I baked and cooked a lot before I started blogging. So, I’ll be using Thursdays (aka TBT or Throwback Thursday) and Fridays (aka Flashback Friday or FBF) to share some of my favorite baking and cooking projects from the past.
A few years ago when I started expanding my baking repertoire beyond cookies, brownies, and cakes, I was always intimidated by making a cheesecake. So, I eased myself into the world of cheesecake making by making Lemon Curd Cheesecake Squares. This recipe does not require the water bath often used for baking cheesecakes, and since it’s baked in an 8×8 pan, it’s easy to cut and serve neatly. Convenience aside, the rich and flavorful combination of the buttery honey graham cracker crust piled high with smooth, creamy cheesecake and topped with tart, bright lemon curd puts this recipe at the top of my must-bake list.
Lemon Curd Cheesecake Squares
(From Fine Cooking)
Makes sixteen 2-inch squares.
Crust and Cheesecake
9 graham crackers (about 5 oz.)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 lb. cream cheese or Neufchatel (1/3-less-fat cream cheese), at room temperature and cut into approximately 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 or 2 lemons)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 or 2 lemons, preferably using a rasp-style grater)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 or 3 lemons)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 ounce (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- Cut two 8×16-inch pieces of parchment. Put the strips in an 8×8 baking pan (preferably straight-sided) so that they cross each other and the excess hangs over the pan’s sides. Push the parchment into the bottom and corners of the pan.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325°F.
- Break the graham crackers into a food processor, and process until finely ground.
- Add the melted butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand.
- Transfer the crumbs to the lined pan, and press them firmly and evenly into the pan. Set aside.
- Rinse, dry, and reassemble the food processor. In the cleaned bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds, stopping halfway to scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Add the eggs, and process until the mixture is perfectly smooth and blended, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary, about another 20 seconds.
- Pour the cheesecake mixture into the prepared pan.
- Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center is dry to the touch, about 40 minutes.
- While the cheesecake is baking, make the Lemon Curd for topping the squares.
- Set a fine strainer over a medium bowl.
- In another medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice, sugar, and eggs until thoroughly combined and most of the sugar has dissolved.
- Pour the lemon mixture into a small, nonreactive saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, until the curd is steaming (but not boiling) and thickened and registers about 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 7 minutes. Don’t be alarmed if you see tiny egg clumps forming as you’ll strain those out later..
- Take the curd off the heat, add the butter, and stir until the butter has melted.
- Pour the curd through the strainer to get rid of any lumps.
- Set aside, but use to top the cheesecake while still warm (it will be more difficult to spread on top of the cheesecake if it cools down too much).
- When the cheesecake comes out of the oven, pour all of the curd onto the cheesecake, and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.
- Let cool to room temperature, and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight. You can refrigerate it uncovered, as no detectable skin forms on the curd.
- When the cheesecake is thoroughly chilled, carefully lift it out of the pan using the parchment “handles” and onto a cutting board. Slide the parchment out and discard it. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the cheesecake into quarters, and then cut each quarter into four equal squares. To make clean cuts, wipe the knife blade with a damp paper towel between each slice. I like to put the squares in cupcake liners so that they’re easy to hand out and eat (no plate and fork needed for this cheesecake!).
Recently I went to Costco and stocked up on Nutella… forgetting that the last time I went to Costco, I also stocked up on Nutella. So, my current Nutella overstock situation calls for a strong effort to make all things Nutella, starting with these Black-Bottomed Nutella Swirl Mini Cheesecakes (which in a nutshell is cheesecake in cupcake form). Starting from bottom to top, this tasty little treat consists of a firm chocolate wafer crust (that holds up really well and doesn’t crumble like other crusts), a layer of rich Nutella cheesecake, and a layer of smooth, creamy vanilla cheesecake, all topped with a dark chocolate wafer cookie perched on top of a dollop of Nutella. After one taste of this, I immediately thought that I may never have to go to the Cheesecake Factory again.
Black-Bottomed Nutella Swirl Mini Cheesecakes
(from Abigail Johnson Dodge from Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets – http://www.abbydodge.com/books/mini-treats-hand-held-sweets/; My notes are in italics between [ ]. )
Makes 12 cupcakes
For the black bottom
3/4 cup (3-3/4 oz.) finely ground chocolate cookies [The original recipe recommends using Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers. I can never find those at my grocery store so I used Quadratini Dark Chocolate Bite Size Wafer Cookies]
2 Tbs. (1 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake
2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup (4-5/8 oz.) granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of table salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (10 oz.) Nutella
Make the black bottom
- Line 12 regular-sized (2-3/4-inch diameter) muffin cups with foil liners (paper ones won’t work here) and lightly grease the bottom and sides [I didn’t grease the foil liners because it seemed like a messy process, and my cheesecake released from the foil after baking OK].
- Put the cookie crumbs [I used a food processor to pulse the cookies to a medium to fine crumb] and butter in a small bowl and mix with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened.
- Portion the crumbs evenly among the foil liners (1 firmly packed tablespoon in each). If you have a tart tamper, this is a great time to use it. If not, tear off a piece of plastic wrap [Parchment paper worked well too], place it over the crumbs, and use your fingers to press firmly to make a compact layer. Slide the tin into the refrigerator while you make the filling. (This helps keep the crumbs on the bottom when you are swirling the batters together.)
Make the cheesecake
- Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F.
- Put the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium high until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Continue beating until well blended and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently; there should be no lumps.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed until just blended. Once the eggs have been added to the batter, it’s important to mix thoroughly without overbeating or the cheesecake will puff and crack during baking.
- Scoop out 1 cup of the vanilla batter and set aside.
- Add the Nutella to the remaining batter and stir until well blended.
- Portion the Nutella batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups (about 4 Tbs. per cup).
- Next, portion the vanilla batter evenly among the cups (about 1 Tbs. in each). The cups should be completely filled.
- Drag and fold the tip of a wooden skewer, toothpick, or paring knife through the two batters in a swirled pattern. There should still be solid streaks of each batter visible, and the cups should be filled to the brim. Tap the muffin tin on the counter to settle the batters.
- Bake until the centers barely jiggle when the pan is nudged, 20 to 22 minutes [Mine took a little longer to bake; around 25 minutes]. Set the muffin tin on a rack and let cool completely.
- Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 6 hours.
I love that these can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to a month.
Feast your eyes on these chocolate cheesecake brownies. They’re really rich and chocolately, but not overly sweet. The recipe takes a little bit more time as you have to make two batters, but the outcome is worth it.
Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
(from King Arthur Flour – http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/chocolate-cheesecake-brownies-recipe
Makes about 2 dozen 2″ square brownies.
1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups King Arthur All-Purpose Baking Cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 cups (12 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
Cream Cheese Batter
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ pan.
- To make the brownie batter: In a large saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the sugar, cooking until the mixture is smooth and shiny.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla.
- Whisk in the eggs, then the flour, stirring until smooth.
- To make the cream cheese batter: Beat the cream cheese until no lumps remain. Mix in the sugar and flour, then the vanilla, cream, and eggs.
- Fold the chocolate chips into the brownie batter.
- Spoon half the brownie batter into the prepared pan, then top with the cream cheese batter.
- Dollop the remaining brownie batter onto the cream cheese, swirling the two together.
- Bake the brownies for 35 to 45 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, and the edges are set.
- Remove them from the oven, and loosen the edges with a table knife. Cool completely before cutting.