Monday, February 4, 2013

Go ahead, eat the WHOLE THING! Single-Serving Desserts, Part 2: Individual Cheesecakes

There are times in life when we need cheesecake.  It's that simple.  It's not a want, it's a need.  Even people who are lactose intolerant, even raw vegans, cannot resist the creamy decadence of this rich dessert, as can be inferred from the profusion of "cheesecake" recipes that comply with various non-ominvorous dietary protocols.

Fortunately for me, I have no need to draw a qualitative line in the sand against cheesecake.   But I do draw a quantitative line in the sand against most full-size cheesecake recipes.  Seeing as I usually cook for just Husband and myself, I am not interested in making a 12-slice behemoth, which I then either have to face down for weeks, give away to friends and neighbors, or end up throwing in the trash.

There is a special delight in consuming a dessert until it is ALL GONE.  Of course, the trick lies in licking and scraping the bottom of the serving dish without ending up needing to shop at Omar The Tentmaker's for my finery.  Single-serving desserts address both of these concerns.  So, in my continuous effort to find ways of making desserts that will allow me to enjoy the good stuff without getting mired in excess, I spent quite a while looking at blogs and recipe sites for single-serving cheesecakes.  I kept running into the usual problem of "large batch recipe baked in a million small molds," as if everyone who wants cheesecake ALWAYS has a dozen people to feed. After much looking, I finally found what I was seeking... in a dieting website, where the members have a vested interest in creating self-limiting indulgences, without running the risks involved in having a lot of leftovers around. 

The recipe is simplicity itself.  It doesn't have a crust, although you can make a simple crust by grinding a couple of graham crackers, mixing them with a small amount of melted butter, and pressing into the bottom of your ramekins.  Because I don't usually buy graham crackers and didn't want to buy a big box of them just for the one recipe, I used a lunchbox snack pack of Barnum Animal Crackers.

This recipe makes two servings.  One for Husband, one for me.

Preheat oven to 300º F.  I use the toaster oven.  Boil enough water to fill a small baking pan halfway.

Using a mini food processor, grind 2 oz cookies or graham crackers, and mix in 1-2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter.  Divide cookie mixture into two 1/2 cup ramekins and press into the bottom.  I used an espresso coffee tamping thingie doodad.

In a tall glass using an immersion blender mix together:

4 oz cream cheese, softened (1/2 package)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make sure you don't overmix.  Overmixing is the main reason cheesecakes crack.  Something about the protein in the egg losing elasticity, similar to the way kneading bread dough develops the gluten in the flour.  If you don't have an immersion blender, you can try using a fork or a whisk in small bowl.  Just don't try to use the electric mixer, unless you are fond of cheesecake splatter as a wallpaper pattern.

Divide mixture into the ramekins where you prepared the crust.  Place ramekins in the baking pan, pour boiling water into the pan, and place the pan in the oven.  Bake at 300º F for 30 minutes.  Turn off the oven and let the cheesecakes cool slowly inside it.  When they are close to room temperature (approximately an hour later), remove ramekins from oven and place in the refrigerator.  Chill overnight before eating.

You can eat these plain, top with fruit, chocolate ganache, or whipped cream.  And you don't even have to share.  Go ahead, EAT THE WHOLE THING!!!!!