Saturday, October 19, 2013

Maple Nut Cheesecakes in Mason Jars




So cheesecakes are kinda my thing.  It all started around 2001 when the very first ever grocery store opened in Kiev.  I was living in Kiev at the time, and this was a very exciting event.  I wandered slowly through the aisles, savoring the sights of ground beef (In a styrofoam tray! Wrapped in plastic wrap! Wonder of wonders!) and bread packaged in plastic bags (Oh, the sanitary-ness!) and refrigerated yogurt.  It was wonderful.

As I walked through the dairy section, I spied CREAM CHEESE!! I was so excited to have cream cheese available, that I bought like 10 packages.  Oh frabjous day! Callooh, callay! I chortled in my joy.

Then I got home with my purchases, and I realized that I couldn't remember anything that is made with cream cheese.  What would I do with my bounty?  What if I made... cheesecake?  It seemed like it would be
complicated and tricky, but heck, I figured I would give it a whirl.  Not too tricky after all.  I brought the results with me to a conference the next day, and my reputation as "the cheesecake girl" was solidified then and there. 

Since then, I have brought cheesecakes to pretty much every gathering of missionaries since.  And because of that, I have had plenty of practice perfecting the basic recipe and the different flavor  combinations.  This maple nut version is one of my favorites.  And anything in little mason jars are just too cute and too convenient for words.  

Make a batch.  Eat one or two.  Freeze the rest.  Pull them out of the freezer to thaw while you are cooking dinner and you'll have a delicious treat waiting for you  by the time the dishes hit the dishwasher.  Give 'em to friends and become "the cheesecake girl" in your neck of the woods.  And we'll be friends.

The Step-By-Step

Make the Crusts


First, preheat your oven to 325F (160C).  

Now make some cookie crumbs.  A food processor works well for this.  Or just get some aggression out and pound the snot out of the cookies to make nice, fine crumbs.



You will also need some nuts (walnuts here, you could also use pecans), to be chopped up into teensy weensy pieces.  Almost like crumbs.  Food processor again.  Or lots and lots of chopping. Set aside half the chopped nuts.



Now mix the rest of the nuts, the cookie crumbs, some brown sugar, and a little melted butter.



Mix it all together thoroughly with a fork.



Now get out your mason jars.  Put 11 of them on a cookie sheet.  Number 12 is so special, it just won't fit on the cookie sheet. Because my cookie sheets are tiny.  Because my oven is 80 cm wide and bigger ones won't fit.  Thus the odd jar out.  If you have a bigger oven and a bigger cookie sheet, you can be friendly and inclusive and get all 12 jars together on the same sheet.

For this recipe, I recommend half-pint wide mouth jars.  Like this:


The important thing is to make sure they are real canning jars.  That way you know they can take the heat of baking and also won't shatter if you freeze them.  These were pretty inexpensive on Amazon.  I use them all the time.  



Now you need two tablespoons of crumb mixture in each of your 12 jars.



Now grab your extra-special pressing-down device to compress those crumbs into a nice, even crust.

Make the Filling



Sugar, cream cheese and cornstarch (or potato starch) go into a mixing bowl.



Mix, mix, mix.



Now you need two eggs.  Ok, so technically these two eggs qualify as two eggs, but let's use regular sized eggs instead. 

(Seriously, we have a weird chicken that apparently produces lilliputian-sized eggs from time to time.  What the heck???)



Beat in the eggs, maple flavoring and vanilla.



 Add the cream and mix a bit more to combine.  There! Filling done.




Now divide the filling between the jars nice and evenly.  Carefully place your pan of jars (and the one rebellious jar that refuses to fit on the pan) into the oven.  Bake about 30 minutes.

Bake and Add Topping


So while those guys are in the oven, mix up a little bowl of topping.  Sour cream, sugar, and more extracts.  Get a fork.  Mix, mix.



Here's the baked cheesecakes, all done.  Pull them out of the oven, and let them sit about 5 minutes.  Leave the oven running.  We're not quite done.



See how they've kind of sunk a bit once out of the oven?  Perfect.  Now they are ready to crown with the sour cream topping.



Divide the topping between the 12 jars and pop them back in the oven for about 8-10 minutes just until the topping is set.


Sprinkle the tops with the remaining chopped nuts and let cool until room temperature.  Now put the lids on those adorable little jars and refrigerate for a few hours or toss in the freezer for future enjoyment.


The Recipe

MAKES 12 HALF-PINT JAR SERVINGS

FOR THE CRUST:
1 cup cookie/graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter

FOR THE FILLING:
800 grams cream cheese - softened to room temperature
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons cornstarch (or 6 Tablespoons potato starch)
4 teaspoons vanilla
3 Tablespoons maple extract (Mapeline)
2 eggs
1/2 cup cream

FOR THE TOPPING:
1 1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons maple extract (Mapeline)

Preheat oven to 325F (160C)

MAKE THE CRUSTS:
Use a food processor to finely chop nuts to make 2/3 cup.  Also process the cookies to make the cookie crumbs.  Set aside 1/3 cup of the nuts to use for topping.  In a mixing bowl, use a fork to incorporate the brown sugar and melted butter into the crumbs and 1/3 cup of the nuts.  Place 2 Tablespoons of the mixture in each of 12 half-pint wide mouth canning jars.  Tamp down evenly with the bottom of a cup to form a crust in each jar.

MAKE THE FILLING:
Beat cream cheese, starch and sugar for one minute or until creamy and smooth.  Add eggs and flavorings.  Beat again to thoroughly incorporate.   Add the cream and beat just til mixed in.  Divide the filling between the jars, about 1/2 cup of filling per jar.

Place jars in oven on a cookie sheet and bake 30 minutes or until there is very little "jiggle", and the tops start to crack.  Remove from oven for 10-15 minutes to allow the cheesecakes to fall a bit. (keep the oven on).

MAKE THE TOPPING:
In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients.  Spoon on top of the cheesecakes, dividing evenly between each serving.  Spread to the edges of each jar.  Return the cheesecakes to the oven and bake 10 more minutes, until the topping is set.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle with reserved nuts and cool.  Once completely cooled, refrigerate or freeze with the lids on.

If serving from frozen, let thaw at room temperature about 2 hours before serving.

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