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No-Bake Buckeye Cheesecake Bars

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While I’m admittedly not a huge chocolate-lover (I know, I know), I go absolutely wild for anything that combines chocolate and peanuts together. Enter: buckeye cheesecake bars. They taste just like an elevated peanut butter cup. With a slightly salty Oreo cookie crust, a creamy layer of peanut butter-flavored cheesecake, and a silky topping of chocolate ganache flecked with flaky salt, these cheesecake bars are a holiday showstopper in their own right. They’re the perfect combination of creamy and sweet with just the right amount of salt, and it’s impossible to only eat one — a fact that I can confirm.

If you’re unfamiliar with buckeyes, they’re a Midwestern confection that combines a round of peanut butter fudge dipped in chocolate. Named after the state tree of Ohio, the buckeye, these sweet treats became popularized when they were sold to fans at Ohio State football games.

One of my best friends always makes buckeyes for her Christmas cookie boxes. And of all the treats, the buckeyes are always the star of the show. While the combination of peanut butter and chocolate is a classic in its own right, she swears that the addition of chocolate hazelnut spread in the peanut butter mixture is what sets hers apart. Taking a cue from her, I added chocolate hazelnut spread to the peanut cheesecake filling in these bars, which acts similarly to adding a touch of espresso powder in chocolate baked goods — it enhances the peanut flavor, without overpowering it.

To pull these bars off, you’ll need to plan accordingly. While the bars are easy to execute, it’s crucial to account for enough time to chill the bars so that they have time to fully set and slice easily. If you love planning way in advance, you can even make the bars, freeze them (for up to four months!), and then thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

If You’re Making Buckeye Cheesecake Bars, a Few Tips

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Skip the natural food aisle this time. I love natural, crunchy peanut butter, but the success in the filling lies in using creamy peanut butter, like JIF, over a natural brand.
Wait to salt. You may be tempted to sprinkle the salt on the chocolate ganache as soon as it gets poured over, but it’s best to wait until the ganache has set — otherwise the salt will sink into the chocolate. You’ll still get the flavor of salt, but will miss the prettiness it adds to the bars.

Ingredients:

For the crust:
2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
16 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whipped topping, plus more for garnish
For the topping:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons peanut butter
Whole peanuts for garnish

Directions:

Line an 8×8 inch baking dish with parchment paper, allowing the edges to overhang for easy removal.
Mix chocolate graham cracker crumbs with melted butter and press firmly into the bottom of the prepared dish to form the crust. Place in the refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, 1 cup peanut butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth. Fold in 1 cup whipped topping.
Spread the filling evenly over the crust and return to the refrigerator to chill.
For the topping, melt chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons peanut butter together until smooth. Spread over the chilled filling.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until set.
Garnish with additional whipped topping and whole peanuts before serving. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the dish before cutting into squares.

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