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Strawberry Cheesecake Bars inspired by #GREATERmovie

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of GREATER Productions; all opinions are my own.
Strawberry Cheesecake Bars
I've created and shared alot of recipes and posts inspired by movies over the years, but today is the first time I'm sharing one from an inspirational movie. GREATER, which hits theaters on August 26th, tells the incredible story of Brandon Bulsworth, a boy who declared he was going play for the Arkansas Razorbacks when he got older, and to everybody's surprise (but his own)—he did!

I've always been a sucker for an underdog story. In Brandon's case, he was a huskier kid with a ton a passion, but not a lot of "given" talent. His time on the middle school football team was mostly spent warming the bench, but when he did play, he always gave it his all.

There was a 17 year age difference between Brandon and his older brother, and since their parents were separated and their father was absent, Marty was basically a father figure to him. Both tough and protective, Marty winds up being Brandon's biggest fan throughout his life (along with their mother, of course).
Strawberry Cheesecake Bars inspired by #GREATERmovie
Although he encounters plenty of bullies and naysayers growing up, through passion, faith, and perseverance, Burlsworth never loses sight of his dream, and becomes a walk-on at Arkansas, fulfilling the promise he made as a kid. Of course, this came with its own set of challenges. Since he was a walk-on, his family could only afford one year of school, so he set the unlikely goal of earning a football scholarship.

And in true Burlsworth form—shattered it!

GREATER, like most inspirational movies, is a tear-jerker...both in the happy moments and the sad ones. This isn't a spoiler, since the movie begins at his funeral, but Brandon is taken from this world at a young age, just as he is about to begin his professional career. So, while the movie is about Brandon's faith and perseverance, it's also about Marty's struggle with faith in the face of losing his brother. In other words—don't forget the tissues.
Strawberry Cheesecake Bars
There's not a ton of food in this movie, but as I said earlier, Brandon's a husky guy and he enjoyed eating, so there was some inspiration. My inspiration for the dish I've paired with GREATER today stems from a scene at the beginning of the movie when Marty lectures Brandon about his eating habits (chips and cheesecake).

screenshot GREATER movie - chips and cheesecake
"If that boy is sittin' on that couch eatin' chips and cheesecake again, I'm gonna explode!"

GREATER movie still - Burlsworth brothersThis leads to the affectionate nickname that Marty uses for Brandon the rest of the movie, "Cheesecake". The strawberry part of these cheesecake bars is also inspired by a scene from the movie...a heartstrings moment with his college teammates (but I'll let that part be a surprise).

GREATER hits theaters on August 26th - check your local theaters for availability and show times. In the meantime, check out GREATER the movie trailer!

Strawberry Cheesecake Bars
This recipe makes rich and creamy cheesecake without a water bath! Delicious plain or with the fresh strawberry topping.
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Strawberry Cheesecake Bars
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 15 minutes + 4 hours (unattended, to cool & chill)
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert vegetarian nut-free soy-free cream cheese strawberries bars American

Ingredients (9 large bars)
    for the crust:
    • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
    • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
    • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    for the cheesecake filling:
    • 16 ounces cream cheese, at soft room temperature
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • big pinch kosher or sea salt
    • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    for the strawberry topping:
    • 1 pound (~2 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced or chopped
    • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • pinch of kosher or sea salt
    Preheat oven to 325° F. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with foil; lightly butter the bottom and sides of the foil.

    Combine all of the ingredients for the crust in a bowl and use a fork to stir until well combined (should look and feel like thick, wet sand). Dump into the prepared pan and use your hands to evenly press the mixture down so you have an evenly packed layer.

    Combine cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, and salt in a large bowl and use a hand-mixer to beat until smooth and creamy, 1-2 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until you have a thick, smooth, creamy mixture, another minute or so.

    Pour the filling over the pressed-in crust base and gently smooth the top. Slide the pan into the oven and bake until the edges start to look golden and the filling is just set (should not be wobbly in the center if you gently shake the pan), ~40 minutes.

    Set pan on a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

    While the cheesecake is cooling, make the strawberry topping:
    Place all of the strawberry sauce ingredients in a medium pan and set over medium-high heat, stirring often until the mixture starts to release some juices. Once the juices have started to form and come to a boil, reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally and mashing the berries a bit with the back of a wooden spoon, until you have a syrup-like consistency, 12-15 minutes.

    Set a medium-mesh wire strainer over a bowl (or large glass measuring cup with spout) and scoop the strawberry mixture into it. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to press on the solids, moving and pressing until just a little bit of pulp is all that is left in the strainer. Allow sauce to cool to room temperature (discard pulp, or swirl it into some oatmeal or ice cream).

    Combining the two:
    Drizzle the room temperature strawberry topping over the room temperature cheesecake bars. Slide the pan into the fridge for at least 2 hours to chill.

    Once chilled, use the foil to lift the bars out of the pan. Peel off the foil and set the bars on a cutting board. Run a sharp knife under hot water for 30 seconds or so before cutting, wiping knife clean and running under hot water between each cut.

    -bars adapted from Chocolate, Chocolate and More, sauce adapted from allrecipes

    Strawberry Cheesecake Bars inspired by #GREATERmovie
    This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and GREATER Productions—all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #GREATERMovie #GreaterTheMovie