There's a running gag about honeydew on the Netflix animated series "BoJack Horseman." In a string of jabs, the hapless melon is trodden on as "garbage fruit," cantaloupe's "dumb friend."
Not without good reason. Who hasn't bitten into a bland, watery cube of honeydew from the top of an airport fruit cup filled mostly with underripe melon?
But sinking your teeth into truly ripe, devastatingly sweet melon can be an ethereal eating experience. It's a small but mighty pleasure that can be expanded even further by turning your next honeydew or cantaloupe into dessert. Melons aren't often used in sweets, but they should be. Cream and sugar actually fortify what honeydew and cantaloupe already have going for them: Their flesh is creamy when ripe, where the juicy edges by the seeds are so tattered that they seem almost milky and full of fat.
Whether it's jade-tinged honeydew dripping with cool nectar or orange cantaloupe that's ripened to honeyed creaminess, melons are, in many parts of the world, a nexus of late-summer's bounty.
These cheesecake bars celebrate melon for what it is: a quietly aromatic fruit, full of juice and untapped potential. Fresh cantaloupe purees into a smooth, fluffy pulp to flavor a cheesecake base that doesn't require baking, thanks to gelatin. For the smoothest texture and the best set, powdered gelatin first needs to be bloomed in water, turning it into a translucent jelly, before it is whisked into hot, scalded cream to dissolve completely. Cream cheese helps deliver voluptuous texture, while also lending savory balance and accentuating melon's soft, floral flavor.
No-Bake Melon Cheesecake Bars
- For the crust:
- 18 whole graham crackers
- ½ cup butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (we used Diamond Crystal)
- For the filling:
- 2 (¼-ounce) packets powdered gelatin
- 1 ¼ pounds peeled honeydew or cantaloupe, diced (about 3 cups)
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (we used Diamond Crystal)
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- Honey, for drizzling (optional)
Prepare the crust: Place the graham crackers in a resealable plastic bag. Close the bag and, using a rolling pin, heavy can or other blunt object, crush the graham crackers into a coarse rubble. To the bag, add the melted butter, sugar and salt, and mix thoroughly.
Transfer the crumbs to an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan and press into the bottom of the pan with your hands, forming a thick, sturdy base. Place in the freezer to set while you make the filling.
Make the filling: In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together ¼ cup cold tap water and the gelatin. Let sit to bloom. Meanwhile, use a blender to puree the melon, cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan on the stovetop over medium until simmering at the edges or in a small bowl in the microwave until hot to the touch, 45 to 60 seconds on high. Add the bloomed gelatin to the hot cream and stir vigorously until smooth. Transfer the cream to the blender and blend with the melon until smooth.
Take the pan out of the freezer and pour the filling over the graham cracker crust. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours or up to overnight. Cut into bars and serve, drizzled with honey, if you like.
Makes 16 bars.