Thursday, June 19, 2014

mini cheesecakes with lemon swirl

Specialty baking pans can get out of hand. Sure, a good springform, a Madeleine pan, and a tart pan won't get quite as much use as a cookie sheet or loaf pan, but they'll certainly get more use than a heart-shaped muffin pan, a donut pan, a mini donut pan, or a 3D turkey cake pan. I have been itching to make tiny cheesecakes for a while, but I wanted nice straight sides and easy removal that a muffin pan couldn't offer, and I didn't really want to order a pan that would have limited use, take up more space in my cabinets, and eventually be forgotten. I ended up ordering these Chicago Metallic mini cheesecake pans anyway, and I couldn't be more pleased. They are sturdy, light aluminzed steel instead of dark nonstick, and didn't leak at all. Best of all, I've already used them twice this month.

These cakes are based on my favorite plain cheesecake recipe, with the addition of an easy microwave lemon curd that Tamsen made. They come together easily, bake quickly, and look and taste impressive. Instead of lemon curd, you can also swirl in raspberry curd or chocolate ganache. These were perfect for a little reception we organized and for Father's Day dessert.

Mini cheesecakes with lemon swirl


     for the crust:
11 sheets of graham crackers, or about 1-1/2 packages (I prefer Honey Maid)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
6 tablespoons butter
     for the cheesecake
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar

     for the lemon curd:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg

   Special equipment
2 12-well mini cheesecake pans

Lemon curd (recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour)
Combine all ingredients in a microwave- safe bowl or 8-cup measure. Stir thoroughly and microwave in 1-minute increments, stirring after each minute. Microwave until mixture coats the back of a spoon (5-10 minutes). Strain if necessary and set aside.

Graham cracker crust (recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour)
Preheat the oven to 375˚. Place the butter, cut into chunks, in a microwave safe bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. Remove from microwave and stir until completely melted. Place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add the powdered sugar and pulse to mix. Add the melted butter and pulse again. Place a scant tablespoon in each well of the pan. (Do not grease the pan first.) Use a muddler to tamp the crust mixture down. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Cheesecake (adapted from the Three Cities of Spain cheesecake)
Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer or the beaters of a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese at a medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl down well. Add one egg, beat for 30 seconds, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat for the other eggs. Mix in the vanilla and the sugar.

Assemble the cakes.
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Add cheesecake mixture to each well. We used a portion scoop, which was easy and neat. Fill each well about 1/4"from the top. Drop 1/2 teaspoon of the curd into each well. Use a skewer to gently swirl the curd through the cheesecake mixture. Place the pans in the oven and bake until just set, about 15 minutes.  Remove the cakes from the oven and cool to room temperature. Gently run a small knife (we like to use a plastic knife because they bend a little) around the sides of each cake. Refrigerate the cakes, still in the pan, overnight.
Remove the cakes from the pan, one at a time, by pushing the bottom of each well up. The cake should slide right off the disc. Refrigerate the cakes until ready to serve.

-It's important that the cream cheese is fully softened, and the sides of the bowl are scraped frequently, or the batter will be lumpy.
-We found no need to do a water bath for baking, as you would for a full-size cheesecake.
-Using too much lemon curd and not swirling it through can cause a little sinkhole in the baked cake.

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