Abi Balingit’s Ube Cheesecake Bars Are a Host’s Dream—Here’s Why

The low-lift dessert that works in kitchens big and small.

February 28, 2023
Photo by Nico Schinco. Reprinted by permission of Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

Here at Food52, we love hosting. Whether it’s dinner parties, pizza nights, or backyard barbecues, we’re obsessed with sharing good food—and good times—with friends and loved ones. But let’s be honest: Not everyone has the space to host a huge soirée. I certainly don’t, and whenever I decide to cook dinner for friends in my two-room apartment (okay, three if you count the bathroom), making the most of my limited space is of the utmost importance.

Abi Balingit—whose Filipino American, dessert-centric cookbook, Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed, hits bookstore shelves today—is familiar with the particular struggle of navigating a small, shared kitchen. “In the past five years, I’ve lived in three apartments all over Brooklyn with at least two roommates in each one,” she writes in the first pages of her book. “While living in tiny apartments and making do with even tinier kitchens has been less than ideal, it’s still possible to bake fantastic desserts in them.”

These spatial limitations have made a huge impact on Balingit’s baking style, resulting in wisdom and practical tips for anyone needing to maximize their kitchen space, whether it’s for hosting or day-to-day living. “I feel like I try not [to] bake as many big things that need to be refrigerated because I already have finite space—like, a third of the fridge is mine,” explained Balingit.

“If I bake a three-layer cake, it's constantly cooling in between frosting time, so I really try not to crowd the fridge too much,” she said. “So if I can have anything that can be left out, like cookies and brownies are really good to just leave on a countertop, in an airtight container. I love those recipes.”

Flipping through Mayumu, it’s hard to find a recipe that isn’t well-suited for entertaining and sharing: Updated classics like Adobo Chocolate Chip Cookies are perfect for a cozy night in, Pineapple Upside-Down Guava Cupcakes are prime for a potluck, and a Halo-Halo Baked Alaska is exactly what you’ll want to be serving at your next dinner party. Many of the treats in the book are also naturally pre-portioned, meaning that dividing them up is a breeze (think: pie pops instead of pies, avocado popsicles, and lots and lots of cookies). One recipe that, in my opinion, could work in almost any scenario? Balingit’s Ube Cheesecake Bars with a Gosomi Cracker Crust.

Inspired by the readymade Philadelphia Cream Cheese strawberry cheesecake bars of the early 2000s, this version swaps the strawberries for ube halaya (jam). “Ube is Filipino purple yam. It's a subtle flavor that's very sweet, but [it has] hints of like vanilla [and] a little bit of pistachio,” said Balingit. It’s difficult to find fresh ube in the States, so it’s typically incorporated into desserts either as an extract or halaya. The latter is readily available online from retailers like Umamicart, or can be made at home from powdered or frozen ube.

Photo by Nico Schinco. Reprinted by permission of Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

“It's just so delicate that…whenever I think about pairing ube with anything, I think of what would balance well with [it],” said Balingit. For this recipe, she turned to Korean Gosomi crackers, made with sesame and coconut, which hit just the right balance of sweet and salty notes. (In a pinch, she advises in the book, graham crackers can be used for the crust instead.)

After the bars are baked, their centers get hollowed out with a melon baller (I imagine a small spoon would work equally well) and filled with ube halaya. The delicately flavored, tropical ube plays well with the coconut in the crumb crust, Balingit explained, and the sweet cheesecake filling is subtle enough to not overpower it.

However, the reason these cheesecake bars are so great for hosting, especially in close quarters, isn’t just that they’re delicious (though that certainly doesn’t hurt). In addition to being straightforward and low-effort, this is a recipe that can be made well in advance: The bars can simply hang out in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them. And with their striking purple filling and white chocolate drizzle, their visual appeal—and the ease with which you present them after dinner—will undoubtedly impress your guests. Though they do require refrigeration, the bars are made in a relatively compact 8x8-inch pan, meaning they’re small enough to not take up too much of your precious fridge real estate.

“I can't choose favorites, but it is one of my favorites,” said Balingit of these nostalgic treats. Ready to try them yourself? Find the recipe below—and make sure to let us know what you think.

What's your go-to dessert when hosting in a small space? Share in the comments!
Listen Now

On Black & Highly Flavored, co-hosts Derek Kirk and Tamara Celeste shine a light on the need-to-know movers and shakers of our food & beverage industry.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Anabelle Doliner

Written by: Anabelle Doliner

Staff Editor