June 29, 2021

The combination of tart cherries and creamy cheese filling, whether  in cheesecake or danish form, is dreamy. The tart-sweet-creamy thing makes me swoon so when I saw a recipe online for blueberry cheesecake bars, my first thought was yes, but make it cherry. That recipe used crumbled store bought shortbread cookies which I objected to only because a shortbread base is so easy to make. The topping is basically cherry pie filling, and you’re welcome to use about 1-1/2 cups of the jarred version (Trader Joe’s Morello Cherry Pie Filling is really good) or to substitute blueberries or blackberries or raspberries for the often elusive tart (aka pie or sour) cherries. The fruity topping may be made sweeter if you like it that way. It can also be a day or two in advance.

Makes sixteen 2-inch square bars

for the fruity topping

1 pint (375 g) tart pie cherries

1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar, or more, to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice (zest before juicing)

2 teaspoons cornstarch stirred together with 1 tablespoon water

for the cookie base

7 tablespoons (100 g) unsalted butter, malleable but not too soft

1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 1/4 cup (150 g) all purpose flour

scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

for the creamy filling

4 ounces (113 g) full fat cream cheese

1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack in the center. Line a 9- by 9-inch square baking pan with foil leaving some overhang.

Make the filling. Working over a medium bowl to catch the juices, stem and pit the cherries. In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir the cherries and juices together with the sugar and lemon juice. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a strong boil. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil and cook for exactly one minute, until thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and scrape the cherry topping into a bowl. Chill over an ice bath or place in the freezer for the 10 minutes or so it takes to make the rest of the recipe.

Mix the cookie base by hand using a stiff spatula and your muscles or use a stand or hand mixer. Add the butter, sugar, lemon zest, and salt to the mixing bowl and beat until fluffy and lightened. Use a few swift stirring motions to thoroughly incorporate the flour. The dough will be short (buttery) and crumbly. Press it into the pan using your knuckles or a metal cup measure. Pack it firmly. Place in the refrigerator while making the creamy filling.

In a medium bowl using a stiff spatula (or the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and lemon zest. Beat in the egg and vanilla. There should be no visible clumps of cream cheese.

Assemble the bars. Use an offset spatula to spread the creamy filling evenly across the shortbread base. Use a tiny spoon to drop bits of cherry filling across the cheese. If necessary, use the offset spatula to make it even-ish. Some cheese will show through here and there. That’s ok!

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the filling is set. The edges may be browned. Cool in the pan and then chill (in the pan) in the refrigerator for a good hour before lifting the entire bake by that handy foil overhang.

Trim the edges to square up the pieces if you’re getting fancy. Cut into cookies, using a long slicing knife and cleaning the blade between cuts.

Serve cold. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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