First of all, I urge you to serve these as individual servings made in muffin tins. To quote Ann Hodgman, whose wonderful cookbooks I've mentioned in an earlier post, "I rarely make regular cheesecake anymore; it's just so massive." And slicing cheesecake neatly, especially when you're trying to serve a lot of people at once, is a massive pain. Ann says to make cheesecake recipes as bars, but I think my idea is better. This method makes for a little more fiddling to begin with, but the end result is way more manageable. (The middle picture is a two-sided pastry tamper; the bigger end is just right for getting the crumb crusts flattened into the muffin cups.) And you don't have to worry about the whole water-bath business, which always results, no matter how much foil you wrap around the springform pan, in soggy crust because the pan has leaked.
So, here's the first one. Let me tell you the story behind this recipe. A number of years ago I was asked to do the rehearsal dinner for a gluten-intolerant bride. I wanted to make a dessert that she could eat, and I was told that she liked chocolate and pumpkin. Hmmm. I hadn't ever really thought of that flavor combination, but it sounded pretty good. So I went online to see what ideas were out there, and I came up with a pumpkin-chocolate pie, basically a two-layer cheesecake baked as a pie. It had a crumb crust, which I couldn't use, so I needed a way to make it easy to slice and eat without one. That's how I came up with the idea of making it in muffin cups, and I called them "timbales." Sounded pretty classy, and they were a great hit. Awhile after the dinner we were told that what the bride actually liked was raw pumpkin from the can mixed with chocolate chips! (I could have saved myself a lot of work by just serving a bowlful of that combination.) You'll note that the picture doesn't have the muffin liners, and that the timbales look a bit messy. That's because I discovered at 6:15 AM that I didn't have any liners. They are definitely easier and neater with the liners. Since I'm not making these gluten-free any more, I've added the chocolate-graham-cracker crust.
4 1/2 chocolate graham crackers (whole ones--so 9 halves)
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (This is what the recipe calls for, but I actually used bittersweet chocolate--good quality chocolate is a key to this recipe.)
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs (recipe says "at room temperature," but I didn't worry about that)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
Heat oven to 325.
Process graham crackers in food processor until finely ground, then pour in melted butter, process until clumpy. Put a heaping tablespoon of this mixture in each muffin cup lined with a foil lined. This recipe makes about 18 timbales.
Melt butter and chocolate together--easiest way to do this is in the microwave at 50% power for 2-3 minutes, then stir. If chocolate is partially melted it will usually complete melting as you stir. You just don't want to scorch it. Let cool while you do the rest of the batter. If you melt the chocolate in the bowl you're going to use to mix it with the pumpkin batter you'll save yourself one dirty bowl.
Beat cream cheese with a mixer and gradually add 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, then the eggs one at a time. Blend in pumpkin, vanilla and spices. Pour slightly less than half of the batter into the melted chocolate mixture and mix well--a spatula works well.
Scoop in the chocolate filling about halfway up each muffin cup and then fill to just under the top with the plain pumpkin filling. (The chocolate filling is stiffer than the plain pumpkin.) Bake for 15 minutes, then take a look. They shouldn't be completely firm but still a little jiggly in the middle, with a little cracking and puffing around the edges. You don't want to overbake them. You can also test the temperature--a thermometer inserted into the middle of the middle timbale should read at least 160. Remove from oven and cool.
Meanwhile, mix sour cream with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and heat slightly, just enough to warm it and thin it somewhat. You don't want it to boil! Again, a microwave is the best way to do this--start with a minute on 50% power, then see if it's warm. As the timbales cool they will sink in the middle, so you'll basically fill in that sunk center with the sour cream. Chill thoroughly before serving.
This second recipe is for another fabulous and very unusual cheesecake, which I think I got from Gourmet. Or maybe Bon Appetit. It's another old favorite, but I'd never made it in individual servings until this year. And then I forgot to take any pictures of the individual ones, so that's why you see one big pie, which was made from the batter I had left after doing a dozen muffin-sized ones.
White Chocolate Ginger Cheesecake
24 gingersnap cookies
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 T. melted butter
2-3 T. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 pound good-quality white chocolate (Don't use anything that doesn't list cocoa butter as an ingredient. I usually use Ghirardelli's, especially if it's on sale, but I've also used Baker's with good results. Because Baker's comes in 6-oz. packages instead of 4-oz., I just go ahead and use 3 packages.)
4 8-ounce packages cream-cheese, room temperature
¼ cup sugar (You don't need much sugar b/c of all that sweet white chocolate.)
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
Heat oven to 300.
For crust: Prepare as above, pressing crumbs into foil muffin tin liners.
For filling: Melt chocolate in microwave, using the 50% power setting for 2-3 minutes until partially melted, then stir until melted completely and cool to lukewarm. White chocolate scorches easily, so check it often.
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and yolk 1 at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Beat in vanilla and ground ginger. Gradually beat in melted white chocolate. Stir in crystallized ginger.
Transfer filling to prepared crusts, filling about 3/4 full. Bake about 15 minutes and then check.
Chill completely before serving. You'll notice that I saved some of the crust crumbs to sprinkle on top. Original recipe says that you can decorate the top with candied ginger and white chocolate curls, which would be beautiful but a lot of work.
Both of these cheesecakes freeze beautifully, and since they're so small you don't have to worry about thawing them out. They're actually very good frozen, so if you forget to take then out you're still fine.
Try these out!