- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup grated peeled carrots
- 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Why choose just one dessert when you can have two? That’s the idea behind these easy carrot cake cheesecake bars.
To start, make the carrot-packed spice cake, which is made with butter instead of oil. The butter pumps up the flavor of the cake and gives it a slightly firmer texture that pairs nicely with the cheesecake layer. A combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom adds just the right amount of spice, and a handful of chopped toasted pecans or walnuts brings a nutty crunch.
The cheesecake layer is a simple combo of cream cheese, sour cream (to add a tangy note), a little bit of sugar, a dash of vanilla and an egg, which ensures that the cheesecake will set up in the oven. Spread the mixture on top of the cake batter and you’re almost done.
To achieve the swirled effect, dollop some reserved cake batter on top of the cheesecake layer. Because the batter is a bit thick, you won’t be able to swirl it right away. Stick the dessert in the oven and after about 10 minutes, the cake batter blobs will melt, allowing you to swirl the two batters together. But don’t do too much — you want to be able to see both desserts clearly.
Because the cake bakes under the cheesecake layer, it doesn’t rise as much as it might otherwise. This gives the cake a blondie-like quality. The pieces around the edge of the pan will be a bit cakier, while the squares in the middle will be moister and slightly fudgy, which means there’s a little something for everyone.
Technique Tip: For the smoothest batter, make sure that the butter, cream cheese, sour cream and eggs are all at room temperature. When testing the bars for doneness, give the pan a little jiggle. You’re looking for a mostly clean tester, but you also want the cheesecake to be just set. Overcooked cheesecake can have a rubbery texture and is prone to cracking. For cleanly sliced bars, dip a chef’s knife in hot water and wipe dry between each cut. Store any leftover bars in the fridge. They’re tasty served chilled or room temperature.
Swap Option: Pecans or walnuts are a classic choice here, but almonds or cashews would also be tasty. Just be sure to toast them for deeper flavor and maximum crunch. The spice blend is 100% up to you. Use what you like and adjust the ratios to suit your palate. Feeling extra spicy? Add a tablespoon of finely chopped crystallized ginger.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.2.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, spices and salt to combine. Add the carrots and nuts, if using; toss gently to coat in the flour mixture. (This will help prevent the carrots and nuts from sinking to the bottom of the cake.) Set aside.3.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Measure out 1/2 cup of cake batter; set aside. Transfer the rest of the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing it evenly.4.
Rinse and dry the mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, egg and vanilla. Using a whisk attachment, beat the mixture on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes.5.
Spoon the cream cheese mixture on top of the cake batter; smooth into an even layer. Using a tablespoon, drop 9 dollops (about a scant tablespoon each) of the reserved cake batter on top of the cream cheese mixture, spacing evenly apart.6.
Bake just until the dollops of cake batter soften, about 10 minutes. Using a skewer or the tip of a small sharp knife, swirl the cake batter into the cream cheese mixture. Continue baking until the cheesecake layer is just set and a tester inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (a few moist crumbs is ok), 20 to 25 minutes more.7.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool completely, at least 30 minutes. Using the parchment paper as an aid, carefully lift the cheesecake bars from the pan. Slice into 16 squares.
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