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. 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. Too much liquid introduced at once or using cooler cream cheese can cause issues. Balls of cream cheese form instead of mixing into a smooth cheesecake batter. You will recognize when this happens immediately. Simply switch to a hand blender to mix your batter.
Coconut sugar produced a slightly bitter/burnt flavor that I did not appreciate (pictured to the left.) 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 carmelized & 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 version I set out to copy!