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Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

Recipe Level: Easy to Moderate Recipes

These make ahead lemon cream cheese bars are bright, creamy and smooth with pockets of lemon bursts throughout! The bars feature tangy lemon curd that's swirled into the cream cheese filling and baked onto a graham cracker crust.

Baked by Alie Romano

Professional Baker and Recipe Developer

* For best results, read the entire article. Every step matters, and I’ll provide helpful tips along the way!

Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

Cheesecake is always a favourite dessert but these bite size, lemon cream cheese bars are a true crowd-pleaser that effortlessly steals the spotlight at any gathering. Trust me, these bars are worth every ounce of effort and every moment of anticipation. With their creamy texture and bursts of tangy zesty lemon curd, they’re a heavenly treat for the taste buds.

They are perfect for a spring gathering or summer picnic, Easter, or Mother’s Day. The best part, you can make them ahead of time, allowing you to relax and enjoy the festivities with your loved ones. So go ahead, treat yourself and your friends to this lemon dessert – you won’t regret it!

Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

Ingredients

Simple, fresh ingredients are what make this recipe shine! There are only a handful of ingredients and each one plays a crucial role in delivering smooth, luscious and tangy bars. Use fresh lemons for the best flavour and see the tips below for more helpful hints.

  • Eggs
  • Granulated sugar
  • Fresh lemons
  • Salt
  • Unsalted butter
  • Graham wafer crumbs
  • Cream cheese
Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

Tips for Perfect Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

  1. Room Temperature Ingredients: Make sure your ingredients are at room temperature before starting, especially the cream cheese. This ensures a smooth texture in your bars. And do not microwave cream cheese as this will affect the texture.
  2. Lemon Curd Consistency: It’s best to have the lemon curd on the thinner side as overly thick lemon curd can make it challenging to cut through the cream cheese mixture.
  3. Bring Lemon Curd to Room Temperature: If you made the lemon curd ahead of time, let it sit out to reach room temperature before mixing to ensure smooth integration.
  4. DIY Graham Cracker Crumbs: Use a food processor to make your own graham wafer crumbs for the crust.
  5. Use Fresh Lemon Juice: For the best flavour, use freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  6. Choose Full-Fat Cream Cheese: High-quality, full-fat cream cheese contributes to a rich and creamy texture.
  7. Use a Water Bath: This is crucial for even baking and preventing cracks in your bars.
  8. Slow Cooling Process: After baking, let the bars cool gradually in the oven (that is turned off) with the door open to avoid cracks on the surface.
  9. Allow Proper Chilling Time: Chill the bars overnight for the best texture and flavour.

What is a Water Bath?

A water bath, also known as a bain-marie, is a cooking technique used to gently heat or cook delicate dishes, such as custards, cheesecakes, and certain sauces. It involves placing the dish containing the food into a larger pan filled with hot water. The surrounding water helps to maintain a consistent and gentle temperature around the dish, preventing it from overheating or curdling. This method is often used in baking to ensure even cooking and to prevent cracking or curdling of delicate desserts like cheesecakes.

I like to pour boiling water (from a kettle) into the larger pan once the smaller dish is already set inside. Occasionally, I’ll place a paper towel under the dish in the water to prevent it from sliding around, especially if the dish is significantly smaller than the water bath.

Make Ahead

Lemon Curd: Homemade lemon curd has a long shelf life and can be made well in advance. It will last 2 weeks stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container or 2 months in the freezer. The recipe for the lemon curd is written for the exact amount for these lemon bars, but if you love lemon curd and want extra, you can use my full recipe here.

Lemon Cream Cheese Bars: These bars are best when they have been chilled in the refrigerator overnight. So make sure to plan ahead! The bars will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Thaw the lemon bars overnight in the refrigerator before serving.

How To Make Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

Step One: Make your lemon curd in a heatproof bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Add egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lemon rind and salt, whisk to combine. Cook, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens, approx. 8-10 minutes. A trick to see if your lemon curd is thick enough is to dip a wooden spoon in the curd and see if it coats the spoon. Once thick, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter until smooth and well incorporated. Use a fine sieve to strain the curd to remove any lemon rind. Pour the lemon curd into a glass jar or airtight container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until completely cooled and the lemon curd is thick enough to mound on a spoon (approx. 2-3 hours) or overnight.

Step Two: Make your crust. In a large bowl add graham wafer crumbs, sugar and melted butter, mix to combine. Pour the graham wafer mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish and using the back of a spoon or the palm of your hand press it into the bottom of the pan so it’s nice and flat. Bake the crust in a preheated oven for 8 minutes until the sides are golden brown. Remove the pan to a wire rack.

Step Three: Make your filling. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric mixer) beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and continue to mix on medium speed. Add lemon juice and zest and beat for approx. 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add eggs one at a time beating well, until the mixture is smooth and creamy with no lumps, approx. 3 minutes. Pour the cream cheese mixture onto the baked crust layer and smooth it out evenly. 

Strep Four: Add small dollops of lemon curd all over the filling. Using a flat butter knife, run swirls of the curd through the filling being careful not to hit the bottom crust. 

Step Five: Place out a large baking dish (or roasting pan) that you can fit your 8-inch pan into. Set your 8-inch pan inside the larger pan. Pour boiling water, carefully into the large pan until it reaches halfway up the smaller 8-inch pan and place into the oven ( or place the larger pan in the oven first, then pour the hot water in).

