strawberry rhubarb cheesecake bars
Three cheers for springtime and also for these triple-layered Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars! A shortbread-like crust is topping with a sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb filling and topped with a creamy cheesecake topping for a truly decadent dessert that celebrates all the flavors of spring. Make these for an Easter brunch or as a fun weekend baking project!
As a true Minnesotan I talk about the weather often — and when we Minnesotans catch even a whiff of spring, we CELEBRATE. And by spring, I mean anything resembling warmer weather. Last week it reached the 60s for a few hours and we straight-up frolicked in the sunshine.
Other than being outside as much as possible, I am welcoming in the new season with these delightful strawberry rhubarb cheesecake bars, which are not one, not two, but three layers of deliciousness. They’re just begging to be a part of your Easter brunch table or just as a fun baking project to celebrate the arrival of days filled with more sunshine and fresh produce.
HOW TO MAKE STRAWBERRY RHUBARB CHEESECAKE BARS
Of course, I jumped the gun just a leeeetle bit on the fresh produce part, planning to make these bars with fresh rhubarb — but alas, the rhubarb hasn’t hit the shelves as of yet. Undeterred, I used frozen rhubarb instead, which works just as well to make the ruby-red fruit filling sandwiched between the cookie crust and cheesecake topping.
The base of these bars is a shortbread-like crust that, at first glance, will seem to be too loose to set up in the pan, but trust — the cold butter will melt in the oven and meld the crust together so it hardens and provides the perfect bottom layer for these bars. Once that is baked, we top it with a sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb filling made from scratch on the stove — basically a compote of fresh strawberries, frozen (or fresh, if you’re lucky to have it already!) rhubarb and sugar.
Finally, the bars are topped with a creamy cheesecake-like filling that sets up in the oven and bakes to a dense and decadent top layer to finish off this delectable springtime treat.
TIPS FOR BAKING THE BEST CHEESECAKE BARS
If the idea of cheesecake freaks you out a bit, these bars are your BFF — the cheesecake layer on top is thin but dense and basically foolproof, so don’t worry about it cracking or needing to make a water bath or anything fussy like that. All you need to do is make the topping, spread it evenly over the bars (I use my offset spatula and it works like a dream), bake it until it’s just set and let it cool properly. Ta-da! Behold a tasty cheesecake in bar form.
1. As I mentioned above, don’t worry if the crust mixture seems too loose or “flour-y” when you pat it into the pan. The butter will help the crust come together as it bakes and hardens.
2. Again, feel free to use fresh or frozen rhubarb (thawed) for this recipe — whatever you can find! You can also swap the strawberries for raspberries, if desired.
3. Don’t skimp on the chill time. I know it can be painful to wait 4 to 8 hours for the bars to set, but it will be even more painful if you don’t wait long enough, cut into them, and they fall apart (SAD). Let’s not make that happen — patience is a virtue!
Speaking of waiting, these bars make for a great make-ahead dessert. Make them in the evening, let them chill overnight, and they’ll be ready to eat for tomorrow’s brunch — whether that brunch is to celebrate Easter, springtime or just because. All reasons are legit.
Happy springtime, friends! If it’s above 60 degrees, you know where to find me.
For the crust:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
For the strawberry-rhubarb filling:
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 lb fresh or frozen rhubarb (thawed), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 12 ounces fresh strawberries, chopped, divided
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the cheesecake topping:
- 2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Powdered sugar, for topping (optional)
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray bottom and sides of a 13×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, whisk flour, powdered sugar, baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt until well combined. Cut in cold butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture evenly in bottom of prepared baking pan (the mixture will seem loose, but it hardens as it bakes and cools). Bake 15-20 minutes until crust is lightly browned. Transfer to a cooling rack while you prepare the filling.
- In a medium saucepan, stir together 3/4 cup granulated sugar, cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in rhubarb and 6 ounces strawberries. Let stand 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low; simmer 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and remaining 6 ounces strawberries.
- In a medium bowl using an electric hand mixer, beat cream cheese and 3/4 cup granulated sugar on medium speed until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in lemon zest and juice.
- Spread strawberry-rhubarb filling over crust in baking pan. Carefully spread cheesecake topping over strawberry-rhubarb filling to edges of pan. Bake at 350 degrees F 25-30 minutes until cheesecake topping is just set.
- Cool on cooling rack 1 hour; cover and chill 4-8 hours. Cut into bars and dust with powdered sugar before serving, if desired. Store covered in refrigerator up to 3 days.