The combination of flavors in these Easy Cheesecake Bars satisfies every craving. Fresh mixed berries top an ultra creamy, mildly sweetened whipped cream-cream cheese layer. And the pretzel cake base is not your usual graham cracker or nut-based finish we’re all used to. This layer provides a perfect salty layer and chewy texture to compliment the ultra smooth filling.
Don’t these Easy Cheesecake Bars look A.Maze.Ing? Let me tell you, they taste every bit as fabulous as they look. Especially if you think they look creamy, chewy, tart, sweet, and freshly decadent. Also what makes them a perfect dessert is that they couldn’t be easier to create. Hence, the name “Easy” in the title.
My family kind of expects their desserts one-up from the same old’ which can be challenging, frustrating, fun, and exciting, depending on my readiness for the task that day. I think I was able to ‘five-up’ their satisfaction with the Cheesecake Bars and you can easily do the same. Let me show you how while you salivate anxiously for a first bite.
Cheesecake Bar Layers-
Fresh berries – Mixed fresh berries that are whole work best here so they don’t bleed like cut or frozen berries might.
Cream cheese filling – This layer is uuuultra creamy and smooth thanks to the use of more whipping cream than cream cheese in the mixture. The cream cheese adds stability and tang while the whipped cream provides a texture that almost melts in your mouth. I must note that not all whipping cream brands are the same. I don’t like ultra-pasturized cream, and don’t even think of asking about light whipping cream. If you’re going to even consider Cool Whip, we can’t be friends 🙂 In my area, Meadow Gold is hands above the rest.
Pretzel cake base – This part of the recipe (that I got in my Bake From Scratch magazine) is what made me want to try them in the first place. Finely crushed pretzels mixed with other cake-base like ingredients provide a chewy and salty contrast to the rest of the dessert. This is so tasty and different, you’ll want to find ways to use it in other layered desserts.
How to make Cheesecake Bars-
Here’s a photo of the pretzels that I ground in my food processor. You can place them in a bag and roll over them with a rolling pin to crush them as well. They don’t need to be crushed this finely if you want a more distinct pretzel crunch in the crust.
After the pretzels are mixed with the other cake ingredients, the batter gets smoothed into a 9×13-inch pan and baked until slightly golden. Then cool it before adding the cream filling layer.
After the cream cheese layer is mixed and made perfect with just enough sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and juice, it gets smoothed over the cooled base. Then fresh berries are pressed into the top. Cover and freeze for at least 4 hours. Notice the aluminum foil and parchment layers lining the pan. These are in place to help with removing the entire dessert once it’s ready to cut and serve.
Not complicated to put together, and I love that the Easy Cheesecake Bars can be made the day before and then when you want it, you just cut and serve. Here is fancy made simple with all the flavors of sweetness, tang, and just the right amount of saltiness.
A friend of mine told me years ago that “different textures in a recipe are as important as good flavor”. I’ve never forgotten that statement and let me tell you, this one checks off all the complex-texture boxes.
One final note, the berries are just so beautiful with the frost covering them in the Cheesecake Bars. Once you take them out of the freezer and expose them to your kitchen’s temperature, they’ll quickly start to get the crystalized coating. The frost stays on the berries for quite awhile before it begins to dissipate. Which is awesome because when you serve this to your guests, that’s going to be one of the first things they ask about “how did you get the berries to have that frost on them?” But after their first bite and the oooohs and mmms, they’ll be asking for the recipe… or maybe not because they might think it too difficult to tackle. 😉 Now go make it and enjoy!
Actually, here’s my final FINAL note. If you have someone in your family who’s lactose intolerant like I do, I give directions in the notes of the printable for how to satisfy them with a similar version of the recipe too. NOW go make the EASY cheesecake bars.
Easy Cheesecake Bars No-Bake
Pretzel Cake base
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup finely ground pretzels measure after ground in food processor
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 cup whole milk
Creamy filling layer
- 16 ounces cream cheese softened
- 2 cups whipping cream cold
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 lemon zested and juiced (about 1 tbsp zest and juice)
Mixed berry topping
- 6 ounces fresh raspberries rinsed
- 6 ounces fresh blueberries rinsed
- 6 ounces fresh blackberries rinsed
Make the Pretzel Cake Base
- Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Place a strip of aluminum foil in the bottom and up the sides of a 9x13-inch baking dish, approximately 8-inches wide by 15-inches long. This strip will help you remove your bars from the pan after freezing, as the parchment paper might rip. Line the pan with parchment paper, letting excess extend over sides of the pan. See notes for tips on the parchment paper step. Once the pan is lined, lightly rub the bottom and sides of the pan with some butter or shortening.
