These cranberry cheesecake bars have a crispy graham cracker crust and are swirled with a sweet and tangy homemade cranberry sauce. They are easy to make and are a perfect to make for a Thanksgiving dessert or any holiday table!
Sometimes people are afraid to make cheesecake because they are intimidated by the whole water bath thing. As a trained pastry chef, I have made my fair share of cheesecake recipes and found a water bath hack that I use to make every perfect cheesecake. But the best part from this recipe is that you don’t need a water bath at all!
These cranberry cheesecake bars come together quickly without the hassle of making a whole cheesecake. They are swirled with a sweet and tart homemade cranberry sauce and baked with a crunchy graham cracker crust.
Cranberries are no longer just a condiment on your table, they can actually be the star of the show aa a Thanksgiving dessert! You can also try this easy cranberry pie, or these cranberry shortbread cookies.
For this recipe you’ll need to soften cream cheese to room temperature. If you forget to leave it out, you can learn how to soften cream cheese quickly.
Why you should make this recipe
- These cheesecake bars are easier to make than a whole cheesecake.
- They are the perfect easy Thanksgiving dessert.
- Tangy cream cheese combined with sweet cranberry sauce is a delicious combo.
For the homemade cranberry sauce
- Whole cranberries– Fresh or frozen, either one works great.
- Brown sugar– Brown sugar sweetens the sauce.
- Cinnamon– Cinnamon adds a warm spice to the sauce.
- Orange zest & Juice– Orange juice balances out the tart cranberry flavor
Graham cracker crust:
- Graham cracker crumbs- You can buy the crumbs in the box or you can crush your own, you’ll need 1 1/2 cups.
- Unsalted butter– Use melted butter to create the crust.
- Sugar– Sugar adds sweetness to the crust.
To make the cheesecake batter:
- Cream Cheese- This is the base of the bars and needs to be at room temperature.
- Sugar– Sugar sweetens the cream cheese.
- Sour Cream– Sour cream adds some extra tang to the cheesecake.
- All Purpose Flour– This helps bind everything together.
- Eggs– Eggs create structure in the bars.
- Milk– Milk thins out the bars.
- Vanilla Extract– Vanilla adds flavor.
How to make cranberry cheesecake bars
Make the cranberry sauce- In a medium sized pot add in the cranberries, brown sugar, cinnamon, orange zest and juice and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the cranberries have popped and released some juices, about 5-7 minutes. Mash up the cranberries while cooking so it’s more of a sauce. Cool and set it aside while you make the cheesecake.
Make the graham cracker crust – Crush your graham crackers in a food processor if you didn’t buy the crumbs or smash them in a zip top bag with a rolling pin. In a medium sized bowl add the butter and melt for 30 seconds at a time until fully melted. Add in the crumbs and sugar and mix until combined. The mixture should resemble wet sand.
Bake the crust- Preheat the oven to 350° F and spray an 8×8 inch baking pan with baking spray and press the graham cracker mixture into the bottom and sides. Bake for 10 minutes.
Make the cheesecake batter- Combine the cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, and flour in a bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low speed to combine.Scrape down the sides, then add in the eggs one at a time, mixing in between each addition. Add in the milk and vanilla and mix again. Pour the batter into the pan.
Make the cranberry swirl-Using a teaspoon, dollop spoonfuls of the cranberry sauce all over the cheesecake batter. Take a knife or a skewer and drag it through the dollops, connecting the dots to the next one. Go around and around, side to side, it doesn’t matter!
Bake- Reduce the oven temperature to 325° F and bake the bars for 30 mins until the edges are set but the middle is slightly jiggly.
How to tell when cheesecake bars are done
The bars are done when the edges are brown and the middle is still a little jiggly. You want a little jiggle in the middle, no worries, it will firm up in the fridge!
Let them cool on the counter for a bit and then refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight before slicing.
How to cut cheesecake bars cleanly
To cut clean cheesecake bars, first make sure to cut them when they are super cold so they don’t get smushed. Also make sure you are using a sharp chef’s knife and that you are wiping off the blade after each cut.
- The cream cheese should be at room oom temperature otherwise it will be hard to mix with the other ingredients and be super lumpy. To ensure a smooth batter, make sure it’s at room temperature.
- Sift the flour into the batter to decrease the lumps.
- The center of the cheesecake should be slightly jiggly when it’s done, otherwise it will be overbaked. It will firm up in the fridge.
Storing and freezing instructions
Storing- Keep the cheesecake bars in the fridge for up to a week. They must be kept refrigerated.
Freezing- Freeze these cheesecake cars in the freezer for up to 3 months. Freeze the bars on a baking tray until completely frozen, then transfer them to a zip top bag and squeeze as much of the air out as possible. You can freeze the bars cut or uncut.
Defrost the cheesecake bars in the fridge overnight.
Can I make these with store bought cranberry sauce?
Yes you can, make sure to heat it up first to turn it into more of a sauce.
Can I double the recipe?
Yes! You can bake the bars in a 9×13 pan instead and check after 35 minutes.
Easy Cranberry Cheesecake Bars
For the cranberry sauce
- 16 oz bag frozen whole cranberries fresh works too
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 1/4 cup orange juice
For the graham cracker crust:
- 9 graham crackers crushed or about 1 1/2 cup crumbs
- ⅓ cup butter melted
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the cheesecake batter:
- 16 oz cream cheese 2 blocks, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 ½ tsp all purpose flour
- 2 eggs large
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cranberry sauce:
- In a medium sized pot combine the 16 oz cranberries, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp orange zest, and 1/4 cup orange juice. Stir then bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the cranberries burst and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Mash them up so they are not so lumpy.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
For the graham cracker crust:
- Preheat your oven to 350° F and pulverize the graham crackers into crumbs if you need to. In a medium size bowl melt the 1/2 butter in the microwave, then add in the crumbs and 2 tbsp sugar. Mix together. The mixture should resemble wet sand.
- Spray an 8″ x 8” baking pan with baking spray and press the graham cracker mixture into the bottom and sides.
- Bake for 10 mins until it smells like heaven from your oven and the crust is golden brown.
For the cheesecake:
- Lower your oven temperature to 325° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a medium sized bowl add the 2 blocks cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup sour cream, and 2 1/2 tsp flour.
- Mix on low-medium speed for 1 minute.
- Continue mixing on low-medium speed, then add 1 egg at a time, mixing for a few seconds in between additions. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Start the mixer again on low speed and add in the milk and vanilla. Continue to mix for 2 more minutes.
- Pour the batter into the 8”x8” pan on top of the graham cracker crust.
- Dollop teaspoon-fulls of the cranberry sauce all over the top of the cheesecake batter and use a skewer or knife to make swirls in the batter.
- Bake for 30 minutes until the edges of the bars are golden and the middle it still slightly jiggly.
- Turn off the oven, open the door and allow the bars to cool inside. Remove and place in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.