It’s time you get to know labneh. And if you’re already in the know, it’s time you use labneh to make cheesecake bars.
Labneh is cheese made from strained thick yogurt. It’s commonly eaten for breakfast with olive oil and bread in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. At stores you’ll find it in the refrigerated section, sometimes labeled as “yogurt cheese.” But if you don’t see it there, it’s very simple to make your own.
The texture of labneh is comparable to thick yet spreadable cream cheese, and the flavor is slightly saltier and a tad more sour-tasting. But the similarities are enough that labneh makes a natural substitution wherever you’d typically use cream cheese: on bread and bagels, in dips, spread over crackers with chutney or jam, and stirred into hot pasta.
Last but certainly not least is the use of labneh in these updated cheesecake bars that are sophisticated, but still approachable. They require three distinct steps: make the crust, make the filling and make the sauce. But don’t worry about any of these steps being fussy — the no-bake filling simplifies the process and also helps ensure that the probiotic benefits of the labneh are not destroyed with heat. Just be ready to wait for everything to cool, which will require a special sort of restraint that is definitely worth it in the end.
Salted caramel sauce is a natural fit to complement the creamy filling and pecan crust. You will have more than enough to garnish these bars, so you can store leftovers in a jar in the refrigerator, covered, up to a month. And remember, the addition of honey to the sauce adds a depth and complexity that will draw the “ooohs” and “aaahs” you’ve been waiting for.
Labneh Cheesecake Bars With Salted Honey Sauce
Serves 9 to 12.
Note: Labneh is a type of Middle Eastern fermented yogurt cheese – comparable to cream cheese – that has been strained to remove the whey. If you can’t find it at a store, you can easily make your own. The recipe below makes just the amount you will need for these cheesecake bars.
For the pecan crust:
• 3 c. pecan pieces
• 1/4 c. sugar
• 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
For the labneh filling:
• 2 c. labneh (see Note)
• 1 tbsp. lemon juice
• 2 c. (1 pint) heavy whipping cream
• 1/3 c. sugar
For the salted honey sauce:
• 1 c. heavy whipping cream
• 1 c. sugar
• 1/4 c. honey
• 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
• 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
For the topping:
• 1/2 c. pecan pieces
• Pinch of coarse flaked salt
To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine 3 cups pecan pieces and 1/4 cup sugar; process until blended and pecan pieces are finely chopped, about 20 seconds. Pour in melted butter and process again until blended, about 10 seconds.
Using a rubber spatula, transfer pecan mixture to an 8-inch square glass baking dish that has been lightly coated with nonstick spray. An 8-inch-square pan makes 9 generous servings. If you need more, a 9-inch-square pan will result in slightly thinner crust and filling but will more easily cut into 12 servings.
Spread and press down pecan mixture with the spatula to make an even layer. Bake crust in oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until pecans are fragrant and lightly toasted. Remove pan from oven and set aside to cool. Crust can be made up to 2 days ahead.
To prepare the filling: Using a stand or hand mixer, in a large bowl, beat labneh with lemon juice until soft, about 20 seconds. Add 2 cups heavy cream and beat, slowly at first and then increasing in speed, until thickened, about 1 minute. Add 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until filling is thick and fluffy, about 1 minute more.
Set filling aside (refrigerate if necessary) until crust cools to room temperature. When crust is cool, use a rubber spatula to spread filling over crust in an even layer. Place bars in refrigerator to chill while preparing the sauce.
To make the sauce: In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup heavy cream over low heat (you do not want it to boil, but just to have bubbles start to appear on the surface). In a medium saucepan, heat 1 cup sugar and honey over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture beings to boil. Continue to boil mixture, stirring with a metal whisk every 30 seconds, until it becomes caramel-colored and thin, 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully add 4 tablespoons butter, one piece at a time, and heat and stir until melted. Use caution, as mixture will bubble and sputter when butter is added.
Pour in warm cream and whisk quickly until mixture bubbles up. Remove pan from heat and continue to whisk as the bubbles calm down. Whisk in kosher salt and then set sauce aside to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Transfer sauce to a jar and store in refrigerator.
To assemble the bars: Once the crust has chilled at least an hour or up to overnight, remove from refrigerator and cut into bars. Place bars on serving plates. Using a spoon, drizzle some of the salted honey sauce over each cheesecake bar (or pass sauce at the table so everyone can drizzle their own). Sprinkle a few pecan pieces and a tiny bit of coarse flaked salt over top and serve. Store any leftover cheesecake bars and sauce in the refrigerator.
To make labneh: In a bowl, combine 28 ounces of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt (such as four 7-ounce containers of Fage brand yogurt) and 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour mixture into a bowl that has been lined with a double layer of cheesecloth. Gather cheesecloth around yogurt into a bundle and tie it from a kitchen cupboard handle, with the bowl on the counter beneath the yogurt bundle to catch the liquid. Let the yogurt drain for 24 hours. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but if this makes you squeamish, go ahead and rig up the system in your refrigerator.
Nutrition information per each of 12 bars:
Calories 530 Fat 42 g Sodium 110 mg
Carbohydrates 37 g Saturated fat 15 g Total sugars 34 g
Protein 5 g Cholesterol 70 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 ½ carb, 1 high-fat protein, 7 fat.