When I want dessert, 99.9% of the time, I'll look to something in the chocolate family. I'm not picky: chocolate ice cream, chocolate cookies and chocolate chips straight from the bag all count (although I'm not so proud of the latter).
The other .1% of the time - or when I'm baking for people whose lives don't revolve around cacao - I like rich, but simple desserts: like these thick and creamy vanilla bean cheesecake bars nestled in a buttery shortbread crust, from Baking Bites.
I made them recently for a party and rather than baking them in a 9x13 pan and slicing them into twenty thin bars, I modified the baking instructions just a bit to accommodate an 8x8 inch baking pan and slicing them into small, square, "bite-sized" pieces.
This was also my first endeavor with the vanilla bean - I was surprised how easy it is to slice them to pack such intense taste with such a small amount of flavoring.
Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup half & half/light cream
2 (8-oz) packages plain cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan (8x8 will also work if you like thicker bars).
2. Begin by making the crust. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until smooth and fluffy. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly. Press evenly into prepared pan and bake for 15-17 minutes.
3. While the crust bakes, combine sugar, half & half and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add in eggs one at a time, waiting until each in incorporated before adding the next. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture (or add extract) and add the flour. Pulse until smooth.
4. Pour the filling over the hot crust when it has finished baking. Return pan to oven and bake for 23-26 minutes, until the filling is set (baking time should be reduced slightly if using a 9×13-inch, as the filling will be slightly thinner) and not jiggly.
5. Cool completely before slicing (don’t be alarmed if the cheesecake appears to deflate somewhat as it cools), or refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 20-24 bars (in a 9x13 pan)
Tell me your favorite non-chocolate dessert!