July 9, 2010
Recreating the scene.
As I mentioned before, I made two desserts for our Fourth of July barbecue. The first, ponchatoula strawberry and brown butter shortcake, was incredible and highly recommended. The depth of flavor from the browned butter made this strawberry shortcake one of the best I had ever had, and certainly the best I had ever made myself.
However, it was the second dessert, the mini-cheesecakes, that seemed to steal the show. I wasn't able to take pictures of the final product during the barbecue, so my man and I decided to recreate the scene at home. Any 'logical' excuse to make cheesecake will do, right? Besides, this gave me the opportunity to tweak the graham cracker recipe a little more to my liking.
For me, the graham cracker crust can really make or break a cheesecake. For this reason, I opted to make my own rather than purchasing store-bought graham crackers. And although there are many good graham cracker recipes online, I used them more as a guide. For instance, several recipes call for the use of honey, but I prefer the taste of unsulphured molasses. Or several recipes call for the use of whole wheat flour, but I wanted to use my graham flour because it seemed more traditional. All-in-all, I was able to produce something I really liked that gave the mini-cheesecakes the flavor I was after.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, salted or unsalted (adjust the level of sea salt used if you decide to use salted butter)
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
In a food processor, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and sea salt. Cut the cold butter into smaller cubes and add to the flour mixture. Pulse the butter into the flour mixture until it is evenly distributed and the mixture takes on the appearance of coarse meal. In a separate bowl, whisk together the molasses, milk and vanilla. Add to the food processor with the flour mixture and pulse until the dough just starts to come together. If the mixture is too dry, you can add more milk in very small amounts until you achieve the desired consistency, but you don't want the mixture to be too sticky. If it holds when you squeeze it together, you're done.
Lay down a sheet of plastic wrap and dump the contents of the food processor on top. Mold the mixture into a lovely brick-like shape and cover with the plastic wrap. (If you are a non-plastic user, please feel free to comment about any useful alternatives for this step that you may have). Place in the refrigerator for a few hours.
After refrigerating the dough, place a sheet of parchment paper or a silpat mat on top of a cookie sheet. Remove the brick of dough from the plastic wrap and roll it out to about 1/8th an inch on top of your parchment/silpat.
If you are a very tidy person and you want to make these graham crackers for the sake of the crackers themselves, you would follow a process similar to the one outlined in this recipe. I, however, just wanted the crackers for my cheesecake so I didn't bother with forming the dough in perfect shapes.
Fork holes into the dough and place in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Once your oven is preheated, bake the crackers, checking after 20 minutes to see if they are quite golden brown around the edges. Our oven is particularly lazy, so it took almost 45 minutes before they were ready to remove.
Place your cookie sheet on a wire rack and allow to cool. The crackers will harden a little more as they decrease in temperature, so don't worry if they seem a bit soggy at first. Once they have cooled to room temperature, break them apart (or cut into delicate little crackers with fancy cutting tools) and place in an airtight container.
As for the mini-cheesecakes, I followed this recipe with only a few changes. I substituted raspberry jam for the apricot jam because I wanted a festive color scheme. I also used my own graham crackers in place of the cookie wafers and omitted the sugar from that particular step. And to top it off with the utmost festivity, a dollop of whipped cream and a few blueberries for the red, white, and blue.
1 cup crumbled graham crackers
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 8oz. packages of cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup jam of your choice. I used raspberry/strawberry.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners or parchment paper. Mix the crumbled graham crackers with the melted butter. Press 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture in bottom of each cup. Bake until set, about 7 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.
Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees. Beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then vanilla. With mixer running, add eggs slowly, scraping down side of bowl. Add sour cream and salt. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling almost to the tops.
Bake until sides are set but centers are wobbly, about 20 minutes (it took longer with our oven). Let cool in tins on wire racks. Wrap tins tightly with plastic, and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
Warm jam in a small saucepan until liquidy. Spoon 1 teaspoon jam on top of each cake. Refrigerate until the jam is set. Remove mini cheesecakes just before serving, adding dollops of whipped cream and blueberries to the top.