This has been my go-to cheesecake for as long as I have cooked. Gourmet Magazine published it in 1999, but the recipe hailed from Santa Fe’s Three Cities of Spain coffeehouse* a place I didn’t know a thing about until this week, when curiosity got the better of my intentions to something succinct about cake for once in my food blogging life. Up the road from an artists’ colony, it was apparently a popular hangout in the 1960s for local bohemia, hosting an eclectic mix of entertainment from poets and musicians to foreign films. It closed in the mid-1970s, probably around the time Santa Fe was starting to become too expensive for starving artists. Canyon Road, once dirt, was paved. From Googling, it looks like the old adobe home that housed it (apparently built in 1756) became Geronimo restaurant (named after the man who built it) in the early 1990s, and is still open today. What does this have to do with the cheesecake they kept in the pastry case? Very little, friends — and please correct me if this Manhattan-ite got any Santa Fe details wrong — but I can’t resist a cake with a story.
My cheesecake story is much less interesting; this site’s archives would tell you otherwise but I came late to it. My husband loves it, many of you who read this site seem to love it, and I don’t… dislike it, I just don’t need more than one or two slices a year. I find it so heavy and oven monotonous; I always wish the proportions were different, say, the same amount of buttery crust and whatever topping you wish but a thinner layer of baked cream cheese custard. It not a testament to my mental acuity that it took me this many years to figure out this was the easiest way to make it happen. As bars, the taste is less heavy, it feeds a lot more people, and it’s portable, meaning it can go anywhere you want to this weekend (your friends thank you, in advance).
What I’ve always loved about this cheesecake is the dead simplicity of it — 3 bricks of cream cheese, 4 eggs, 1 cup of sugar, some vanilla — and the creaminess despite the lack of sour cream or other dairy within. There no flour and no fuss. If your cream cheese is soft enough, you could whisk it entirely by hand. It’s much less sweet than most, so it doesn’t taste like, say, baked cream cheese frosting, and it’s topped with a layer of barely sugared sour cream that’s baked right onto the cake. I think it’s brilliant; it’s a harmonious accent and visually pleasing but more importantly, since I have very little patience for baking in water baths (although with bars like this, and not a potentially leaky springform, it would be as easy as it gets), this topping hides any cracks that might appear.
I had intended to maybe marble in a berry sauce — I think berries against cheesecake is aces — but then I went to the Greenmarket where berry season is in full swing so and everything was so pretty, I couldn’t possibly bring myself to cook them and piled them on instead. But this recipe is flexible and I think you could easily tweak it in a number of ways:
• Skipping the sour cream topping and adding a slick of whipped cream instead, although I would do this closer to serving and eating it.
• Marbling it with a raspberry or other sauce, as we did here.
• Topping it with a chocolate glaze, as we did here, or starting the bars with a chocolate base, as we did here.
• Adding the finely grated citrus zest of any kind that you like by rubbing it into the sugar before adding it to the cake.
• Marbling the top with dulce de leche before baking it.
• Using a more traditional cooked fruit topping, as we did here.
* rather the loveliest name, says someone heading to Barcelona next week, albeit with a heavier heart than anticipated
Cheesecake Bars with All The Berries
Crumb crusts are one of my least favorite things to write recipes for; each type of graham and cookie seems to crumble differently and pack differently into cups (you can literally press and press them in, compacting them further, although I do more of spoon-and-sweep), and different cookies (even between brands) require different amounts of butter to get the mixture dampened but not greasy. This is the formula that worked for me; if your crumbs aren’t coming together, add a little more butter. If they seem excessively buttery (but they shouldn’t), add more crumbs.
- 2 cups (220 grams) graham or digestive cracker crumbs
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) salted or unsalted butter, melted, browned if you wish
- A pinch or two of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
- 1 1/2 pounds (3 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 2 cups (455 grams) sour cream
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
- 3 to 4 cups mixed berries, dry
Make crust: Combine crumbs, sugar, butter, salt and vanilla in a bowl with a fork until evenly mixed. Press firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
Make cheesecake: While crust is baking, beat cream cheese until fluffy with sugar, then beat in eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly mixed, scraping down the sides and bottom of your bowl between each addition. Beat in vanilla. Pour over prepared crust (still hot is fine) and bake for 25 minutes, until puffed but still jiggly like Jell-O when shimmied. Let cool on rack for 5 minutes, and while it does…
Make topping: Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and vanilla. Drop spoonfuls of topping all over bars and spread gently in one thin layer. Bake bars with topping for 10 minutes.
Set pan on a cooling rack and let cool; refrigerate at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.
To serve: Use foil sling to carefully lift bars out of pan and transfer them to a cutting board. If you can, carefully slide them off their foil — this should be doable, but I did manage to crack my whole slab of bars while doing so, so proceed at your own risk. Scatter berries all over cake. Cut gently into 2×2-ish-inch squares with a serrated knife. Keep leftovers in fridge. Repeat again next weekend.