Step Six: Bake for 30-35 minutes. Turn the oven off and open the oven door slightly. Let the lemon cream cheese bars sit in the oven (in the water bath) as they cool down for 1-2 hours or until completely cool. Then remove from the oven and the water bath. Let the bars cool completely uncovered at room temperature. Then cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for best results overnight. Using a clean long sharp knife, cut lemon bars into squares, cleaning the knife as you go. Enjoy!

Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
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Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

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These make ahead lemon cream cheese bars are bright, creamy and smooth with pockets of lemon bursts throughout! The bars feature tangy lemon curd that’s swirled into the cream cheese filling and baked onto a graham cracker crust.

  • Author: Alie Romano
  • Prep Time: 4 hours
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: 30 1x
  • Category: Brownies and Bars
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Units Scale

Lemon Curd

  • 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approx. 1 large lemon)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon rind
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

Instructions

Make Your Lemon Curd

  1. In a heatproof bowl add egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lemon rind and salt, whisk to combine.
  2. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Cook, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens, approx. 8-10 minutes. A trick to see if your lemon curd is thick enough is to dip a wooden spoon in the curd and see if it coats the spoon (see image above).
  3. Once the lemon mixture is thick, remove it from the heat and stir the butter in; one or two cubes at a time until smooth and well incorporated.
  4. Use a fine sieve to strain the curd to remove any lemon rind.
  5. Pour the lemon curd into a glass jar or airtight container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until completely cooled and the lemon curd is thick enough to mound on a spoon (approx. 2-3 hours) or overnight.

Make Your Lemon Bars

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line an 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl add graham wafer crumbs, sugar and melted butter, mix to combine.
  3. Pour the graham wafer mixture into your prepared pan and using the back of a spoon or the palm of your hand press it into the bottom of the pan so it’s nice and flat.
  4. Bake the crust in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove the pan to a cooling rack.
  5. Meanwhile, make your filling. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and continue to mix on medium speed. Add lemon juice and zest and beat for approx. 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add eggs one at a time beating well until the mixture starts to thicken, is smooth and creamy with no lumps, approx. 3 minutes.
  6. Pour the cream cheese mixture onto the baked crust and smooth it out evenly. 
  7. Meanwhile, boil water for a water bath. Using a kettle boil a large amount of water.
  8. Continue working on your bars. Add small dollops of lemon curd all over the filling. Using a flat butter knife, run swirls of the curd through the filling being careful not to hit the bottom crust. 
  9. Place out a large pan (or roasting pan) that you can fit your 8-inch pan into. Set your 8-inch pan inside the larger pan. Once the water has boiled, carefully pour the boiling water into the large pan until it reaches halfway up the smaller pan and place into the oven (or place the larger pan in the oven first, then pour the hot water in).
  10. Bake for 30-35 minutes. The bars are done when the center of the cheesecake will slightly wobble when you gently shake the pan. 
  11. Turn the oven off and open the oven door slightly. Let the lemon cream cheese bars sit in the oven (in the water bath) as they cool down for 1-2 hours or until completely cool. Then remove from the oven and the water bath. Let the bars cool completely uncovered at room temperature. Then cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for best results overnight.
  12. Using a clean long sharp knife, cut lemon bars on a cutting board into squares, cleaning the knife as you go.
  13. Serve on their own or with dollops of whipped cream and a sprinkle of lemon zest for plating.

Notes

Store lemon cream cheese bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Thaw the lemon bars overnight in the refrigerator before serving.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 479
  • Sugar: 8.1g
  • Sodium: 538mg
  • Fat: 45.8g
  • Saturated Fat: 28.2g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 0
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 12.2g
  • Fiber: 0.2g
  • Protein: 6.7g
  • Cholesterol: 230mg

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I can’t wait to see what you’ve made! xo alie

FAQ’s

How do I cut cream cheese bars cleanly?

Before cutting make sure your lemon cream cheese bars have been chilled for the proper amount of time. Then remove them from the pan and use a long, sharp knife to cut clean, neat slices, from end to end. Rinse the knife with warm water and wipe the knife dry between each cut for clean edges.

Why are my lemon cream cheese bars gooey?

If your lemon cream cheese bars turned out gooey, it could be due to underbaking, an issue with the lemon curd or not letting the bars set in the fridge for long enough. Make sure they are baked until the center is set (give the pan a little jiggle to see if it’s set). Also, ensure your lemon curd is thick enough and completely set before adding it to the cream cheese filling. Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan and refrigerate overnight before slicing the bars.

Why did my lemon cream cheese bars crack?

There are many reasons for cracked cream cheese bars. It’s likely due to overbaking, sudden temperature changes, and not using a water bath. Make sure to bake them for the recommended time and temperature, and allow them to cool gradually and slowly. Rapid temperature changes, such as moving the bars from a hot oven to a cold countertop, can cause cracking. The best way to bake cream cheese desserts is using a water bath. It helps to regulate the temperature and create a more even baking environment.

Can I make these lemon cheesecake bars into a cake?

Yes, you can certainly adapt the lemon cream cheese bars into a cheesecake! Just use a spring form pan (similar size to an 8-inch pan) and make sure to wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil  (this is for the water bath). Simply follow the same directions for a cake version and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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Life is uncertain, but dessert doesn't have to be!

Make Ahead Lemon Cream Cheese Bars

These make ahead lemon cream cheese bars are bright, creamy and smooth with pockets of lemon bursts throughout! The bars feature tangy lemon curd that's swirled into the cream cheese filling and baked onto a graham cracker crust.

Alie Romano

Meet

Alie

I'm a professional baker, recipe developer & photographer behind Baking For Friends. I specialize in classic & comforting baking. I hope you enjoy the recipes & find inspiration of your own to bring your family & friends together over home-cooked food!

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