speculoos cheesecake bars

January 29, 2020 Portland, OR, USA

Take these easy cheesecake bars to the next level with a swirl of speculoos, the utterly addicting cookie butter from Trader Joe's—jump to the recipe! The cheesecake bars are also made with a speculoos cookie crumb crust, giving these cheesecake bars extra flavor and crunch. For more cheesecake recipes, check out Hummingbird High's cheesecake archive! 


What is speculoos?

Today I'm super excited to share this recipe for speculoos cheesecake bars! I've been meaning to develop my own recipe for a homemade version ever since discovering Trader Joe's frozen ones many years ago and confirmed that yes, the addition of speculoos cookie butter to cheesecake bars is absolutely amazzzing.

But hold the phone—what exactly is speculoos, anyway?

Okay, so not a lot of people know this about me, but I actually spent a part of my childhood in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, speculoos is spelled with As instead of Os (that is, speculAAs instead of speculOOs ) and are spiced shortbread-like cookies shaped like windmills and served during Sinterklaas, a Dutch children's holiday similar to Christmas. Between you and me, I was never speculaas' biggest fan. That's because on Sinterklaas day, children usually got a number of gifts, including an edible letter (usually the letter of your first name) made out of SOLID CHOCOLATE. I was always much more interested in these chocolate letters than the boring ol' speculaas cookies.

A Note on Trader Joe's speculoos

But truthfully, there's actually a difference between speculaas and speculoos. According to my trusty friend Google, speculoos cookies are traditionally made with just one spice (cassia, a cheap knock-off of cinnamon), whereas speculaas cookies are made with more spices like real cinnamon, cardamom, clove, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper. 

And when looking at the ingredients of Trader Joe's speculoos, which is arguably the most popular/accessible speculoos cookies you can get in the United States, I can confirm this is true: the cookies are only spiced with cinnamon. 

I credit Trader Joe's for popularizing speculoos in the United States. In addition to selling boxes of speculoos cookies, Trader Joe's has made a ton of popular speculoos products like speculoos cookie butter (a Nutella-like spread flavored with speculoos cookies and spices), speculoos ice cream, speculoos cookie butter cups (where speculoos cookie butter has replaced peanut butter—I die!), and finally, the speculoos cheesecake bars we're making today.


Speculoos Cheesecake Bar Ingredients

Here are the key ingredients in the recipe worth chatting about:

Speculoos Cookies

A good cheesecake recipe always starts with its cookie crumb base. While most traditional cheesecake recipes start with a graham cracker crust, I'm partial to ones made with Oreo cookie crumbs. But for speculoos cheesecake bars, I thought that the most appropriate cookie base would obviously be... speculoos cookies. Duh. 

Sour Cream

I love my cheesecakes to have a hint of tangyness; usually this is achieved by adding something like sour cream (or, if you're feeling fancy, crème fraîche) to the cheesecake batter. When making speculoos cheesecake bars, however, I find the addition of sour cream to be EXTREMELY necessary. That's because cookie butter on its own is so freaking sweet—it needs that tanginess to help balance it out! 

Speculoos Cookie Butter

To get that picturesque swirl that is also the trademark of Trader Joe's speculoos cheesecake bars, we're going to need some speculoos cookie butter! Similar to nut butter, speculoos cookie butter can come "crunchy" or "smooth". I've always baked with the "smooth" variety since I've found that it leads to more consistent results and textures in baked goods.

Okay, but... Where to buy speculoos cookie butter?

So, obviously since this recipe is based on a Trader Joe's dessert and uses a ton of Trader Joe's products, my recommendation is to buy your speculoos cookie butter and speculoos cookies at Trader Joe's! But here's the thing: Trader Joe's only has locations in select states (I went to high school in Houston, for instance, and only found out about Trader Joe's when I moved to Portland for college—back when I lived in Houston, there were no Trader Joe's locations in Texas!). So what do you do if you live somewhere where Trader Joe's just isn't a thing?

