Four years ago, I came across a casting call for home bakers. I applied on a whim, filling out the application and attaching photos of cakes and treats I had made, hit “send” and didn’t think anything of it.
A week later, I received a phone call about my application, and about three weeks, numerous Skypes and loads of paperwork later, I was on a flight to Los Angeles to film the first season of the Food Network’s “Halloween Baking Championship.”
It was a four-episode baking tournament with seven bakers competing for the grand prize of $25,000. Someone was eliminated every week. On the final episode, one person was eliminated early on, and the remaining three competed for the grand prize.
I lasted three out of the four episodes, and, although I didn’t win the whole shebang, I did win the main heat challenge of the first episode by impressing the judges with an easy dessert that I’d been making for years: Blueberry Cheesecake Bars.
This three-layered dessert consists of a crisp and buttery graham cracker crust that’s slathered with a simple and luscious mixture of cream cheese, eggs, sugar and fresh lemon juice (which I only started adding after the show thanks to judge Ron Ben-Israel’s suggestion that it could use a pop of citrus). It’s baked, then topped with a deliciously sweet blanket of fresh blueberry sauce.
The three components combine harmoniously, creating a dessert so balanced and delightful, your tummy will be singing with joy. And after trying the topping, you’ll never buy canned again. It is completed in less than 10 minutes and can be used with practically anything: ice cream, pancakes, cakes, pies, yogurt, waffles and crepes.
And if fresh blueberries aren’t available, frozen can be used. Made in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, the size of this dessert and ease of serving make it perfect for parties, potlucks and holidays, plus it can be made in advance.
Just be ready to share the recipe. Because if it won over the Food Network judges, it has a pretty good chance of winning over the crowd, too.
Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish.
In a medium bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Stir in melted butter until blended. Pour into dish and press the crumb mixture until it’s even.
In a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Add in lemon juice and the eggs, one at a time, and mix until incorporated.
Spread the filling over the crumb crust and bake for 20 minutes or until edges just start to brown.
While it’s cooling, start the topping. In a small saucepan, add the blueberries, sugar, flour, water and salt. Stir until thickened over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Then pour over cheesecake.
Chill in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours before serving.
Audrey Alfaro can be reached at spoonandswallow @yahoo.com.
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