Sunday, January 14, 2018

Delectable mini bites - cheesecakes or apple tarts with a cheese cake base, decision is yours

If you are celebrating Makara Sankranthi/Bihu/Lohri, I wish you all a very Happy festival and harvest season. May this usher in a bountiful year in your lives. We are ready to celebrate Sankranthi tomorrow with ellu bella and some huggi. Look in the recipe index if you are need of recipes for tomorrow, search by Sankranthi. 

During Christmas vacations, I was cooking up a storm every day as DD was home for her vacations. I am sure I have mentioned this before, I feel that cooking for just the two of us is a very different proposition than cooking when the little one is home. My attitude to cooking is 'less is more' when it is just the two of us and I cook more varieties, more meals, spend more time in the kitchen, and I am generally more enthusiastic about cooking when she is home as if to make up for all the days she spends eating crappy food at the school cafeteria. She is a foodie like her parents and enjoys pretty much everything I make though she has her favorites and is very very loyal to some dishes.
I am sure many of you moms and dads can relate to this. I usually have a long list of recipes noted in my oneNote that I want to make waiting for DD to come home. Of these, there are always some 'not to be missed on every vacation' kind of recipes that she is a hard core fan of and then there are some that I would have gathered from different media as 'definitely to be tried when DD is home'.  I am glad both BH and DD are always game for all flavors of my cooking. Sometimes these lists grow so long that I obviously cannot get to all of them, this time however there was a lot more opportunity to cook as she was home longer than usual.
This particular recipe popped up on my pinterest one day and the cute pictures just had me bowled over. I have been dying to make cheese cakes for longer than I admit and glad I finally shook off the lazy mask and tried this one. I had the link to my board for a while now and was waiting for an occasion to make it. So when during the last Christmas weekend, we not only had DD at home for her vacation but also had a bunch of young nieces and nephews from the extended family visit us, the time for cheese cakes just seemed ripe. The entire gang enjoyed it very much but they called it mini apple tarts instead of cheese cake, I don't blame them :-). I was disappointed for sure but not offended. Here is what happened.. I had an 8oz pack of cream cheese on hand and didn't want to buy more incase the trial didn't turn out well and I had to chuck the entire batch down the trash, so decided to make do with it and hence my cheese layer was kind of "there but not there" and the apple at the top and the streusel layers were prominent making it more of an apple tart and less of a cheese cake. But they all liked it so much and my entire batch was gone in one sitting.

Then DD told me that it was so good that I had to blog and since I didn't have any pictures taken from the first attempt the only way I could do that was to make them again :-). How can I argue against such lucid logic from my child? I decided to make them again and this time went and got a 12Oz package of cream cheese and decided to make 12 minis instead of the 16-18 the original recipe promised. Also, added some fresh lemon rind and lemon juice as that is our all time favorite flavor of cheesecakes and Oh boy, it really was delicious.
If you know me via my blog posts, I have said it sufficiently to impress upon everyone that one of my quirks is that I don't like cheese and paneer. I have had both my Indian and non Indian friends stare at me like I was an anomaly when I share this piece of information about myself. for some unexplainable reason, my palate has been fighting the taste and and texture of cheese & paneer for ever and I stay away from them. But cream cheese in cheese cakes is a different story altogether. That is one kind of cheese I love :-) and can gorge on like there was no tomorrow. So the mini cheese cakes are my personal favorites too.

As one of my wise friends quipped, "There is nothing good in this recipe but it tastes sinfully delicious" :-)", these cheese cakes are loaded with sugar and butter and cheese every step of the way but the fact that they are 'mini' are the saving grace as you will be serving responsibly small portions of this and hence can be rest assured that you are indeed controlling the calories. What about the 2nd and 3rd helpings, you ask? There is always this wonderful thing called 'Tomorrow' is for exercising :-), enjoy the food while you are at it.
I have to make an honest disclosure here, I don't follow recipes & ingredients exactly. Over years of cooking, I have developed this sense of knowing what works or doesn't work and which taste would be well received by my family, so I usually end up tweaking the ingredients or proportions as I see fit. So the second batch of cheesecakes had me eliminating an extra layer of streusel with AP flour but instead use the left overs from the crust. It not only gave the top a golden crisp layer but I ended up using the remaining crust mixture without wasting it. I have given both options below, choose the one you like most.

