In my weekend cooking classes, students will often ask about substituting ingredients. Recipes are just guidelines, I tell them. Use what you like or what you have. Yet, people are often hesitant to change recipes, fearing they will mess them up.
So, below is the recipe I used to create a decadent, sophisticated dessert...with several ideas to change it up. I had some espresso-flavored shortbread cookies I wanted to get rid of, along with some sour cream in the fridge, and several bars of bittersweet chocolate that I got for Christmas. This recipe was developed using the things I had on hand.
I created the chocolate espresso version from a recipe I found on Pinterest from Sally's Baking Addiction.
My cheesecake bars are not at all "skinny," but her recipe was a good one to follow so that I got my ratios correct. Baking is, after all, very much like chemistry. I modify recipes like this all the time. It makes cooking easier, less stressful, and much more fun.
Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake Bars
1 cup cookie or cracker crumbs *
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or coconut oil), melted
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature **
1 cup sour cream ***
2 large egg whites (or whole eggs if you don’t mind a yellowish filling)
1/4 cup sugar (granulated is best for a white filling, but brown sugar tastes yummy)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (use self-rising if you want a slightly puffier cheesecake)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste ****
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped *****
* I used about 6 espresso shortbread cookies, which didn’t give me enough crumbs. So, I added some buttery crackers to make a full cup. Graham crackers, gingersnaps, or even saltines would work as well. You just need something crumbly and tasty.
** You can also use ricotta or strained cottage cheese. Just be sure to puree the cottage cheese to avoid the chunky curds and make a thicker base for the filling.
*** You can substitute crème fraiche, Greek yogurt, or buttermilk…anything thick and acidic.
**** Use whatever extract you want--almond, peppermint, raspberry--or another flavoring like maple syrup, liquor (rum, bourbon, brandy), strong tea/coffee, citrus zest/juice, or jam.
***** I wanted dark chocolate chunks, but you could add any chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried fruit, candy (M&M's, chopped candy bars, crushed peppermints or butterscotch), peanut butter, or whatnot to your filling. Or leave it out for a smooth, unadulterated cheesecake.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare an 8-inch baking pan or pie plate by spraying with cooking spray or lining with foil. (You can double the recipe to fit a 9x13 pan.)
- To make the crust: Using a food processor or blender, pulverize the cookies or crackers into a fine crumb. Pour in the melted butter and pulse until combined. Press into the prepared pan. Make sure you have enough to evenly cover the bottom. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool while making the filling.
- To make the filling: Beat the softened cream cheese for 1 minute using a hand mixer or stand mixer. Add in the yogurt, egg whites, sugar, flour & vanilla, and beat until combined. Fold in the chocolate.
- Spread the filling over the crust. Bake for 25 minutes, covering with foil or parchment paper after 20 minutes to prevent browning. Allow to cool at room temperature, then chill completely in the refrigerator.