These red wine cherry cheesecake bars are made with a graham cracker crust, cheesecake filling, and boozy cherry swirl. Sorta like your fave diner dessert but with a little sass and sophistication tossed in for good measure. You’re welcome.
A good cheesecake often has a bright red cherry topping to go along with it. I decided on a whim to swirl the cherries inside the cheesecake instead, for a tasty, less messy treat, along with some red wine. One bite, and you’ll hear the fairy piper call: Merry, merry, Take a cherry; Mine are sweeter, For the eater, When the dews fall, And you’ll be fairies all from “Cherry Time” by Robert Graves.–Sarah Kieffer
☞ Table of Contents
Red Wine Cherry Cheesecake Bar FAQs
What can I substitute for Merlot?
You can use just about any red wine, except for a sparkling or dessert wine. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet Franc will work well, but give whatever you choose a taste test before adding – some reds can be very smoky or peppery, which may not be the route you want to take for dessert.
If you’re looking for something non-alcoholic, you can use cranberry or pomegranate juice at a 1:1 ratio. They both make excellent red wine substitutes.
Can I make cheesecake bars ahead of time?
Absolutely. These bars need time in the fridge to set, so you can easily make them a few hours in advance, or the day before you want to serve them. They will keep in the fridge for up to four days.
How do you cut cheesecake bars cleanly?
You have a couple of options. Always start with cold bars from the fridge. You can dip your knife into a glass of hot water before each cut. The warm knife will slip easily and cleanly through the cheesecake filling.
Alternatively, you can spray your knife with cooking spray between each cut for smooth, even slices.
How do I avoid cracks in my cheesecake?
Baked cheesecakes are notorious for developing cracking across the top. To avoid this, makes certain you start with room temperature ingredients, mix your ingredients slowly to avoid additional air in the batter, and let it cool properly, as directed in the recipe. For more tips, check out this article on How to Prevent Cracks in Your Cheesecake.
Red Wine Cherry Cheesecake Bars
For the graham cracker crust
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter melted and cooled
For the cherry swirl
- 8 ounces pitted cherries fresh or frozen and thawed
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup red wine such as Merlot
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the cream cheese filling
- 24 ounces full-fat cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup full-fat sour cream at room temperature
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
Make the graham cracker crust
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Line a 9-by 13-inch (23-by 33-cm) pan with a parchment sling or non-stick aluminum foil.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Add the melted butter and mix with a spatula until evenly incorporated. Press the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and let cool. After the pan has cooled, wrap the outside sides of the pan in two layers of aluminum foil, with the shiny side facing out (this helps keep the sides of the cheesecake from browning).
Make the cherry swirl
- Purée the cherries in a blender or food processor until smooth.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the puréed cherries, sugar, red wine, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, transfer the mixture to a small bowl, and let cool to room temperature. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the cream cheese filling
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle on medium speed, beat the cream cheese until light and completely smooth, 4 to 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often, making sure all the cream cheese has incorporated and is silky smooth.
- Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the vanilla, almond extract if using, and salt and continue to beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes more. Reduce the speed to low, add the sour cream, and mix until combined. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating on low speed after each addition, until just combined. Using a spatula, give the filling a couple of turns to make sure it is fully mixed.
- Pour the cream cheese filling into the prepared crust. Dollop the cherry mixture on top of the cream cheese filling. Use the tip of a butter knife to swirl the cherry filling into the cream cheese batter, being careful not to dip the knife so deep as to dip into the crust. Bang the bottom of the pan on the counter a few times to help get rid of any air bubbles.
☞TESTER TIP: Take care to REALLY swirl the cherry mixture into the cheesecake to help prevent it from sinking.
- Bake the cheesecake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the the center of the cheesecake registers 150°F (65°C), about 50 minutes. The outside 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) of the cheesecake will be puffed and fairly firm and set but the center will still be jiggly at this point. Turn off the heat, open the oven door just a crack, and let the cheesecake cool in the warm oven for 60 minutes.
- Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely.
- Once the cheesecake is completely cool, place a piece of parchment over the top of the pan (this helps keep condensation from collecting on the top of the cheesecake) and transfer it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before slicing. (You can refrigerate the bars in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The red swirl in the photo caught my attention—the pretty color. It won me over. I had a jar of TJ’s Dark Morello Cherries in the pantry. Everything was falling into place. I was also happy that there were a couple of steps that could be prepared ahead of time to save from last-minute food-prep anxiety.
I started with the crust as directed, but you could actually begin with the filling if you wanted. I crushed my own grahams, as I like a more rustic texture rather than a consistently fine texture. I did add a bit of cinnamon to carry the flavor through to the crust.
I moved on to the cherry filling. After draining the cherries, I ended up with 7 oz of cherries instead of 8. No big issue here. I was a bit surprised that the texture of the pureed cherries was gritty, but once it’s added to the cheesecake filling, it isn’t noticeable.
It tasted full of cherry with a bit of the merlot I used and not a bit of that artificial “cough syrup” flavor most people want to avoid. I used an airline-size bottle of Gallo merlot. Also not a super-wine-y profile, so anyone will enjoy the flavor. The cherries turned out a beautiful dark red color.
I put that aside to cool completely and moved on to the cheesecake. I used full-fat cream cheese and sour cream. Real vanilla was a must, and I did use the optional almond extract in the form of almond emulsion. Everything beat up perfectly per instructions. The filling does take time to cool off. This is where you can walk away and resume assembly later.
You definitely want to see the filling. Definitely save a bit of filling to put on the top at the end to get good, strong pockets of color showing. Keep that beautiful red showing!
It went into the oven and I waited for my masterpiece to be finished. I ended up baking it for 50 minutes to get the description. No color, but it was puffy and a bit jiggly in the center, just like the perfect cheesecake should be. It rested in the oven for the full 60 minutes (which was really difficult!) and then came out to cool.
I am so grateful for the tip about the parchment, and yes, it DOES prevent the dreaded condensation. I have to admit I cut a piece for myself before the full overnight chilling occurred. It was sublime, even when warm.
I cut the cheesecake bars the next day and put them on serving trays. They went with me to two separate parties and were an overwhelming hit at both. Everyone thought that they would be great at Christmas or Valentine’s also. Wouldn’t that gorgeous filling be great dolloped into the filling and pulled into heart shapes with a skewer or toothpick?
It could easily be modified to be a round tart or individual cheesecake tarts for a more formal affair. I’m sad to say they didn’t last more than a couple days, so I can’t speak to the storage time, but isn’t that the best testimonial?
You could use blueberry or raspberry with filling instead of cherry. I would strain raspberries.
The recipe for these cherry cheesecake bars was delicious and made enough for a crowd. It too maybe in total an hour and can easily be made the day before. The swirl of cherry color made the bars very pretty.
Originally published December 13, 2020