I have a feeling that most people who love cheesecake also love lemon desserts. I also know that making a full cheesecake, while rewarding, is an investment in time and effort between the low and slow baking, the finicky cooling, and waiting for it to chill in the refrigerator.
The result of these two thoughts is lemon cheesecake bars. These easy dessert bars combine the fruity tartness of lemon with the creamy richness of cheesecake. They don’t require a springform pan, they don’t need a water bath, and because of their smaller size, they bake and chill faster.
What Makes Lemon Cheesecake Bars Special
These lemon cheesecake bars are packed with lemon flavor, with lemon zest and juice in the cheesecake and lemon curd swirled throughout (isn’t it pretty?). The cheesecake is creamy and light and achieves the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Not to mention it sits atop a buttery and crispy graham cracker crust with just the faintest hint of cinnamon.
Cheesecake bars jibe with casual occasions that don’t warrant a whole cheesecake—like a potluck with friends or neighbors, or just a plain old Wednesday—while still looking gorgeous. They’re a sharable dessert that also makes a fun afternoon snack.
Shortcuts for an Even Quicker Recipe
These bars are less work than traditional cheesecake, but there are a few things you can do to make them even quicker and easier:
- Use ready-made, store-bought graham cracker crumbs instead of crushing them yourself.
- There’s nothing like homemade lemon curd (and leftovers freeze well), but you can always buy a nice jar at the store.
- Make sure the filling ingredients are at room temperature. The filling will mix smoothly without incorporating as much air. To soften the cream cheese quickly, unwrap the cream cheese and microwave it on a microwave-safe plate in 10-second intervals until soft.
How to Customize These Cheesecake Bars
It’s easy to swap the lemon swirl or change the crust on these cheesecake bars to make them your own.
- Use Meyer lemon curd, juice, and zest for a sweeter, more floral flavor.
- Try using a different type of curd, such as lime, grapefruit, orange, or even passionfruit. Swap out the juice and zest in the cheesecake to match (or complement).
- Use jam. Replace the lemon curd with your favorite type of jam. I’m partial to raspberry.
- Use different cookies for the crust. For a milder flavor, use vanilla wafers, or for a winter weather treat, try using gingersnaps.
How to Swirl the Batter
This method for adding a decorative swirl to the batter spreads the lemon curd evenly and beautifully through the cheesecake filling.
- Drizzle or add small dollops of the lemon curd on top of the cheesecake filling. Be gentle so it doesn’t sink.
- Starting on the left side, use an offset spatula or a butter knife to drag through the lemon curd and cheesecake filling from the top of the pan to the bottom. Avoid dragging the knife through the bottom crust.
- Repeat with a new line about 1/2-inch over and parallel to the first line, this time moving from bottom to top. Repeat this pattern until you reach the right side of the pan.
- If you’d like even more swirls, rotate the pan 90 degrees and start again. Don’t go overboard, or you’ll lose the swirl altogether.
How to Store and Freeze
Leftover bars will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. They can also be frozen for up to 1 month. Store in an airtight, freezer-worthy container and defrost in the fridge before enjoying.
Sweet Bar Recipes for Sharing
- Key Lime Pie Bars
- Snickerdoodle Bars
- Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars
- Apple Pie Bars with Crumble Topping
- Peanut Butter Pretzel Magic Bars
Preheat oven and line baking pan:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a 9×9 baking pan with parchment paper.
Make the crust:
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt with a rubber spatula. Add the melted butter and mix until the crumbs are evenly moistened and the mixture looks sandy. Break up any large clumps with the spatula.
Transfer the crumb mixture to the lined baking dish. Use your hand or the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crumbs firmly into an even layer in the bottom of the pan.
Bake the crust:
Bake the crust in the preheated oven until it begins to turn golden on the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a cooling rack to cool while making the filling.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
Make the filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and flour on medium-low speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well at medium-low speed after each addition. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Add the sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed until just combined. Do not overmix.
Swirl in the lemon curd and bake:
Pour the cheesecake batter over the graham cracker crust and spread it into an even layer. Spoon rounded tablespoonful dollops of the lemon curd over the filling and use an offset spatula or butter knife to carefully swirl it into the batter. Avoid cutting into the crust.
Bake at 325°F until the filling is just set and only slightly jiggly in the center, about 30 minutes.
Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar, and let the bars cool in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the bars from the oven and let them cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the bars until thoroughly chilled, at least 3 hours.
The bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
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