a homemade valentine: cheesecake for two!
Unfortunately, I recently discovered that cheesecake is delicious. For ages I thought I didn’t like it, at least not enough to seek it out, and this helped me avoid the cheesecake-lust that I now imagine must torment cheesecake enthusiasts on a regular basis. But then I tasted an amazing one with a crumby crust and creamy, dreamy center topped with lemon curd, and I realized that me and cheesecake could be friends.
Unlike cheesecake, Valentines Day is not something I get all that excited about. I don’t feel the need to shell out for gifts or fancy restaurants (or have that done for me), and apart from the secret fun I have making valentines with my preschoolers, I don’t care much about giving or receiving cards. Stephen and I discussed it this year and decided that all we really want to do is cook ourselves a nice dinner and enjoy it together at home, so that is what we set out to plan, with cheesecake as the finale of the meal.
The only problem was that the idea of making an entire cheesecake, with all the many boxes of cream cheese and richness that entails, and then having it laying around staring at us seemed too daunting. So from there the idea of two little baby cheesecakes was born, and I was delighted to discover that it is not only possible to make just two little cheesecakes, it’s also super easy with a simple ingredient list. Until a few weeks ago I had never really eaten more than a bite of cheesecake, let alone made one at home, but this is such an easy way to do cheesecake that I felt like a pro the first time around.
This recipe makes two 10-oz ramekin-sized cheesecakes with buttery vanilla wafer crumb crusts and a light-textured, rich-tasting filling. For Stephen and I, a whole 10-oz ramekin full of cheesecake each is actually more than we can handle in one sitting, but having a little extra around for sharing and leftovers is never a bad thing. And, if you should want to have more than just two cheesecakes laying around, this recipe is extremely easy to double or even triple. Halving down to a single serving is not so easy since there is only one egg involved, but again, having an extra mini cheesecake around in the fridge can only be a good thing, so I’d just go for the recipe as written even if you’re craving some solo cheesecake action.
One of the great things about cheesecake is that it’s kind of like a delicious little blank canvas, begging for any number of flavor combinations and toppings to accompany the crumbly crust and creamy filling. I’ve been rather taken with lemon cheesecake lately, so we did sort of a lemon curd swirl effect on some of our cheesecake and we also tried a chocolate chip cheesecake version, which we really enjoyed as well (instructions for both variations can be found below the basic recipe). You can also top the cheesecakes with any number of concoctions– you can bake it with extra cookie crumb crust on top for crunch, or serve it with a cooked berry sauce or some simple fresh fruit macerated with sugar until the juices run. You could also use chocolate shavings or a dusting of cocoa powder or sprinkles to achieve sort of a festive look. Any way you serve it, you won’t regret spending a half hour putting these babies together, whether they’re gracing your Valentines Day table or just satisfying your sweet tooth on a Tuesday night.
Chocolate treats for two sound more like your style? Try these mexican chocolate souffles.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
1/2 cup ground vanilla wafers (or ground shortbread cookies, gingersnaps, or graham crackers)
1.5 T unsalted butter, melted, plus additional butter for greasing the ramekins
1 8-oz package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
optional: 1 T lemon curd, 1/4 cup chocolate chips, or any number of other topping options (fresh fruit, berry sauce, extra cookie crust for the top)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 10 oz ramekins or custard cups (if you only have smaller, 6 oz ones, you can make 3 or 4 smaller cheesecakes in place of two 10 oz ones). In a small bowl, toss the vanilla wafer crumbs with the melted butter, then press half of the mixture into the bottom of each ramekin. Set aside.
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat again until fully incorporated. Divide the filling between the two ramekins. If you are making the lemon-swirl or chocolate chip variation, see instructions at the bottom.
Place the ramekins in a deep roasting pan or baking dish (I used a pyrex baking dish), and add hot water to the dish to reach about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cheesecakes are set and puffy around the edges and just setting in the center (if they start to brown, they’ll be a bit overcooked and the tops may crack as they cool- but they’ll still taste good). Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold (at least an hour) or up to a day before serving.
To serve: enjoy them as is, or you can dust the tops with chocolate shavings, dutch-process cocoa powder, or sprinkles. You can also top them with fresh fruit (macerated in a bit of sugar until the juices run) or cook up a fruit sauce. Or, try one of the variations below.
Lemon-swirl variation: once you’ve incorporated the egg into the cheesecake batter and divided it into the ramekins, add a teaspoon or two of lemon curd (store-bought, ideally freshened up with a bit of lemon zest and juice, or homemade if you have it) to each ramekin and swirl it gently into the cheesecake filling with a toothpick or knife. Bake as directed above.
Chocolate chip variation: after incorporating the egg into the cheesecake filling, stir in 1/4 cup chocolate chips. Divide batter into the ramekins and bake as directed above.