No-bake pumpkin cheesecake bars let you lean into fall desserts

DECADENT: No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars. Tom McCorkle/For The Washington Post

This dessert fulfills all the dreamy expectations its name conjures, and then some. The bars - with their rich, cream cheese filling woven with warmly-spiced pumpkin puree and set on a graham cracker crumb crust - are simple to make, with no need for the oven.

But wait, there's more. They are also better-for-you than you might expect, thanks to several small tweaks to the typical recipe.

First, while the filling is made with regular cream cheese, which I find essential for the right density, a modest measure of it is blended with Greek yogurt, which adds a delightful, gentle tang and silky texture to the mix.

Second, the bars are gently sweetened with a minimal amount of confectioners' sugar, along with unrefined maple syrup.

Third, the crust is kissed with buttery flavor, but it gets there with just a tablespoon of butter blended with healthful oil.

But perhaps the most important factor for fitting desserts into your life more healthfully is the smart-size portioning built into these bars. Rather than being toweringly high as many bars are, these are just the right height to deliver a delightful balance of buttery crust and creamy, autumnal-infused filling in every bite.

No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

 Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 30 minutes, plus at least 8 hours chilling time

12 servings (makes 12 bars)

Make ahead: The cheesecake needs to be assembled at least 8 hours before serving.

Storage notes: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to two days.

Ingredients

For the crust:

7 full sheets graham crackers (4 ounces/113 grams)

2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed, avocado or canola

1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/8 teaspoon fine salt

For the filling:

6 ounces (170 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature

1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners' sugar

1/2 cup (125 grams) Greek yogurt (nonfat, low-fat or whole)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup (130 grams) canned pumpkin puree

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon boiling water

1 teaspoon powdered gelatin

Directions

Line an 8-inch square pan with a piece of parchment long enough to have about a 2-inch overhang on two sides.

Make the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until fine crumbs form. (Alternatively, place the crackers in a zip-top bag and crush them with a rolling pin, then transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl.) Add the oil, butter, maple syrup and salt and pulse to incorporate (or stir together in the bowl), until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and firmly press into the bottom. Transfer to the freezer while you prepare the filling.

Make the filling: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat together the cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the yogurt and vanilla and beat to combine. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Pour the boiling water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top, then immediately stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Stir about half of the dissolved gelatin into the cream cheese mixture, and the other half into the pumpkin mixture, until well incorporated. Add the pumpkin mixture to the cream cheese mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold the two until there are just thin ribbons of the pumpkin mixture visible. Pour the filling over the crust. Cover the pan and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until the filling is firm. (Even when firm, the filling will be very creamy and the crust quite tender.)

When ready to serve, use the parchment overhangs to gently lift the slab out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with the cinnamon, slice into 12 (2-by-2 2/3-inch) bars and serve chilled.

Nutrition information per serving (one 2-by-2 2/3-inch bar) | Calories: 149; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 19 mg; Sodium: 147 mg; Carbohydrates: 14 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 8 g; Protein: 3 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.

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