- Next grind the pretzels for the cake base. You can do this in a food processor or with a rolling pin. In a food processor, place the pretzels in the work bowl and pulse until finely ground, about 10 times. I ground mine pretty finely but you can have some bigger pieces and it'll be great. Alternately, place the pretzels in a resealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 1 cup sugar, at medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pretzels, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to butter mixture alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition (in other words, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half of the milk, another 1/3 of the flour, the remaining half of the milk, then the rest of the flour mixture). Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top.
- Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 13 to 15 minutes. The top will turn golden and the sides will start to pull away slightly from the sides. Let cool completely in pan.
Make the cream cheese-cream layer
- Clean bowl of the stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat cold cream at medium speed until thickened. Slowly increase mixer speed to medium-high. Transfer the whipped cream to a large bowl and set aside.
- Clean bowl of the stand mixer again and add the paddle attachment. Beat cream cheese at medium speed until smooth. About 30 seconds. Add 1 cup granulated sugar, and beat at medium speed until smooth again. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add zest from one lemon, then add lemon juice, about 1 tablespoon. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired, 1/2 teaspoon at a time.
- Using a large fork, fold about one-third of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture until combined. Fold in remaining whipped cream just until combined. Spread onto cake layer, smoothing flat with an offset spatula.
Add the berries
- Making sure your clean berries are dry (if they're not, turn them out onto a doubled paper towel and lightly tap with another paper towel to remove moisture, being careful not to crush or break the skin), lightly press berries into cream cheese mixture, leaving a 1/4-inch border on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until set, at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Let bars stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Using the parchment and foil as handles, remove from pan. Using a hot, dry knife, trim 1/4 inch off each side, and cut into bars. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
How to store leftovers
- Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days, or frozen for two weeks. If freezing leftover bars, let stand on counter for 20 minutes before serving, or transfer to refrigerator the night beforehand.
- To adapt the recipe for lactose free version- When making the cream cheese layer, I made this version for my son who is lactose intolerant (this is not dairy-free). Green Valley cream cheese is amazing and the only lactose-free cream cheese that I use. Dairy free cream cheese has not worked for me in recipes. So, if you can find this awesome brand (their sour cream and cottage cheese are excellent too), use 2 8-ounce containers of the cream cheese. Add all the remaining ingredients just like in the recipe except for the whipping cream, and mix well in stand mixer with paddle attachment. Spread just as you would with the whipped cream version. The filling layer will not be as tall but will be every bit as delicious. I should note that for this version I baked the pretzel cake in a 9-inch springform pan instead of the 9x13. When ready to serve, just cut like you would a traditional cheesecake.
- When lining the pan with your parchment paper- You'll cut two pieces of the parchment; one going the long way across and one going the short way. Try to cover both sides of the pan as much as possible with parchment (doesn't have to completely cover) but also make sure the parchment hangs over the edge enough for when you're lifting the bars out of the pan (see recipe photos). If you need to, use a little butter or shortening rubbed on the pan to help your parchment stick.
- To make the pretzel cake even more unique and to increase the salty/sweet factor- After the base has baked and cooled and before you add the cream cheese mixture, place an additional 1 cup of pretzels into a plastic bag and using a rolling pin, crush the pretzels, keeping into larger pieces around 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch in size. Sprinkle them evenly on top of the cake. Then smooth the cream cheese mixture gently over top.
- Trimming the edges of the bars before serving- Of course trimming the 1/4-inch off the edges of the bars before cutting and serving is optional. This step just makes the bars on the outsides of the pan look nice and cohesive. Totally up to you whether you do it or not.
- Mixed berries for the bars- Any berries or fruit that don't require being chopped work well for this recipe. Cutting into the berries when you cut the bars is fine as they've been frozen and won't weep onto the topping.
- Make the bars even more festive- For Christmas, use only raspberries on top and color the cream cheese mixture with green food coloring before spreading. For Thanksgiving, try using fresh cranberries in place of the mixed berries.
I came across this beauty in Bake From Scratch Magazine and I altered it slightly by adding the lemon flavor and changing a few of the processes and instructions to make them more understandable for novice home chefs.