One of my favorite local health food stores carries the most amazing cheesecake bars. They have a cookie crust and they are light and delicious. I set out a few months ago to recreate those bars; to save a little money & to learn a little about making cheesecake. Not once have I used a water bath, but I also have not made a cheesecake that uses 8 blocks of cream cheese. I have tried to keep things on the light side when possible.
I have never had huge issues with the cheesecake cracking, but I have had issues where the cream cheese did not incorporate well. There was too much liquid introduced at once or the cream cheese was not warm enough; it formed balls of cream cheese instead of mixing into a smooth cheesecake batter. You will recognize when this happens immediately, and you simply have to switch to a hand blender to mix your batter.
I have tried 5-6 different recipes?? I have substituted ingredients, added ingredients, and all but one take on the cheesecake turned out great: Using coconut sugar instead of white sugar. Coconut sugar produced a slightly bitter/burnt flavor that I did not appreciate (pictured to the right.) I think there are different categories of cheesecake. If I wanted to make parfaits I would use a recipe that adds sweetened condensed milk or whipped cream (pictured below) and if I want something that is more on the non-processed side I would substitute raw honey for sugar. I have whittled down my experimentation to two favorite recipes: Paula Deen’s NY Cheesecake and a Honey Sweetened Cheesecake. The Paula Deen cheesecake is rich and the crust is caramelized & wonderful. **It is important to note that the recipe on the website only calls for 12 oz. of cream cheese but in the comments, people suggest using more than that. I use 16 or 20 oz. I used my favorite cream cheese frosting to top off the cheesecake ** The honey-sweetened cheesecake recipe is rich, smooth and involves less processed ingredients. The almond crust is really good. I add in 1/2 cup shredded coconut and 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips to the crust to make a “cookie crust” with this cheesecake–it is every bit just as good as the store bought the version I set out to copy!