Desserts

Lighter Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars

In the city I lived in through college, The Cheesecake Factory was the most popular place in town.

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Seriously, the only time one could expect to get a table without waiting a minimum of an hour was right at the 11 AM opening on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. On a Friday or Saturday night, the lines would be down the street.

The only reason I know this is because I worked for a very short period of time in the activewear store three doors down, then an ever shorter period of time at the bar & grill right around the corner. I think our primary clientele were people who didn’t feel like waiting for cheesecake.

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I never actually went to that Cheesecake Factory, or any of their locations for that matter. Am I missing out? Maybe.

I learned how to make cheesecake last year. It took me four attempts before having any success. It was maybe the first thing I ever tried to bake that ended in utter inedible failure. Cheesecake made me realize cooking and baking are learned skills, things you have to practice. Who knew?

Since then I’ve made quite a few cheesecakes, if for no other reason than to prove to myself I can. Because here’s the thing, I wouldn’t be overly upset if you told me I could never eat cheesecake again. There are so many other desserts I’d prefer to eat. Like cupcakes. And cookies. And brownies. You get the idea.

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I think it’s because even when cheesecake is made really well, it’s just such a heavy dessert. I mean no kidding, with what the ingredients are. I’ve yet to mention it on this blog before, but I’m actually extremely thin, and actively trying to gain weight. (All the food I’m making for these posts is certainly helping.) The more calories in my diet, the better, so you probably won’t be seeing any “skinny” recipes on here for a good long while. But sometimes I just want something a little lighter for taste preferences alone.

These Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars are not necessarily diet food, but they are made “lighter” than traditional traditional cheesecake. They have less sugar, less fat, and more protein thanks to greek yogurt. Can I just say, I thought I didn’t like greek yogurt until two months ago. I thought it was for people on diets needing to pretend the picture of key lime pie on the label made their yogurt actually taste like key lime pie. But then I finally tried it, and I love it! So into these bars it went.

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Though these squares are “lightened up,” they are lacking nothing. The duo of vanilla flavored yogurt and real vanilla beans impart an intense vanilla flavor made even better by the tangy cream cheese.

If you’ve never used real vanilla beans before, you’re in for a treat. They’re easy to find with the spices in the grocery store. I’ve included a link on how to remove the seeds to use in a recipe in the notes below. It takes a little more effort than measuring out vanilla extract, but it is so worth it. Not only is the flavor unbeatable, but the little black specks look so pretty against the white cheesecake filling.

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These bars are ideal for when you want a sweet treat, but would rather not feel weighed down. I usually hate when people use the word “refreshing” to describe desserts, but that may be the exact word to use for these bars. No need to wait in line for two hours at The Cheesecake Factory when you can have creamy, refreshing, Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars right at home!

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Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars
Yields an 8-9″ square pan (16 squares)

Perfectly portioned cheesecake squares flavored with real vanilla beans, made lighter by greek yogurt. 

INGREDIENTS

Crust:
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (8 full graham cracker sheets)
  • Dash of salt
  • 6 Tbs. (87g) unsalted butter, melted
Filling:
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (brick-style), softened
  • 1 cup (240g) vanilla flavored greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped*
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°F . Line an 8-9″ square pan with tinfoil.

To make the crust, place the graham cracker crumbs in a medium bowl. Sprinkle in a dash of salt, then drizzle the butter over the top. Use a fork to mix until the crumbs are thoroughly moistened. Transfer them to the tinfoil-lined pan, and firmly press into an even layer. (A tamper or the bottom of a heavy glass are helpful tools.) Bake for 9-10 minutes, until lightly browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before pouring in the filling.

Turn the oven down to 300°F.

Using either a stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until completely smooth, about three full minutes. Add the yogurt, sugar, and the vanilla bean seeds, and continue to beat for an additional two minutes until thoroughly combined. Turn the mixer to low. Crack the eggs into the bowl one at a time. Beat only until the eggs are distributed, as over beating may cause the bars to crack in the oven.

Pour the mixture into the crust and tap the pan lightly against the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 30-35 minutes. I judge these bars to be done by gently shaking the pan. They’re ready when the filling no longer jiggles but has the slightest bit of give in the center.

Turn off the oven, but leave the pan inside. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Ideally, leave it on the counter to cool for an hour before refrigerating, then refrigerate for at least four hours before slicing into bars and serving.


*This is how to remove the seeds from a vanilla bean pod.

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2 thoughts on “Lighter Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars

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