You can buy Trader Joe's speculoos cookies and cookie butter online via Amazon, where it can be delivered to your door step in two days. But let me warn you, they come at premium prices and are sold at much higher prices than what you would find at an actual Trader Joe's. You can also buy non-Trader Joe's speculoos too—Biscoff cookies are Belgian speculoos cookies, and they also make a Biscoff cookie butter spread, both of which are available on Amazon and most major supermarkets in the United States (I saw Biscoff cookies at my local Target!). There are also other, cheaper cookie butter brands on Amazon: this one by Great Value and this one by Roland looks like it could be worth checking out? 

What to Eat With Speculoos Cookie Butter

Now that you've invested in a jar of speculoos cookie butter for this recipe, you're probably wondering what on earth do do with the rest of it. Because like, what are you actually supposed to eat with speculoos cookie butter?

In my household, a jar of cookie butter never lasts too long. We tend to use it as a substitute for nut butters, slathering it on morning toasts, waffles, and pancakes, pairing it with fruit like strawberries and bananas, adding spoonfuls to bowls of granola and oatmeal, and so on. Sometimes, when I'm craving something sweet at night, I'll even just dip a spoon in the jar and have a small spoonful as a treat. Is that gross? Sorrynotsorry.


Why This Is The Best Speculoos Cheesecake Bar Recipe

Alright, you've read this far. But maybe you're still wondering why you should bother making these cheesecake bars at home, especially since you can just buy them at Trader Joe's instead (where you're going to be heading to buy most of this recipe's ingredients, anyway!)? Here's why:

No Weird Ingredients and Preservatives

Looking at the ingredients list of a box of Trader Joe's Speculoos Cheesecake Bites was a little dismaying. Sure, there were the usual suspects like cream cheese, eggs, and speculoos cookies, but then also weird stabilizers and thickeners like soy leicithin, xanathan, and guar gums. Also, carob bean (although I detected no coffee or chocolate flavors in the bars whatsoever)? Like... why? You don't need any of that junk! Spare yourself from the weird chemicals by making these at home instead.

The Best Flavors

Since you're making these at home, you'll be able to modify the cheesecake bars to your taste.  I already mentioned that I added sour cream to the cheesecake base to help balance out the sweetness of the speculoos cookie butter swirl. But if you find that there's still too much speculoos cookie butter, you can absolutely reduce the amount used in the recipe to your tastes. Conversely, if you think I didn't go hard enough, increase the amount, too (but definitely check out the baker's notes below, since increasing the cookie butter has a little bit of an effect).

Weeknight Baking Friendly

The best part? It's actually incredibly easy to make these bars at home. The recipe is based on the cheesecake bars recipe in Weeknight Baking, my cookbook about baking efficiently on weeknights. That means that the recipe comes together really quickly and easily, thanks to these few tricks:
  1. You can pour the cheesecake filling into the crust while it's still warm.
    Most cheesecake recipes will first instruct you to make, bake, and cool the crust completely to room temperature before filling it with cheesecake filling. With my recipe, there's no need to cool the crust—you can pour the filling over it while it's still warm! You can work efficiently by making the filling while the crust is baking in the oven; while it takes about 10 minutes to bake the crust, it only takes about 5 minutes to make the filling. By the time the crust is done baking, your filling will be more than ready to go!

  2. Unlike with other cheesecake recipes, there's no need to use a water bath.
    Most cheesecake recipes ask you to bake the cheesecake in a water bath (or bain-marie, if you're feeling fancy and want to use the culinary school term). The theory behind this is that, because water only boils up to a certain temperature, it will prevent the cheesecake from overcooking by keeping the batter at that same lower temperature too. But because we're making cheesecake bars, there's not as much risk for overcooking the cheesecake since the bars don't need to be in the oven that long to bake completely. That means you can skip the water bath! 

