She started this years ago. Cheesecake, any form, any flavor, equaled special occasion. My mother’s go to cheesecake recipe featured a vanilla wafer crust, creamy, silky smooth cheesecake topped with canned cherry or blueberry pie filling. She rarely needed to refer to the recipe. She knew it by heart. She also knew how quickly the little individual cheesecakes nestled in their silver cupcake liners would disappear. A stern warning like “don’t touch them until Christmas Eve or you’ll get coal in your stocking” usually followed the last dollop of pie filling she place on the perfectly browned cheesecakes. We waited, and not so patiently waited, until she declared, after her final sip of wine, “let’s have dessert!”
When she pulled the little bites from the fridge, our mouths watered. We always ate two immediately and maybe a third if her mood allowed it. When we got older, the cheesecakes would make a late night appearance usually due to an insatiable case of the munchies. The baffled look on her beautiful morning face when she discovered just how many we consumed still haunts me to this day. I’m sure she thought “wtf”? And then quickly figured out the culprit. She was, after all, an ER nurse, she grew up during Woodstock, she knew, though pretended otherwise.
When we moved out of her nest, these sweet treats became her go to dessert for any family dinner. No longer were they just for the holidays. Merely having us in her nest again warranted an appearance of her cheesecake. We still eat them with the same passion as when we were children. It’s amazing how food has way to transport you back to a time and place that you still long for, a place we attempt to create in our new families; a place called home, but really home was her.
I thought about asking her for the recipe, but I knew damn well she wouldn’t share it. It is still her made from scratch delight. I get it. So I drew inspiration from her, but adapted a recipe from Pioneer Woman. Like my mother’s, the cheesecake is smooth and tangy. The crust is perfectly sweet, but features graham crackers instead of vanilla wafers. The blueberry topping is made from fresh blueberries. Honestly, I could go either way. I love the canned stuff, but with blueberries abundant this time of year how can you not go fresh?
I made and shared these bars at a fourth of July party with good friends. They were a hit. I saved a few for Bubba and the kids at home. They asked for them the next day and the day after that. Maybe this will be the dessert for my kids. The dessert that reminds them of home, the dessert that reminds them of me.
Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman
Makes 16 bars
Ingredients for Crust:
2 sleeves of graham crackers
1/2 unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ingredients for Filling:
3 packages, 8 ounces each, cream cheese, softened
1 + 1/2 cup sugar
1 + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of kosher salt
Ingredients for Blueberry Topping:
4 cups blueberries, about 2 pints
3/4 cup of sugar
squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons water
Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Line a 9×13 baking pan with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Set aside.
Using a food processor, pulse the graham crackers into crumbs. Add the melted butter and vanilla extract and pulse until the crumbs look like wet sand. Dump the mixture into your prepared baking pan and the press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla until smooth. Next, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add the Greek yogurt, lemon juice and pinch of salt and mix until well combined.
Pour the filling into the crust and smooth out the top. Bake for 45 minutes. Then turn off the oven, leave the door closed and allow it to bake for another 10 minutes. Lastly, open the oven door a bit and allow it sit in the oven for another 10 minutes. (Yup, with the door open.)
Remove the cheesecake and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
While the cheesecake cools, make your blueberry topping. Add blueberries, sugar and 1/4 cup of water to a small pan. Over medium high-heat, bring to a boil and cook until the juices slightly thicken, about 5 minutes. ( I mashed some of the berries during this time for a less chunky topping, but it is not necessary.) In a small bowl, make a slurry: 2 tablespoons cornstarch + 4 tablespoons of water, mix well. Stir in slurry and a squeeze of lemon juice. Let it boil for another couple of minutes and then remove from heat. Allow to cool before adding to cheesecake.
Pour the blueberries over the cheesecake and smooth over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours. I think overnight is best. Once chilled, remove from 9×13 pan by lifting it out with the foil overhang. Grab a serrated knife and cut into squares. Enjoy!
(Can be made two days ahead. Keep refrigerated, covered and cut just before serving.)
5 Cheesecake Recipes You Need To Check Out!
Looking for a completely new and creative take on cheesecake? Check out My Mother’s Apron Strings for The SoNo Cheesecake: pistachio graham cracker crust, cheesecake topped with fresh raspberries. Wow!
If you need a quick and easy cheesecake, head to Food &Wine for their icebox chocolate cheesecake.
Check out my lemon ricotta cheesecake. It was a huge hit!