You want to bake these bars until they're just set in the center.
    cheesecake bars baked in a glass baking dish

Cheesecake Bars: Variations

As mentioned above, the first way you can switch things up here is to play around with the shape of the pan you bake in. You can make individual tarts or mini-tarts, or bake in a long pan and slice into strips.

  • Lemon Cheesecake Bars: Use freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest. Bonus points for using Meyer lemons - extra special!
  • Orange Blossom Cheesecake Bars: This version is beautiful. Use a small splash of good quality orange blossom water in place of the vanilla in the recipe. It accentuates the orange in the recipe and perfumes your entire kitchen as the bars are baking.
  • Rose Citrus Cheesecake Bars: This is the same idea as the orange blossom version above, substitute a splash of rose water for the vanilla in the recipe. Or! Leave the vanilla in. Rose, vanilla, and orange are a beautiful combination.

cheesecake bars baked in a glass baking dish
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Cheesecake Bars

4.67 from 3 votes

You can use your favorite citrus here. I love making these cheesecake bars with blood oranges, but lemons, Meyer lemons, oranges are all great. If you already have a favorite curd on hand, by all means, use that in place of the version here for a quicker bake. I sometime do a version with passionfruit curd. So good!

Ingredients
Crust
  • 3 tablespoons / 35g sugar
  • 1 cup / 125 g all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 stick / 4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • Zest of 1/2 a blood orange or orange
Filling
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups / 350g granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed blood orange or orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • zest of 1/2 a blood orange or orange
  • 1 1/4 pounds / 20 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 a vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
Instructions
  1. Butter an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish and line with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack positioned in the center.
Make the crust:
  1. In a food processor, pulse the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the butter and zest and pulse just until a dough forms. Press the dough evenly across the bottom of the baking pan. Bake the crust for 20-25 minutes, or until medium golden. Allow to cool.

Make the filling:
  1. In a saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with 3/4 cup / 150 g of the sugar and the orange and lemon juices, along with the salt. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the water. Add the cornstarch mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium, whisking, until the sugar dissolves - about 3 - 5 minutes. Dial up the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for another minute or two. The mixture should be thick and glossy, the consistency of a thick honey. Strain the citrus mixture into a small, heatproof bowl, add the orange zest and allow to cool.

  2. In a large bowl, either using a stand mixer (or by hand), mix the cream cheese with the remaining 1 cup / 200g of sugar until smooth. Mix in the flour, and after that add the eggs one at a time. Stir well and scrape down the sides of the bowl regularly while mixing. Mix in the sour cream. Scrape the vanilla bean paste from the inside of the bean if using, add it and the vanilla extract. Mix until the batter is smooth and uniform.

Assemble and bake:
  1. Pour the cream cheese batter over the prepared crust, and smooth the surface with a spatula until level.

  2. Dollop the citrus mixture across the cheesecake batter. Once it is all on, use a chopstick or the handle-side of a spoon to carefully swirl the mixture into the batter. You want to create a pretty swirl pattern. Don't overdo it, and avoid going too deep and accidentally disrupting the crust. Less (swirling) is more here.

  3. Bake the cheesecake for about 50 minutes or so. The cheesecake bars are finished when they are beautifully golden around the edges, puffed up, and just set in the center.
  4. Remove from oven and place the baking dish on a cooling rack. Run the tip of a knife all around the edge to separate the cheesecake from the pan, and to lessen the likelihood of cracks. Cool on the rack, then refrigerate until completely chilled. Cut into bars to serve.

Notes

Makes 20 cheesecake bars.

Serves
20
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
1 hr 30 mins
Total Time
1 hr 50 mins
 
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Comments

Great recipe. Cheesecake is intimidating and this came out great. It took me a bit longer to brown the crust. Overall bake time seemed correct. Thick, smooth, and tangy. Yum!

Adrienne

    So happy you enjoyed it Adrienne!

    Heidi Swanson

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