It took me well into adolescence to attempt my first bite of cheesecake. When I glanced over dessert menus as a child, my vivid imagination conjured up incongruous images of Gouda cakes and gorgonzola pies. No one ever explained to me the difference between cream cheese and all the rest. You can bet that once I figured out the distinction, though, I never looked back!
Unfortunately it took me another few years to attempt making one. If you subscribe to enough food magazines or recipe blogs, you know that cheesecakes are quite temperamental. Or so they say. I was so confused by the onslaught of personal opinions and top secret tricks that I figured it was just as easy to buy one. But those days are over now, too.
One impulse buy—those sweet miniature cheesecake molds were just calling my name—and a few packages of cream cheese later, my cheddar fears reigned no longer. I harnessed the power of gelatin (and the freezer) to create what I personally think are the cutest confections known to man.
I whipped up a classic graham cracker crust, which I let set in the freezer while a created the light and creamy filling. Don't be fooled by the title, either; this recipe doesn't get its name by dumping red sauce over a plain-Jane vanilla cheesecake. Instead, I folded a dollop of my favorite berry preserves right into the batter. It was a bold move that yielded plenty of fruit flavor and the perfect shade of girlish pink.
Who said cheesecakes have to be tough to make? I have a feeling I'll be making these pinchable little treats all spring (and summer) long!
No-bake Strawberry Cheesecakes
Makes 12 individual cheesecakes
For the crust
1 sleeve graham crackers (10 sheets), finely crushed
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup strawberry preserves
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons buttermilk or milk
Strawberry slices, for garnish
For the crust, stir the graham crackers, brown sugar, and melted butter together in a medium bowl. Fill each individual cheesecake "mold" (or muffin pan filled with cupcake liners) with 2 tablespoons of crust and pack firmly. Freeze until ready to fill.
To make the filling, whisk the gelatin and cold water in a small microwave-safe bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. Microwave the mixture on high until melted, about 15 - 20 seconds. Whisk until dissolved and set aside. Allow to cool completely (but not harden).
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high until soft and silky, 4 - 5 minutes. Turn mixer to low and add the strawberry jam, buttermilk, and vanilla until combined. Pour the gelatin in a steady stream and continue beating until well combined. Fill each cheesecake "mold" almost to the top with filling. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and preferably overnight. Garnish with sliced strawberries and serve immediately.
Recipe sponsored by Cool Whip Whipped Topping.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)