Strawberry Swirl Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars(Gluten Free/Sugar Free/Low Carb/Made with Almond flour)

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Valentine’s day is near, and there are signs of it everywhere. Even my pre-k kiddo has been doing heart shaped artwork all week. Everywhere I see, there is roses, chocolates, strawberries and heart shaped variations of all kinds of edible things. The other flavor that takes center stage is ‘red velvet’. For Valentine’s day – red colored n all – I can take that.

On that note, red velvet to me is not an universal flavor – I believe its a very American thing. I don’t recall hearing or reading about it while I was in India or that it is eaten in parts of Europe(I may be wrong). To me its just too much of food color added to a chocolate cake. My favorite part about eating a red velvet cake is the cream cheese frosting. Adding it on top of the red cake, does add a dramatic effect that fits the Valentine theme. But, why let the cake take precedence when the cheese has so much flavor. This is what led to the making of this dish. This, and the fact that I will pick Cheesecake over Red Velvet cake any day, any time.

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Keeping up with the tradition last year, I have made this tad healthier than most desserts you would have for V day. This is a flour less recipe, that uses almond flour. I have used neufchatel cheese that is 1/3rd of the fat than regular cream cheese, and also added some protein powder into the cream cheese batter. I have used splenda in place of sugar and sugar free strawberry jam in place of regular jam. I have left the butter in the recipe as – is. After all it is Valentines day and butter as is would do less damage here as opposed to butter substitutes that are out there.

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Ingredients:
For crust:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar substitute (I used Splenda)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon red food coloring
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 eggs

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For cheesecake filling:
2 eggs
12 oz (11/2 packets of low fat cream cheese)
1 1/2 scoops unflavored or vanilla flavored protein powder(optional, to boost up the protein content)
1/4 cup heavy cream/half and half
1/2 cup splenda
2 tsp vanilla

4 tbsp sugar free strawberry jam, to create the swirl effect

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 X 8 inch square pan with parchment paper, with overhang on both sides.

To make the Red Velvet Crust: Add melted butter to a large bowl and add splenda. Mix to combine. Add in the vanilla, cocoa powder, salt, food coloring and vinegar mixing after each addition. Whisk the eggs into the cocoa mix. Mix in almond flour until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.

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To make the Cream Cheese Layer: Blend together cream cheese, splenda, eggs, heavy cream or half and half and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl or in a blender. Add the protein powder if using and mix to combine. Spread the cream cheese on top of red velvet layer in the pan.

Drop the sugar free strawberry jam by tablespoonful on top of the cheesecake layer. Use top of knife to swirl through cream cheese mixture to create a swirl pattern, taking care not to touch the red velvet layer. Bake it for 30 minute, while the cheesecake layer is still a bit jiggly.
Remove and let cool completely. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove the entire thing by using the parchment overhang and cut into bars using a knife dipped in hot water(and wiped clean). This helps get clean cuts on the bars.(a step I ignored and ended up with rugged edged bars!).

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Verdict: These bars look stunningly beautiful, and taste even better. Hard to believe that these are a fairly healthy alternative – low in carbs, sugar free and high in protein, the red velvet layer is very much cakey and topped by the creamy cheesy layer and spotted with the strawberry jam swirl – is a combination of textures and flavors that are just perfect for a Valentine’s dinner.

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