Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
I developed this recipe while I was doing exercises in the pool. It’s a very cool pool. What I mean by that is it’s warm. It’s heated just right. And kept clean with a salt solution, not chlorine. There are physical therapists working with people, occasional classes and people doing their own program. Like me.
Yes, I tend to talk food while in the pool. Big surprise, huh? So, I’m talking to one of the physical therapists there (who’s Italian) who knows about ricotta. She agreed that Italian cheesecakes are lighter and less sweet than your standard doorstop-style American cheesecakes. God bless America & New York but I have to pass on NY Cheesecake. More than a bite weighs me down. And I don’t want to be weighed down. And I don’t want to weigh others down.
I have a gathering coming up and December is also my Novio’s birthday month. He loves cheesecake. I’m thinking pumpkin. I’m thinking lowfat Ricotta. I’m thinking Neufchatel, which is a lower fat block-style cream cheese that I use when any dish calls for a block of cream cheese (cheesecakes, rugelach, some kugels).
Warm spices for the pumpkin. Maybe a bit of freshly grated nutmeg too.
Graham crackers have long held a soft spot in my heart. With peanut or almond butter. With PB&J. With Nutella. Plain. Broken up over ice cream. As the base for all kinds of desserts. And instead of using the Cuisinart to finely process the crackers into crumbs, I’m going to pull something way lighter out from the cabinet. My French rolling pin. So smooth and lovely to use. Just throw broken up graham crackers into a Ziploc plastic bag, seal, and crush them up. You’ll have crumbs in no time.
Some people use confectioner’s sugar to add to the crumbs. Others use regular or superfine sugar. I tried it different ways and only use a small amount, so type of sugar didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
This is what the crust looks like with just graham crackers.
Then my mind drifts over to pecans. I love pecans but won’t deal with pecan pies. Ain’t my style. I’ll add some finely chopped pecans to the graham crackers to enrich the crust.
This is what the crust looks like when you add finely chopped pecans.
Clearly, I made more than one batch–a terrible hardship for me, Novio and friends.
Pour cheesecake batter onto pre-baked crust.
And I’ll bypass a sour cream topping (get it? bypass? sour cream? never mind…) and top the cheesecake with roughly chopped pecans.
You can simply use pecan halves. One per bar, please.
Or scatter some roughly chopped pecans all over the top. No need to toast the pecans first. They’ll toast during the baking process.
Water helps my creative juices flow, whether I’m in the pool or in the shower. Inspiration tends to bubble up during those times. And while driving in the car… when I leave space for an AHA moment, it might even come! And come it did. Between the water and the car, a luscious, potentially rich dessert was seriously lightened by using a mix of ingredients that didn’t sacrifice flavor one iota. In creating bars rather than offering wedges, you can serve up a bit of heaven, without sending people there prematurely.
PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BARS
Ingredients:CRUST 10 squares graham crackers (150 g.) , crushed 1/4 c. (50 g.) pecan pieces, finely chopped 2 T. Baker’s ultrafine sugar 3 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled 2 T. lowfat (1% or 2%) milk FILLING 8 oz. lowfat (Neufchatel) cream cheese, at room temperature 1/2 c. Baker’s ultrafine sugar 1 15 oz. (2 c.) container lowfat (part-skim) Ricotta cheese 3 eggs 1 15 oz. can organic pumpkin 1 t. cinnamon 1/2 t. ground ginger 1/2 t. allspice 1/8 t. cloves a few grates of fresh nutmeg or 1/8 t. nutmeg 1 T. flour 2 T. maple syrup TOPPING: 1/2 c. pecans, coarsely chopped or 28 pecan halves
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
Break up graham crackers, place in Ziploc bag, seal, and crush with rolling pin to a fine crumb. Alternately, you can use the Cuisinart fitted with a metal blade and process crackers until fine. Chop or process pecans finely (don’t over-process; you’ll end up with paste). Place crumbs and nuts in bowl. Add sugar and melted butter. Add milk one spoon at a time and stir until completely moistened. You want the mixture to clump together when pressed between your fingers.
Transfer the graham cracker mixture to a lightly greased 9×13-inch pan and evenly pat into the bottom and a little up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
Beat cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar in a stand mixer or a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy (about 3 minutes), scraping down the sides occasionally. Add ricotta and beat until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping sides down after each addition. Add vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix pumpkin with salt, flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and either freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg. Add maple syrup and mix to combine. Blend into cheese mixture in large bowl.
Scrape the filling into the pan, spreading evenly over the crust. Top with pecan halves, arranging so that you will have one in the center of each bar. Or, sprinkle roughly chopped nuts over the top. I think I like the latter method better – you can enjoy the pecan-pumpkin-cheese flavors together in every bite.
Bake until barely set in the middle and the edges are light brown, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cutting into bars.
If not eaten that day, you can refrigerate for up to 2 days. Works well frozen too so you can prepare in advance; always a good thing. After cooling the bars, cut into squares and place in one layer in shallow plastic containers. Defrost in fridge, from a few hours before to the night before serving.
Makes 28 bars.