Recipe: Fresh fruit tops easy cheesecake bar
|Fresh strawberries brighten this no-bake cheesecake bar. Blot the halves before topping the filling. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)
Berries, cream cheese and graham crackers are the main
ingredients in this dessert.
Cooking strawberries seems like a crime this time of year, when the fruit is plump and fragrant, fresh from picking.
Eating them plain is a treat, of course, but featuring strawberries in dessert seems like the best salute to spring. Shortcake is a popular option, but there's so much biscuit involved -- the berries always seem to get lost in it. I like this no-bake cheesecake bar better: It feels special, without a lot of work (or heating up the kitchen).
When buying berries, look for shiny fruit and a waft of strawberry fragrance -- that guarantees that they'll be fresh and fully ripe.
This not-too-sweet recipe is adapted from a Mark Bittman dessert that uses fresh whole blueberries, so feel free to substitute any in-season berry here.
No-bake strawberry cheesecake bars
Serves 8 to 12
Firmly press in the crumbs with a glass
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 12 whole graham crackers)
1/3 cup pecan or walnut pieces, optional
5 tablespoons melted butter (use 6 tablespoons if you are using the nuts)
8 ounces cream cheese (brick kind, not whipped or soft), room temperature
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, drained if it seems watery
3 tablespoons agave sweetener or honey, or to taste
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 generous pint of fresh strawberries (I used 14 medium-to-large berries)
|Place big dollops of cheese filling on the crust, then spread it out.|
If they're not already crumbs, grind the graham crackers fine in a food processor or blender, including the nuts if using them. Stir the melted and slightly cooled butter into the crumbs until fully blended. Using a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup, firmly press the mixture into an 8- or 9-inch square pan (glass preferred). Chill crust in the refrigerator while making the cheese filling.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, ricotta, agave or honey, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. A standing or hand mixer will give this is a nice fluffy texture, but stirring a lot by hand also works. Blend until smooth.
Remove the crust from the refrigerator and spoon large dollops of cheese mixture onto the crust -- this will make it easier to spread without picking up stray crumbs. Use an offset spatula or a knife to smooth the cheese filling evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
To prepare the fruit, wash the berries thoroughly and pat dry with a paper or cloth towel. When the filling is chilled, hull the berries and cut them in half. Blot each cut berry half on a paper towel before placing it on the cheese filling (see photo at top of post). This will help keep the berries from weeping juice onto the filling.
|One row berry cut-side up, but I prefer cut-side down.|
I did try one row of berry halves cut side up, and that's an option, but I like the look of the dessert with the cut side down.
Chill for another hour. The cheese filling will set but remain creamy. Carefully cut into bars or squares to serve. (Using a sharp knife and a spatula the desired width of the bar works well.) This dessert is best consumed on the day it's made, but will keep in the refrigerator for another day or so.
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Dig In: Garden Checklist
For week of Oct. 1:
Make the most of this cooler weather. Get to work on your fall garden:
* October is the best month to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Plants become established – sending down deep, strong roots – faster in warm soil.
* Divide and replant perennials. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to the planting hole, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.
* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.
* Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas.
* Plant garlic and onions.
* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.
* Reseed and feed the lawn. Work on bare spots.
* Dig up corms and tubers of gladioli, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.
* Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.
* Clean up the summer vegetable garden and compost disease-free foliage.
* Harvest pumpkins and winter squash.
Taste Spring! E-cookbook