The original version of this recipe, what my mom calls strawberry pie, is frequently requested in our family get-togethers, and quickly consumed. It has a lot going for it; it is sweet, fruity, easy to make, and quite refreshing on a hot day. It has layer of cheesecake-like filling and a strawberry glaze with sliced strawberries all on a pre-baked pie crust. And it's delicious.
When I got the recipe from my mom, I could see there was a lot of room for calorie reduction. Some things were obvious, like Splenda, sugar-free Jell-O, reduced fat cream cheese, and diet soda. But some things weren't so obvious. And when I went to make this, I wasn't looking for a partial makeover. I wanted the Extreme Makeover of strawberry pie.
My concerns were powdered sugar and pie crust. I've tried a low-fat pie crust before, but there is just no substitute for butter in pie crust. And I've never come across a low calorie version of powdered sugar. I would not be deterred, though! So I took this fatty, sugary, family favorite and made some adjustments that turned it into something all my own. It's still delicious, still devour-able, but much more bikini-season-friendly!
The first issue I tackled was the crust. I decided that instead of a disappointing pie crust, I would just go with something totally different. So I made a crust that is similar to what I used in making my low fat silky chocolate pie. This is more like a graham cracker crust. It is made with whole wheat flour and canola oil. The whole wheat flour, of course, has plenty of good-for-you fiber. And canola oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Although it doesn't get as much publicity, canola oil actually has more omega-3s than olive oil.
So I made my crust and then went to make my cheesecake filling. I have been using Splenda granulated with fiber for some of my baking and have found that it seems to thicken mixtures more than regular Splenda. I decided to try to harness that thickening and use that instead of powdered sugar. It didn't work out so well. When I whipped up the Splenda with fiber, milk, cream cheese, and almond flavoring, I had a pretty runny liquid. I was looking for something more like cream cheese frosting. Then I remembered that powdered sugar has cornstarch added to it. I realized that adding some corn starch in the mixture might give me the texture I wanted. So I added cornstarch, 1 tablespoon at a time, until I got the right consistency. It took me about 3 tablespoons.
As I said, the rest of the recipe was pretty common sense. And it's very easy to put together. And it's still delicious, but with way fewer calories. I love this crust. Probably even more than pie crust! The whole wheat flour has enough of its own flavor that you don't miss the butter of a pie crust. The filling is creamy and sweet. And of course the topping is nice and fruity. But nothing shines like the fresh strawberries. Mother Nature does it best!
This would be a great dish for summer pot lucks (if you can make yourself share!) and can easily be made the day before. Don't tell anyone it is healthy. My guess is they will never know. And they probably will devour it!
Strawberry Cheesecake Bars
For the crust:
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1 large egg
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp lemon juice
For the cheesecake filling:
8 oz fat free cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp skim milk
1 cup Splenda, granulated with fiber
3-4 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp almond flavoring
For the topping:
3/4 cup Splenda
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 cup Diet 7-Up
1 box (0.3 oz) sugar-free strawberry Jell-O
4 cups strawberries, sliced
To make the crust-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, or bowl of stand mixer, beat Splenda, oil, egg, honey, and lemon juice for 2 minutes. Stir in flour mixture until combined. Press evenly into prepared baking dish, including up the sides. Bake 10 minutes. Allow to cool.
To make the cheesecake filling-Beat all filling ingredients with a hand mixer or stand mixer until well combined and desired consistency is reached. Spread over crust.
To make the topping-Stir Splenda, cornstarch, and soda in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add Jell-O and stir to dissolve. Let cool.
Stir in strawberries. Spread topping over cheese cake filling.
Store in refrigerator.