  3. These are make-ahead friendly, too!
    Okay, so the biggest bummer about making these speculoos cheesecake bars is that they'll need to chill for at least 4 hours before serving (but preferably even be chilled overnight). Now if that made you blanch and decide to just buy the Trader Joe's version instead, KNOW THIS—you also need to thaw the Trader Joe's version for at least 4 hours before you can even sink your teeth into them, too! There's no win-win here. Except maybe this: make these bars the night before you're planning on serving them! Once you do, they'll keep in the fridge for up to 3 days—honestly, 5 days if we're not being conservative—and even longer in the freezer. Because the recipe only takes about 20 minutes or so, I just whip them together after a weeknight dinner and place them in the fridge to forget about them. The next day, I'm greeted with slices of cheesecake bars to snack on for the next few days.


Best Speculoos Cheesecake Recipe Tips

  • To make speculoos cookie crumbs, use a digital scale to weigh out as many crackers as needed to match the weight in the recipe. Use a food processor to pulse the cookies into fine crumbs. There is no need to scrape off the icing in between each cookie!

  • It's especially important that your cream cheese, eggs, and sour cream are warmed to room temperature—the filling will be lumpy if the ingredients are cold. To ensure that my cream cheese has softened to the perfect temperature, I chop it into blocks and pop it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds.

  • Similarly, this recipe works best if you warm the speculoos cookie butter up beforehand—doing so will allow it to easily swirl into the cheesecake batter without overmixing! Measure out the amount of cookie butter needed into a small, microwaveable bowl and blitz on low in the microwave in 15- to 20- second intervals until runny. Follow the instructions to swirl the speculoos into the cheesecake batter; be careful not to overmix or the speculoos will sink to the bottom of the bars! I mean, it'll still be tasty, just not as Instagram friendly. 😜I also realize that 1 tablespoon of cookie butter seems a little on the conservative side, but trust me on this one—any more and the cookie butter will sink and fall to the bottom of the bars. 1 tablespoon of the stuff will do the trick, I promise. 

Other Speculoos Recipes


Yield: makes 16 bars
Author: Hummingbird High

Speculoos Cheesecake Bars Recipe

ingredients:

For the Speculoos Cookie Crust
  • 1 ½ cups (5.25 ounces) finely-processed speculoos cookie crumbs (see baker's notes)
  • 3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) melted unsalted butter
  • a pinch of kosher salt

For the Speculoos Cheesecake Filling
  • 1 ½ cups (12 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon speculoos cookie butter, slightly warmed (see baker's notes)

instructions:

How to make Speculoos Cheesecake Bars

For the Speculoos Cheesecake Bars
  1. First, make the crust: position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 (F). Line an 8-inch cake pan with a sheet of aluminum foil, leaving at least a 2-inch overhang on two opposite sides. Layer a second sheet of foil on top, perpendicular to the first, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the remaining sides.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cookie crumbs, melted butter, and salt and toss with your fingers until the mixture looks like wet sand. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and use a tart tamper or your hands to press it evenly over the bottom of the pan, all the way to the edges. (You can use the bottom of a coffee mug or heavy glass to pound the crumbs in place—you want to apply some pressure here so the crust holds its shape.)
  3. Bake for 12 minutes. The crust will look underbaked and feel soft to the touch when you remove it from the oven, but will firm up as it cools. Cool the crust on a wire rack while you make the filling.
  4. Next, make the filling: lower the oven temperature to 325 (F).
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium-low until soft, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer to low and add the eggs one at a time, adding the next egg only after the previous one is fully incorporated, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream all at once and beat until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once more, and beat on medium-high for an additional 30 seconds.
  6. Pour the filling over the crust and use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Drizzle the warmed speculoos cookie butter over the batter and use a butter knife to carefully swirl it into the bars. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the edges are set but the center still wobbles slightly. Cool the bars completely on a wire rack. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the filling is firm, at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  7. Run a butter knife or an offset spatula along the edges of the pan and use the overhanging foil as handles to lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a hot knife to slice into 2-inch squares and serve. The cheesecake bars can be stores in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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