The other day I was talking about how long I procrastinated in figuring out my Thanksgiving desserts. I finally came up with a list of possible options the next morning. Many of the options included flavors I associate with the holiday season - pumpkin, cranberry, and ginger, for example. However, I also included these cheesecake bars and when I called my mom to discuss the desserts, she chose the bars. Apparently everyone loves chocolate and cheesecake together so she figured we couldn't go wrong with this dessert!
Let me just say this before I go into some tips - make these bars, they are delicious!! I'm not a huge cheesecake fan so for me the star here was the cookie base but even I could appreciate the chocolate and cheesecake combination. The cookie base is dense with wonderful chocolate flavor and the cheesecake topping is soft and creamy. I was incredibly glad I brought these to my mom's house because if I'd made them here, with no one in particular to share them with, I can't even imagine how many I would have eaten! The bars were a hit with everyone who tried them at our Thanksgiving celebration so they wound up being a perfect dessert choice.
I do want to share a few tips if you decide to give these bars a shot. First, the cookie base. The dough is quite heavy so I wouldn't recommend trying to make it with a handheld mixer. I'm not sure mine could have handled this dough so I was glad I used my stand mixer. As for the cheesecake layer, the recipe does not specify if the ingredients should be mixed by hand or with a mixer - it simply says "combine." I tried to do it by hand with a whisk, but my cream cheese wasn't soft enough (we still haven't turned our heat on and temps have been chilly so even having spent hours on the counter, the cream cheese wasn't completely soft). Shane wound up helping me out and with some vigorous whisking, was able to combine the ingredients. Next time I'd either make sure the cream was very soft or I'd use a hand mixer. If you do decide to pipe the reserved cookie dough into lines on top of the cheesecake layer, you'll want to make sure you remove it from the fridge and give it plenty of time to soften up. I was impatient and wound up placing the dough in a resealable plastic bag and tried to use my hands to warm it up. I piped it too soon though and as a result my lines were thick, messy and nowhere near as pretty as they could have been. Also, as a result of my thick lines, I ran out of dough before I could complete all of the lines. Finally, I recommend refrigerating the bars for a bit before cutting them - it just makes it easier. I've modified the instructions below to include that tip.
Black-and-White Cheesecake Bars
from Martha Stewart Holiday Sweets
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the long sides, then spray the parchment with cooking spray.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth. Add 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla to the butter mixture and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Once all of the flour is incorporated, increase mixer speed to medium and beat until fully incorporated. The batter will be heavy!
Preheat over to 325 F. Set aside 1 cup of the cookie dough - cover and refrigerate. Press the remaining dough into the prepared baking pan. Chill for 30 minutes then bake until the base is set and the edges are puffed, about 25 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, combine the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, 1 egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl. Spread over the cooled base. Remove the reserved cookie dough from the fridge and let it soften slightly. The cookie dough can be crumbled on top of the cheesecake layer or, if you prefer, you can use a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip to pipe the dough in diagonal lines (going both ways) over the top of the cheesecake layer.
Bake until the filling is set, 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Once cool refrigerate briefly then, using the overhanging parchment, lift the bars out. Trim the edges and cut into individual bars (about 20). Bars can be refrigerated up to 3 days in an airtight container.