Cream cheese bars: No fork required

June 28, 2008|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

Although I have spent many Fourths of July in France, where my "professor" husband does summer research, this year we plan to be home on Independence Day. In our small Massachusetts town, there is an annual fete on the Fourth on a common (the term New Englanders use for large public lawn spaces) close to our house. People gather to eat and celebrate on this beautiful expanse of green, so I've planned a picnic to share with friends.

An avocado pate served with tortilla chips will begin the revelry and will be followed by barbecued ribs, cole slaw, and a green bean and tomato salad. For dessert, I've decided on scrumptious lime and ginger cream cheese bars and iced coffee. I'll wrap the ribs in foil to keep them warm, then tuck them into a picnic hamper along with the other dishes.

I created the recipe for the bars especially for this holiday. I wanted something that didn't require a fork or plate, and a rich creamy bar with citrus accents and a crisp crust sounded perfect. These delectable little confections turned out to be quite easy to make.

The crust calls for three ingredients - ground ginger snaps, sugar and melted butter - which are combined and packed onto the bottom of a baking pan. This crust is baked for a few minutes, then a mixture of cream cheese, sugar, egg and sour cream flavored with bits of crystallized ginger, lime juice and lime zest is added in a thin layer. After baking, a simple topping of sour cream, sugar and lime zest is spread over the cream cheese layer.

The baked mixture needs to be chilled well before it is cut into a dozen bars, so you can definitely prepare this dessert in advance. You can garnish each bar with some julienned lime peel or serve them unadorned. Either way, these sweet treats will make a memorable finale for a July 4th celebration.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

LIME AND GINGER CREAM CHEESE BARS

Makes 12 bars

FOR CRUST:

14 to16 gingersnap cookies or more, ground in a food processor to yield 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus extra butter for greasing the baking pan

FOR FILLING:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar plus 2 teaspoons, divided use

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

1 large egg

7 tablespoons sour cream, divided use

2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

1 3/4 teaspoons grated lime zest, divided use

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Thin julienned lime peel and several mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a food processor, combine ground gingersnaps and sugar, and process until well mixed, about 30 seconds. Add melted butter and pulse until just combined. Using your fingers, press mixture firmly onto the bottom of prepared pan. Bake 8 minutes, then remove pan from oven to cool 15 minutes.

In a mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in 1/4 cup of the sugar and cornstarch until just combined. Then beat in the egg and 2 tablespoons of the sour cream. Add ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons lime zest and lime juice, and beat until just combined. Pour mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. The cream cheese layer will be only about 1/2 -inch thick. Bake until a tester comes out nearly clean, about 25 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, but retain oven temperature. Whisk together the remaining 5 tablespoons sour cream, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon lime zest in a small bowl, then spread mixture evenly over the top of cream cheese layer. Return pan to oven and bake 5 minutes. Remove and cool in the pan; then refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

To serve, cut into 12 equal bars. Arrange bars on a serving platter. If desired, garnish each bar with julienned lime peel, and garnish platter with mint sprigs.

Per bar: 184 calories, 3 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 16 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 50 milligrams cholesterol, 121 milligrams sodium. Analysis by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

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