Here is my take on the mini apple cheese cakes with some modifications from the original recipe. The best thing about this recipe is that it is so versatile with the flavors and fruits you can use. Think of all the different seasonal berries instead of apples or go for lemon or key lime if you are like us. You can make this with any topping or no topping at all, it would still taste yummy. I have broken the ingredients and the recipe steps by the layer to make it easier to follow.

What do you need to make mini cheese cakes?
Makes 12 single serve cheese cakes
For the crust: 
1 cup powdered graham crackers
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup/1 stick butter - melted
For the cheese cake layer: 
12 Oz cream cheese - softened
2 Tbsp corn starch
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar (or use just the brown sugar or all white sugar if you prefer)
2 Tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon rind grated
1 Tbsp lemon juice
For the apple crisp topping (OR you can use the left over crust mixture to top the chopped apples and get a golden crispy layer): 
1/4 cup AP flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp coconut oil (or melted butter if you prefer)
1 big firm apple (I used sweet Gala apple)
How do you make the mini cheese cakes? 
Recipe source:
Getting the crust ready: 
  • Preheat the oven to 350F
  • Line the small muffin cups with liners and spray a thin coating of your favorite baking spray
  • In a mixing bowl, add all the contents listed for the crust (powdered graham crackers, brown sugar, rolled oats and melted butter) and combine them well. 
  • Take small spoons of the mixture and press it inside the liner to form a crust layer of about 2mm. Make sure to press them in firmly so there are no cracks. 
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 5 mins and take them out and set to cool a little. 
Getting the cheese cake layer ready: 
  • In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients listed under cheese cake layer 
  • With a hand held whisk or using an electric mixer blend the mixture until the cream cheese is well incorporated. Take care not to beat the mixture vigorously (this does not have to get airy/frothy), the mixing is to incorporate the cheese and make it fluffy. 
  • Scoop out spoonfuls (I used my small ice cream scoop) of the mixture on top of the baked crust and spread it evenly. 
  • The first batch I made, the layer of cheese was pretty sparse and that is why the kids called it apple crisp instead of the cheesecake :-). My second batch had a good amount of cheese and passed the cheese cake test with flying colors. 
Getting the apple crisp/streusel layer ready: 
  • Wash, pat dry and peel the apple. Remove the center vein and the seeds. 
  • Chop the apple into tiny bits. 
  • In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients listed under apple crisp except for apples and mix into a crumbly mixture. 
  • Lay chopped apples on top of the cream cheese layer (as thin or as much as you like) in an even layer. 
  • Top this with the apple crisp mixture or the left over crust mixture. 
Final baking: 
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes. 
  • Take out from the oven and let it cool for an hour. 
  • Refrigerate overnight before serving

  • Keep the butter and cream cheese out of the refrigerator for 4-6 hours to get them completely soft. Do not use cream cheese directly form the refrigerator. 
  • The first time I made these cheese cakes, I followed the recipe to T but reduced the quantity by half as I had only 8oz of cream cheese on hand. The second time I made some modifications to eliminate the refined AP flour from the crisp, instead used the same mixture as the crust on top of the apples and it tasted delicious. Go ahead and make the streusel layer as described above or use this short cut alternative if you like. 
Compare this topping to the above picture, this is the left over crust spread on top of apples while the first one if the full on streusel layer
  • I added the lemon rind and lemon juice to the cheese cake layer as we like that hint of tartness and the freshness lemon imparts. The original recipe had ginger powder and cinnamon. Use those for flavoring if you like. 
  • These keep well in the fridge for over a week. DD made it her afternoon snack every day until the dozen of them lasted. 
  • When the cheese cakes come out of the oven, the top layer looks a tiny bit collapsed, this is perfectly normal. Refrigerating overnight makes the tastes mingle together well. 
  • If you like caramel with apple (soooo yum!!), warm up the caramel sauce in microwave for a few seconds and pour it on top of the cheese cake before serving. 

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