Citrus Cream Cheese Bars

Citrus Cream Cheese Bars
Citrus Cream Cheese Bars

Now that I’ve almost fully recovered from the holidays, I’m stuck indoors while the weather outside is a balmy 77 degrees: perfect winter weather in Southern California! The scent of warm citrus fills the air, and the fruit trees are loaded with large Christmas ornaments of orange and lemon..

Initially, this recipe was made exactly as it was found.  However, I would wind up with more filling than the bars really required.  Also, my palette has changed and I now find the bars cloyingly sweet. Eventually, I took out about a cup of sugar from the filling, removed 1/2 a cup of juice, included orange in the mix and added a cream cheese layer to cut the sweetness just a little more.

What I ended up with is a bar that has a much nicer balance of flavors and is reminiscent of the 50/50 orange and ice cream bars we used to get in the summer!

For the crust:

2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt

For the cream cheese filling:

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese (at room temperature)
2 extra large eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

For the citrus filling:

4 extra large eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. grated orange and lemon zest
1 cup flour
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/8 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Powdered sugar for dusting

For the crust, begin by creaming together the butter, sugar and salt.  Gradually, add the flour and mix until just combined.

Tip 1#: Use parchment paper and line the pan so that there is excess paper on either side of the pan. When the bars are cooled you will be able to easily them out of the pan once.  This gives you the advantage of placing the bars on a flat surface for dusting with powdered sugar and cutting into squares.

Pour the crust mixture into the lined pan and use your fingers to flatten the dough.  Make certain to get the dough into the corners.  Then use the flat side of a measuring cup and flatten the dough throughout the pan.  Go through the flattening process one last time, and on your final pass create an edge to keep the fillings from spilling out.  Place the pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the dough, then bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

For the cream cheese layer, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Pour into the slightly cooled crust and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Bake until the cream cheese layer is just set, but not browned.

For the orange layer, combine the eggs, juice and zest until smooth.  Slowly add the flour until it is thoroughly combined.  Pour the orange filling on top of the warm cream cheese layer and bake for an additional 25 – 30 minutes.  You’ll know when it’s done when the center doesn’t shimmer or jiggle while still in the oven.

Tip #2: Sprinkled the top of the bars in the pan with powdered sugar once they are cooled and out of the pan.  I’ve done this while they were still warm and had the layer disappear on me.  

Tip 3#: In my quest to remove some of the sugar, I used to think it was not necessary to sprinkle these bars with powdered sugar.  As I played with the recipe more, I realized that the sugar helps to keep the tops from sticking.  It also adds a nice little decorative touch with not much effort.

Let cool for 30 minutes to an hour before sprinkling with powdered sugar.  Cut into squares and use wax paper as a barrier if you need to stack these on top of each other for storage.

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