These bars depart from the traditional graham cracker crust and use a lemony shortbread to carry a light, fluffy and super flavorful filling. Both parts of the bars are made in a food processor and the pie is baked slowly in a very easy, hassle-free water bath. It’s lemon, vanilla and cream cheese shining at their best with minimal effort.
Here’s my cheesecake philosophy: I’ll rarely, if ever, make it if I have to fuss over it. I hate pressing crumbs up the sides of pans (even though I’ve done it for some very special pistachio butter and apple cider cheesecakes) and I groan at the thought of wrapping up a springform pan in foil for a water bath which will most definitely seep in. So I found a way to make cheesecake that is dead simple, and totally flavorful.
Cheesecake Shortbread Bars: Emphasis on the Lemon Cheesecake
The first time I made these, I made them crustless. Yep, I cut down the steps and went straight to the point: filling only. It was delicious, if a bit messy. And since these might be the kind of dish you make to take to parties or gatherings, or serve at your own, I figured a crust was probably a good idea. But I didn’t want to go down the traditional route of graham crackers so I made a super simple lemon shortbread (like the one that held up these blueberry curd bars).
The result? Truly wonderful. Adding lemon to the base rounds out every bite. The shortbread is wonderfully crumbly and holds up a filling that is light and fluffy – made possible by making it in a food processor and baking it in a waterbath (which needs no wrapping!). Next time someone asks you for cheesecake and you aim more something easy but delicious – you make these!
Cheesecake Shortbread Bars with Lemon Sugar
Some people like their cheesecake mostly vanilla, some think it can’t be cheesecake without the lemon. I’m definitely in the latter group. To get more lemon flavor into these I have zest in the shortbread and some juice in the filling. However, one fabulous way to impart lemon flavor into the filling is to incorporate the zest – without letting it interfere with the creamy texture by making lemon sugar.
To do this you’ll zest 1-2 lemons (depending on how lemony you like it) into the sugar, an hour or more ahead of time (the longer you leave it the more sweet lemony it gets, but overnight it can almost taste like candy). Rub the zest and sugar between your fingers to get the zest to release its oils. Set the sugar in a bowl aside to allow the flavor to develop. When it’s time to use the sugar, sift it through a fine mesh sieve.
Notes on making easy cheesecake bars with lemon shortbread
- The only machinery you need to make these is a food processor. This saves on dishes and time, but it’s also the best tool for cheesecake because it’s the best to remove lumps and get the filling super creamy.
- I like lemon in everything but if you wanted something more vanilla, skip the lemon here. You’ll want to add a bit of vanilla to the crust too.
- Our water bath here is just a sheet cake pan filled with hot water. You’ll place the pan with the cheesecake into it and they’ll go into the oven together. And since we’re not using a springform pan we don’t have to worry about wrapping it in foil, yay!
Recipe for Cheesecake Shortbread Bars
Cheesecake Shortbread Bars
Lemon Shortbread Crust
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into cubes
- 2 packages cream cheese 16 oz
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
- 1/2 cup sour cream or labneh
- Juice of a lemon to taste optional
- two large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 325 F and line an 8×8 or 9×9 square pan with parchment paper (two longer pieces which make a + sign will make the easiest to lift out).
- In a food processor combine all the dry ingredients for the crust. Pulse it to just combine and then add the butter. Run the food processor until the dough comes together in wet, sandy crumbs.
- Press the dough into the bottom of the pan into one even layer. Bake it for about 30 minutes, until it is golden.
- Wipe your food processor completely clean (no crumbs left) and process the cream cheese, vanilla, lemon juice, sour cream, sugar and salt until there are no lumps of cream cheese (scraping down as needed).
- Add the eggs and process to just combine, no more.
- When the crust is done, pour the cheesecake filling into the pan. Place the square pan in a 13×9” cake sheet pan and pour very hot water into the cake pan to make a water bath.
- Place the cheesecake and it’s water bath into the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, until the center is still a little jiggly but the sides are set.