Piña Colada Cheesecake Bars

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I’m just as shocked as you are that I made these. For one, I hate coconut. (I’m trying to come around on that, but so far, it’s been slow goings.) Two, I hate rum. (There’s no revisiting this one.) Three, I don’t like sweet cocktails.

Really, the only thing I like about piña coladas is the pineapple. Actually “like” would be putting it too mildly — I’ve resorted to buying and cutting whole pineapples at least once a week because I can’t get enough of it. Pineapples, with their juicy sweet tang, instantly transport one to paradise: white beaches, crystal clear water and perfectly sunny weather. I’ve never been to the Caribbean, but I imagine they eat a lot of pineapple there and probably have perfect tans.

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So how did I transform an obsession with pineapple into these piña colada cheesecake bars? Well, a few months ago, I mistakenly bought a can of coconut milk. (Tangent: does this ever happen to people? Every now and then I’ll come home with something and think dub. tee. eff. Did someone secretly stick this in my cart when I wasn’t looking?) It had been sitting in my pantry since December, until a few weeks ago, I had an epic catastrophe in which pasta and quinoa and cans of black beans and multiple types of flours began falling from my cabinets, revolting against my attempts to shove just one more thing in there and close the doors quickly before the contents could come crashing down.

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I blamed the entire incident on the rogue can of coconut milk, which had clearly been planning this assault for months. So I started digging for recipes that used it, which mostly fall into the curry category.* I wasn’t terribly in the mood for that, so I began to think of desserts. I’d used it in mango-coconut tres leches cake before, and as I looked for similar recipes while munching on some pineapple, I put two and two together and finally realized what the whole world has known since 1954 — pineapple and coconut make a pretty delicious combination.

Because I’m celebrating Father’s Day with my uncle and he loves a good cheesecake, that morphed into piña colada cheesecake, and because summer is a time for things that are portable and picnic-friendly, that meant piña colada cheesecake bars. So here we are.

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And what a good place to be. Sweet but not cloyingly so, bursting with little pieces of pineapple enrobed in a velvety coconut-cream cheese batter, with a slightly nutty base, these are an instant plane ticket to Jamaica. (Or Puerto Rico I suppose — that’s where the piña colada was invented and it is their official drink.) I’d say you should make them for Father’s Day, but that might engender all sorts of bad blood between you and anyone who tries to eat them. My family is lucky I like them, but mostly that I don’t have time to keep this one and make them another dessert …

Need ideas for Father’s Day cooking? Try beer cheese, oven-baked Sriracha wings, summer steak salad, beer-braised bratwurst, chicken and pineapple kabobs, Moroccan-spiced pork chops or my fav, oven-roasted spareribs.

Piña Colada Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Delightful Desserts

- 1/4 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut

- 1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs

- 1/3 cup butter, melted

- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened

- 2 tablespoons butter, softened

- 1/2 cup sugar

- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

- 2/3 cup coconut milk

- 1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained well (should yield about 8 packed ounces of pineapple)

1) Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter an 11-x-7-inch baking dish. (Alternately, you can use an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish.)

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2) Toast the coconut: In a dry skillet, toast the coconut on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it has browned to a caramelized color (similar to the color of the graham crackers). Remove from heat immediately.

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3) Make the crust: Mix the toasted coconut, graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press into the bottom of your prepared pan in an even layer.

4) Make the filling: In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese and butter until well-blended. Add the sugar and egg, then mix. Then add the flour, coconut milk and pineapple, stirring after each addition. Do not overmix.

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5) Pour the cheesecake batter over the crust and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning halfway — the sides of the bars should be firm and the center should jiggle a bit. Cool the bars for 15 minutes in the oven with the door cracked slightly, then remove from the oven and cool completely. Refrigerate overnight (covered loosely) before cutting into bars and serving.

Variations: You could add chopped, toasted macadamia nuts to the crust to keep the tropical theme. In the filling, you could add a tablespoon of dark rum (or a teaspoon of rum extract) if you’re into that, or toast up an additional 1/4 cup of coconut and stir it in with the pineapple. You could also top with a pineapple glaze (the one on this cake looks pretty awesome), add a touch of pineapple juice to the traditional sour cream topping (instructions here) or stir in a bit of the crushed pineapple into stiffly whipped cream. You could also keep it simple and top with additional toasted coconut.

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Also, if you have leftover coconut milk: Here’s a great tutorial on making coconut milk whipped cream. Make that and serve it alongside the bars for an extra coconutty kick. (Obvi I didn’t do this since these bars were as much coconut as I could handle … )

Note: Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about baking a cheesecake, with great tips on mixing the batter and cooling it properly. I’m curious if it will address the cracking issues on my first cheesecake if/when I make another real cheesecake again. (I’m really into the no-bake kind, if you couldn’t tell.)

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