Saturday, December 19, 2015

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake Bars

There are so many things about my family that are terribly stereotypically Italian. Every family event has a lasagna - birthdays, communions, confirmations, graduations and holidays. My Zia always makes canolli. My nonno made his own wine and we all drank too much of it even though it could put you under the table after one glass. Everyone speaks too loadly and makes exaggerated hand gestures. Nonna never thinks you've eaten enough and we never have turkey at Christmas. However, the one thing that is terribly Canadian is that my mom always bakes a cheesecake for dessert.

I am one of those people who gets the cheesecake addiction. It's cheese + sugar + eggs... its like a giant cheese custard. I am all over it. Eating half of a cake made of mostly cheese in one sitting seems painful and impossible, but I can achieve it. I'm not too proud. Zero will power.

You know the cheesecake episode of Friends? That's real.

This one has peanut butter and chocolate involved... I have no chance.

The combination of chocolate and cheese is one of my weaknesses. It's the tang! Just like how dark chocolate pairs well with raspberry, the bitter notes are complemented by the acidity of cream cheese. Same with peanut butter... there are few things in life better than PB cream cheese frosting. For all these reasons, these squares are one of my most favourite things in the world.

If you're automatically thinking, "Crap, I have no graham crackers", no problem because this base is homemade and it's made with more peanut butter!

It is an easy mixture of flour, sugar, melted butter and peanut butter with a pinch of salt. Just combine with your fingertips until it forms clumps and press it evenly into the pan. Then just 8-10 minutes in the oven makes a perfect biscuity base for our cheesy business.

For the filling you will divide it up into three portions in 3 bowls. Two tablespoons of gently melted peanut butter get stirred into one, while some cocoa, sugar and water go into another. That leaves vanilla, chocolate and peanut butter mixes that will get swirled into each other.

You might think of using melted chocolate instead of cocoa for the swirl, but science would make you regret that. Cocoa butter in chocolate sets up very hard at room temperature and will create a very thick mixture that will be difficult to swirl. Using a combination of cocoa, sugar and water creates a chocolate syrup-like consistency that is easy to spread. There is already fat from the cheese and the added sugar keeps it dense and moist so it feels like fudge. It's my favourite bit!

There is everything to like about this unless you don't like chocolate or peanut butter or cheese... but then you might as well not like puppies.

Merry Christmas!

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake Bars

For the base:
2/3 cup (95g) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp (40g) sugar
2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp peanut butter, melted
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
250g cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup (70g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup (80ml) sour cream
½ tsp vanilla
2 tbsp (30ml) peanut butter
2 tbsp (12g) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp (25g) sugar
1 tbsp (15ml) water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, letting the paper extend above pan on opposite sides.

To make the crust, combine flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl until blended. Melt together butter and peanut butter until fluid and pour over flour mixture. Stir until moistened and then bring together with your fingertips until it holds together in clumps. Dump into lined pan and press down evenly with your hands. Smooth and pack it down with the back of a spoon. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

To make the filling, beat cream cheese until creamy. Beat in brown sugar until smooth and glossy, then beat in egg until evenly combined. Beat in sour cream and vanilla until incorporated. This is your base. Remove ½ cup of base mixture and transfer to a small mixing bowl. Remove ¼ cup of base mixture and transfer to another small mixing bowl. You should have three bowls now. Melt 2 tbsp of peanut butter and beat into the ½ cup of base mixture. Add cocoa, sugar and water to the bowl with ¼ cup of base mixture and whisk until well combined and smooth.

Dollop the plain base mixture over the pre-baked crust, alternating with spoonfuls of the peanut butter mixture. Spread it all out evenly with an off-set spatula, not worrying about the two mixtures blending into each other – this is the effect we want. Spoon the chocolate mixture over the filling and drag a skewer through it all in a spiral motion to create marbled effect.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until set around edges but just slightly wobbly in the center. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely and then chill for at least 3 hours until firm before serving.
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