Remember Jell-O instant cheesecakes? Did those happen--do they continue to happen--or am I insane? Don't answer that last part. Anyway, would you like to make a slightly more awesome one of those from scratch? And would you like to cut it into squares so small that if you presented one of them to Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, you would probably get a reaction similar to this (ff to 1:13, and forgive the pottymouth)?
Well, Ellie Krieger thinks you should. In her new book So Easy, she wisely avoids calling this dessert "cheesecake" because it just BARELY qualifies. She has you cut it into the aforementioned 2-inch squares, so they're not really bars either, now, are they? Bars are rectangles. THESE ARE CHEESECAKE-ISH SQUARES.
I made these no-cook lemon bars a few months ago during one of our "That's it: we're eating healthy now!" phases. It's kind of hard to argue with the fact that each square contains a mere 150 calories, and when you cut this into 2.666-inch squares like Jeff and I do, well heck, that can't be too much more, can it? It's the equivalent of putting a single Skittle on top of a smaller square, undoubtedly. 266 calories AT MOST.
The shrill zing of lemon complements the sweet-salty crust the way Olivia Newton-John's vocal at the beginning of Xanadu cuts through Jeff Lynne's wall-of-sound. Yes, I like this analogy!
Olivia Newton-John : lemon :: Jeff Lynne : graham cracker crust.
The first time I made them, however, they had a weird, gelatinous stringiness in places, and the crust was a sandy rubble that did not hold together at all, but that's what you get when you add two stingy tablespoons of butter to a bag full of graham crackers. I can improve this, I thought. And my alterations to the recipe probably wouldn't even be as bad as adding a second Skittle on top, right? Right?
You be the judge. Below is Ellie's recipe, with my modifications in italics. So you can make it her skinny-ass way and be slightly resentful thinking about what might have been, or you can make it my way and enjoy life.
- 14 whole-grain graham cracker squares (7 full sheets) <-- I put in 8 regular-grain sheets and ate the 9th (they come in packets of 9 and it seemed a shame to let that last one languish in that sad little wax paper thing that doesn't even seal).
- 2 T unsalted butter, melted <-- Um, I'm sorry, but HOW ABOUT 4?
- 1 T dark brown sugar <-- packed and heaping, baby!
- 1/4 t salt <-- slightly heaping
- 1 (8 oz) package Neufchatel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese), softened
- 1 (14 oz) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
- 1/4 C pasteurized egg product (such as Egg Beaters) <-- OR live on the edge and use one real egg and damn the consequences!
- 1/2 C fresh lemon juice
- 1 t finely grated lemon zest
- 2 t powdered gelatin (i.e. one packet of Knox gelatin, usually)
- 3 T boiling water <-- NOT just hot tap water. Boiling makes a difference here.
(Ellie would have you put the crust ingredients in a food processor, but obliterating them by hand is fun and low-hassle, so let's ignore her and use my directions. Put the crackers in a Ziploc bag and bash them with a rolling pin or similar item. Put them in a small-medium bowl. Add the dark brown sugar and salt and combine, using your fingers or a fork/spoon/whisk. Add the butter. I hope you are using 4 tablespoons here instead of 2, because guess what? It's still a pretty dry crust with 4. Your jaw will drop when you imagine what half the butter would be like.)
Coat an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray and pack the crumbs firmly into the bottom of it. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, condensed milk, and pasteurized egg product (Dude, just eat a raw egg and be a damned champion like Rocky!). Beat on high with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and zest and beat until fully incorporated, another 30 seconds. In a small bowl, combine the gelatin and boiling water and whisk until the gelatin is entirely dissolved; let cool for 2 or 3 minutes. Using a spoon (NO, use the mixer again), stir the gelatin into the cream cheese mixture until incorporated. Pour the filling over the crust.
Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Slice into 2-inch squares using a chilled knife coated with cooking spray. (You do that, Ellie. Meanwhile the rest of us will refrigerate for at least 4 hours and slice into 2.666-inch squares using a regular knife to which we have done nothing.)
Makes 16 servings. HILARIOUS. 9.