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 in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries with olive oil and bread. 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 shockingly simple to make your own (see Recipe Notes below). Yogurt is already a fermented food, but straining out the liquid increases the live bacteria and makes labneh an even more probiotic-dense food.
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 the probiotic benefits of the labneh are not destroyed with heat. Just be ready to wait for everything to cool and chill, which will require a special sort of restraint that is definitely worth it in the end.
If these bars are the next generation of no-bake cheesecake, then it's fitting that the sauce receives an update as well. Salted caramel sauce is a natural fit to complement the creamy filling and pecan crust. But 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
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the labneh filling:
2 cups labneh (see Recipe Notes)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the topping:
1/2 cup pecan pieces
Pinch of coarse flaked salt
Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a food processor, combine pecan pieces and sugar; process until blended and pecan pieces are finely chopped, about 20 seconds. Pour in 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. 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.
Prepare the filling: Using a stand or hand mixer, in a large bowl, beat labneh with lemon juice until soft, about 20 seconds. Add heavy cream and beat, slow at first and then increasing in speed, until thickened, about 1 minute. Add 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.
Make the sauce: In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream over low heat (you do not want it to boil, but just want bubbles to start to appear on the surface). In a medium saucepan, heat sugar and honey over medium 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 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.
Assemble the bars: Once the bars have 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.
- 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 the store, you can easily make your own. This recipe (below0 makes just the amount you will need for these cheesecake bars.
- Homemade 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 one of your kitchen cupboard handles, with the bowl on the counter underneath 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.
- Salted honey: You will have more than enough salted honey sauce to garnish these bars, but the extras are lovely over ice cream, brownies, apple or pear slices, pretzels, pancakes, or anywhere you need a sweet drizzle. Store leftovers in a jar in the refrigerator, covered, up to 1 month.
- An 8-inch square pan makes 9 generous servings. You could cut the rich cheesecake bars into smaller pieces, and everyone would be satisfied. Or use a 9-inch square pan, which will result in slightly thinner crust and filling, but will more easily cut into 12 servings.