Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New Year's Eats (Black tie mini cheesecakes, cherry sauce)

Happy New Year, everyone! Heading into February, love is in the air, and I always like to include a sweet treat for Valentine's Day. Usually, I've focused on treats for a smaller gathering, but this time around, it's sweets for a crowd. The more the merrier! This recipe for black tie mini cheesecakes and boozy cherry sauce makes enough for 24, so you can splurge with a special someone, have a party for all your friends, or hoard a private stash of cheesecake for days on end. Whatever February throws your way, I've got you covered.

Covered in cherries
Cheesecake is Aaron's favorite, and that always makes it an easy choice. Since it needs to chill overnight, it also makes a great selection for making ahead, so everything can be shining clean and the fruits of your labor appear magically effortless. Being essentially chilled into hard little briquettes also means these travel beautifully, either for a romantic picnic or being sent along to a grade school party (you'll want to omit the booze!).

Black tie formality is based upon elegance, which is embodied by simplicity. The simple black and white of a gentleman's tux allows him to look smoothly sophisticated and contrast with ladies' dresses in all the colors of the rainbow. Similarly, creamy white vanilla cheesecake and a simple chocolate crust set the stage for any accompaniment, a solid base ready to showcase other flavors and colors. Passionately red cherry sauce is traditionally appropriate, fits the Valentine's theme, and is easily made by whipping liqueur into preserves (a speedy trick to dress up any occasion).

Dressing up
Our association between love and chocolate most likely began with it cache as a fancy, expensive import, once Spanish monks had brought it into fashion in the royal court. Europeans cultivated the tradition of making chocolate into a sweet by pairing it with copious amounts of sugar, but vessel remains from the Chiapas, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, suggest it has been enjoyed in a purer form since 1900 BC and by the 15th century, Aztecs were blending it with chile, vanilla and honey. Chocolate has recently made news for its chemical properties, including the ability to mimic "feelings of love." This recipe may mot contain enough cacao to trigger an endorphin surge, but your tastebuds may fool you, all the same.

Endorphins for successful living
Black tie mini cheesecakes, cherry sauce
For a non-alcoholic topping, substitute cherry juice for booze. Serves 24.

For the crust
48 Oreo cookies, crushed completely
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened

For the cheesecake
2.5 pounds (40 oz, 5 packages) cream cheese, room temp
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
4 eggs, at room temperature 
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the topping:
8 tablespoons cherry jam
4 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoons vanilla extract
Whole cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line 24 silicone muffin cups with paper or foil liners. 

In a bowl, mix together crushed Oreos, cocoa powder, and butter. Using a spoon, press about a tablespoon of "crust" into the bottom of each liner. 

To make the filling, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, about 3 minutes (want to mix while getting air in there!). Reduce the speed to low, gradually add the sugar and beat until smooth (scrape down bowl as needed). Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Finally, add the flour and beat until combined.

Ready, set, go
Divide the filling among the prepared baking cups, filling each to about 3/4. Bake until cheesecakes are just set in the center, about 12-15 minutes. 

While those are baking, make the topping by placing jam and liqueur into small saucepan, heating slightly. Add lemon juice and vanilla. 

Boozing it up
Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Then, carefully transfer to rack and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Refrigerate in airtight container for at least 2-3 hours or overnight, up to 3 days.

To serve, spoon a tablespoon of cherry filling onto chilled cheesecake, and top with a cherry.


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