Food & Drink

Show your colors with these festive cheesecake bars

Cooking with Nina: Starting with cake mix makes for extra-easy baking

Food gels are used to get the vibrant colors for these Patriotic Cheesecake Bars created by Nina Swan-Kohler.  (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Food gels are used to get the vibrant colors for these Patriotic Cheesecake Bars created by Nina Swan-Kohler. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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I  love to entertain and celebrate all holidays with special foods. Holidays are the perfect times to be creative. Try my new recipe and surprise family and friends with how creative you can be, too. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, I think showing our patriotic colors is a good way to go — from decorating our homes to preparing special foods to serve family and friends.

Like most everyone I know, I love cheesecake. It’s a bit of a special occasion food, due to the time it takes to prepare a cheesecake from scratch.

However, my new recipe for Patriotic Cheesecake Bars combines the wonderful flavor of cheesecake into a quick-and-easy bar to prepare for your upcoming gatherings.

It’s extra easy because it starts with a cake mix that makes the base for these delectable bars. Once the thick batter is made, food gels or paste (not food coloring) are used to create the vibrant red and blue colors. Food gels and pastes are found in craft stores and some grocery stores. Use them sparingly to get just the right color you desire. Then, the red, white and blue batters are scooped into a 13- by 9-inch baking pan or dish.

Next comes preparing the cheesecake filling with the traditional ingredients. It’s simply poured over top. Some of the red and blue batters are thinned out with milk and drizzled over top to create a swirled design.

If you are feeling extra creative, drizzle the colors of batter over top to resemble a flag or dip star-shaped cookie cutters into the colored batters to create your own design. If possible and available, use a color-coordinated baking pan to help carry out the theme.

These bars take only about 35 minutes to bake in the oven. While you can eat them while still warm, most people prefer to eat this dessert after it has been chilled.

It seems that everyone is so busy and rushed for time, so having these bars “in your back pocket” as a dessert that is ready to serve when you need or want to, may come in handy — just in case someone pops by to celebrate the season of patriotism. One of my favorite things about this dessert is that it will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week or so, which means you can make it ahead of your parties and get-togethers.

If you plan to take these bars to an outdoor picnic, remember to keep them cold. It’s easy to do, when you use one of the portable insulated carriers with an ice pack included underneath the food.

Wear your patriotic colors this summer to honor our flag and our country. Happy Independence Day!

Patriotic Cheesecake Bars

 

Makes 24 bars.

  • 1 (18.5 ounces) white cake mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup milk, plus 6 teaspoons
  • Red and blue paste or gel food colors

Cheesecake filling

  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment paper and spray with baking spray. In mixer bowl, place/pour cake mix, melted butter, 1 egg and milk. Beat on low speed until combined. Batter will be thick. Equally divide batter into 3 bowls. Keep one bowl white (don’t add food color). Add red food color to one bowl and blue food color to remaining bowl. Stir each one to combine. Scoop/spoon tablespoons of red, white and blue batters into bottom of pan, alternating colors as you go. Spray hands with cooking spray and press down on batter “balls,” flattening to fill pan. (Reserve 1 tablespoon of each colored batter, leaving in bowls.) Add about 2 teaspoons milk to each of the remaining batters, stirring to thin batters. In same mixer bowl, beat together cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and almond extract; beat until smooth. Pour cheesecake filling over cake layer. Drizzle thinned-out red, white and blue batters over cheesecake filling, then swirl using knife. (You can also draw red and blue lines across top of cheesecake filling. Then drag wooden pick back and forth to create design in photo.)

Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove and cover pan with aluminum foil to keep top from browning. Continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is nearly set. Cool at room temperature for about an hour, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When ready to serve, cut into 24 squares. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Source: Nina Swan-Kohler

Nina Swan-Kohler is a home economist, culinary professional, recipe developer, cookbook author and cooking school director/instructor. She teaches cooking classes in her Robins home. For a copy of her cooking class schedule, email nina@cookingwithnina.net or visit www.cookingwithnina.net. She will host a Patriotic Open House Party from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. July 2. Send an email to let her know you’ll be stopping by.

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