Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake Bars

When people learn I like to bake, I’m often asked the same question: What’s your specialty? Though there are many desserts that I like to prepare, my most requested dessert by friends and family (especially by my cousin Dylan) is without a doubt cheesecake – over the years I’ve made more than I can count and have developed all different variations of it. I’ve found living in Italy that la cheesecake is a dessert that Italians go crazy for, but often aren’t quite sure how to make. I’ve also found that cheesecakes in Italy tend to be quite different than the American cheesecake we are all used to; the versions I’ve come across use gelatin instead of eggs, as well as ricotta, mascarpone, or even robiola cheese.

As you can probably guess, my recipe for cheesecake is the classic American one, using cream cheese (or rather, il Philadelphia as they call it here,) sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract, all baked on top of a cookie crumb crust. Seeing as how the cheesecake batter base itself is quite simple, I see it as a sort of blank canvas upon which I can create many different variations of cheesecake. For example, by altering slightly your mix in ingredients and crust, you can whip up a tiramisu cheesecake, chocolate chip cheesecake, coconut cheesecake, oreo cheesecake, vanilla bean cheesecake, or caramel cheesecake, among others. You can also make cheesecakes more in line with the season, like peppermint or gingerbread for Christmas. In short, cheesecake is an American dessert at its finest – decadent, over the top, and delicious.

The recipe I am sharing with you today is for cheesecake bars rather than the traditional larger round cheesecake made in a spring form pan – it is a more portable version, with a shorter baking and cooling time (i.e you don’t have to wait so long to be able to eat them!) and a more manageable portion size if you want to indulge without eating a whole slice. To create this recipe, I simply halved my standard cheesecake recipe and baked it in a square cake pan. Inspired by the Nutella chocolate cake I made not so long ago, I decided to try creating a chocolate swirl on the top by making a semi-sweet chocolate ganache, and it turned out perfectly. The bittersweet chocolate offsets the sweetness of the cheesecake base and compliments the chocolate cookie crust – plus it looks really elegant and more complicated than it is!

Seeing as how this is just cheesecake on a smaller scale, the same rule applied above applies here as well -- if you prefer to leave out the chocolate swirl, you could also use this recipe to make chocolate chip cheesecake bars, Oreo cheesecake bars, cheesecake bars with a fruit topping…the possibilities are endless! Use your imagination and enjoy!


Ingredients for the crust:
1 and 1/2 cups chocolate cookies
2 tablespoons sugar
4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Ingredients for the filling:
1/2 pound cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a food processor, finely grind the cookies into crumbs with the sugar. Add the butter and pulse briefly to blend. Press the mixture onto bottom and up sides of a 9-inch baking pan to form your crust. Bake the crust for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Let the crust cool completely.

Beat the cream cheese in large bowl until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until well blended. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in the heavy cream, and finally the vanilla extract.
Once your filling is done, make the chocolate swirl. In a small skillet or saucepan, melt the chocolate chips with the heavy cream and stir until everything is melted and well combined. Using a spoon, place dollops of the chocolate mixture over the surface of the cheesecake mixture, and then use a knife to swirl the two batters together to create a nice marbled effect.
Bake the cheesecake bars for 30-35 minutes, or until the filling is set in the center and the edges are puffed and very lightly browned. You can also test for doneness by inserting a knife in to the center of the cheesecake; if it comes out with no batter, the cheesecake is ready.  
Let the cheesecake cool completely to room temperature, and then refrigerate them until cold. This recipe makes about 10 cheesecake bars. 

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