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Merry Christmas to your mouth: Sweet, tangy Cranberry Cheesecake Zingers make spirits bright

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 13, 2023, 6:07am
4 Photos
You can eat this with a fork or like a bar, with your hand, but be prepared to lick your fingers afterward.
You can eat this with a fork or like a bar, with your hand, but be prepared to lick your fingers afterward. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Ladies and gentleman, grab your utensils with both hands, because we’re heading into holiday dessert season. Let’s start with cranberry cheesecake zingers. This recipe has so many sweet, festive elements, I hardly know where to start. It has spicy gingersnaps. It has tangy cream-cheese filling. It has a hint of orange. And it has a zingy cranberry-sauce topping. These merry red-and-white cheesecake bars may be just what you need right now, during the longest, darkest days of December.

To be honest, these aren’t the cheesecake bars I set out to make. I tried to make white-chocolate cheesecake bars. I saw a video showing a smugly competent baker melting white chocolate and blending it into cream cheese. I don’t normally like white chocolate, but how could it be wrong in cheesecake?

So many ways. First, why is it even called chocolate? It’s made from cocoa butter (OK, so that’s chocolate-related, I guess), sugar, milk solids, vanilla and lecithin, a fatty additive. That doesn’t sound great but I wanted to see how it blended in with the other ingredients.

However, my local grocery store didn’t have any white chocolate. I found several packages called “white chips” or “white baking chips.” None of them said “chocolate.” When I looked at the ingredients, I could see why: They didn’t contain any cocoa butter. Instead, they contained hydrogenated palm oil, nonfat dry milk and artificial flavor. The package didn’t even say which kind of artificial flavor. Artificial vanilla? Artificial coconut? Artificial Parmesan, pickle relish or sweat socks? Undaunted, I gamely tossed a package into my shopping cart.

At home, I emptied a cup of white chips into the top of my double boiler. The chips began melting as expected, but then they solidified into small hard lumps suspended in sticky goo with a stiff layer of something distressingly like spackle at the bottom. I thought, “I do not want to put this weird glob of palm oil into my body,” and abandoned the idea of a white-chocolate cheesecake.

Instead, I reached for a jar of whole cranberry relish left over from Thanksgiving and decided to give the whole cheesecake operation a bit of Christmas citrus flavor with orange zest. At least oranges and cranberries are real foods that behave in predictable ways and won’t clog my interior with a layer of spackle. So here’s how to make what I made.

Crush 15 to 20 gingersnaps by putting them in a plastic baggie and pounding them viciously with a rolling pin. (You’ll find this most satisfying.) You should end up with 11/2 cups of crumbs. Mix the crumbs with ¼ stick melted butter and press firmly into the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. (I opted for a 9-by-13-inch pan but that resulted in rather thin crust and filling.) Bake the crust at 350 for 10 minutes then cool. Reduce the oven to 300 degrees.

While the crust cools, mix two 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese with 3/4 cup sugar. Blend well with a hand mixer and then add 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt, 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 heaping tablespoon orange zest. Add three eggs, one at a time, blending after each egg. Pour over the cooled crust.

Next, thin ½ to ¾ cup whole cranberry sauce with a little orange juice and stir in 1 teaspoon of orange zest. Whole cranberry sauce works best for this recipe, but if all you’ve got is cranberry jelly, whisk it with a little water or orange juice until it’s smooth and moderately pourable. Drop small spoonfuls of cranberry sauce at evenly spaced intervals over the filling. Drag a knife or a toothpick through the cranberries in parallel lines about an inch apart to create a pretty pattern. Draw additional lines across your original lines to achieve a marbled effect. Put the cheesecake into the 300-degree oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until set.

Cool completely, then refrigerate for at least four hours, better yet six. Resist the urge to cut the cheesecake into squares when it’s cooled only to room temperature, because it will still be gooey. Also resist the urge to cut the cheesecake into squares after only two hours of refrigeration because you just can’t stand it, you must have one of those cheesecake bars. (I’m not admitting that I did this. I’m merely noting the possibility that you might fall into this trap.) I should warn you that even after chilling overnight, the bars were stickier than I had envisioned with unsightly ragged edges. They can’t be eaten by hand like cookies or lemon bars; it’s a forks-only situation. However, the gooeyness doesn’t affect the flavor one bit and they’re as refreshingly cold as snowflakes on the tongue. Very creamy, sweet, tart and tangy snowflakes with three trillion times the caloric value. Merry Christmas to your mouth!

Cranberry Cheesecake Zingers

1 1/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 7 ounces, or 15-20 cookies)

¼ cup butter, melted

Filling:

16 ounces of cream cheese

¾ cup sugar

1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 heaping tablespoon orange zest

Cranberry swirl

½ cup cranberry sauce (whole is better than jelly)

1 teaspoon orange zest

Orange juice, just a skosh

Set the oven to 350 degrees. Put one 12-ounce box of gingersnaps in a plastic bag and crush with a roller. Empty the bag into a bowl with ¼ cup melted unsalted butter. Mix until well incorporated, then press into the bottom of a 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Bake 10 minutes until slightly browned. Set aside to cool and lower oven to 300 degrees. Beat room-temperature cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time and mix well. Add vanilla and orange zest. Spread evenly over cooled crust. Mix one teaspoon orange zest into ½ cup whole cranberry sauce (or watered-down and whisked cranberry jelly). Spoon in evenly spaced little blobs over cheesecake. Drag a toothpick or knife across the cheesecake in circles or lines to make a pretty pattern. Bake 45 minutes. Cool completely and refrigerate 4-6 hours. Slice into bars and serve.

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