Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Baking Frenzy: Cinnamon Pecan Cheesecake Bars

While shopping in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, Karl and I stopped in Penzey's Spices to ogle (and smell!) the myriad spice offerings. While there, Karl bought me a jar of their Sweet Curry Powder (thank you!), and I picked up a copy of their free catalog, which contained a few recipes. One of the recipes in the circular was for Cinnamon Pecan Cheesecake Bars. I had some leftover pecans from making Banana Nut Bread a couple of weeks ago, so I decided to give it a try. Besides, how can you go wrong with a cheesecake bar with a shortbread base?

YUM! That's all I have to say, really. I may eventually adapt this for a full cheesecake recipe. It literally tastes like a cinnamon roll cheesecake. Added bonus: you can use Neufschatel instead of cream cheese to at least pretend its not that bad for you!

Cinnamon Pecan Cheesecake Bars

Crumble Topping:
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 TBSP butter
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup pecans, chopped

Shortbread Base:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt

2 8-oz. blocks Neufschatel (light cream cheese), softened to room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.

To make the crumble topping, mix the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Using your hands, cut the flour mixture into the butter until crumbly. Mix in the vanilla extract and the pecans. Set aside.

Next, make the bar base. Beat the sugar and butter together with an electric hand mixer until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Gently mix in the flour and the salt. Grease a 9x13 inch glass baking pan, and press the shortbread mixture into the bottom. Bake in the 350˚F oven for about 15 minutes. While it's baking, make the filling.

Beat the Neufschatel with sugar until creamy. Then beat in the eggs until smooth. Pour over the baked bar base. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the filling, then put in the oven for another 25 minutes. Turn off the oven, and leave the oven door open with the bars inside for about 15 minutes, then remove, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

Use a sharp knife to cut into squares (or just eat it voraciously out of the pan with a spoon!).

Saint Clair 2006 Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc

Saint Clair 2006 Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
Winemaker: Matt Thomson
Price: $13.99

New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are considered some of the best in the world right now, so I decided to put that reputation to the test. I bought the Saint Clair Vicar's Choice 2006 vintage, produced in the famed Marlborough Region, the region attributed with starting the New Zealand wine industry in the 1970s.

The power happened to be out in my apartment that day, so I couldn't really chill the wine (the refrigerator had warmed up too much). Since white wines are traditionally served chilled, this could have proved to be disastrous. However, the situation turned out to be an unexpected boon. Gary Vaynerchuk is always saying that drinking any wine chilled makes it more difficult to taste everything it has to offer (and also hides the flaws), and I think I am starting to come around to that. At room-temperature, this wine was bursting with complexity of flavors, while the next day, when I had it chilled, it seemed uninteresting and rather common.

The color of this wine is about average for Sauvignon Blanc: a pale, delicate yellow. On the nose, the characteristic grapefruit is very strong, but there are also hints of dill and more tropical fruits, like mango perhaps. The mouthfeel is really quite lovely, with a nice, clean acidity balanced with a hint of sweetness. On the midpalate, there is a really clean burst of lemon or tangerine rind, and the finish is bright and clean. This is a super refreshing wine, even warm!

On a side note, this bottle (like most bottles from New Zealand and Australia) is sealed with a screw cap instead of a cork. I found this very interesting Wikipedia article about cork alternatives that talks about the various benefits and disadvantages of cork and the alternative sealing devices. Check it out!