~ Pretty in Pink: No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecakes ~
When you find a big beautiful box of fresh strawberries in your market in February, you don't pause to ponder. Into the cart they go, you checkout, and, by the time you're out of the parking lot, your mind is recollecting "that recipe" you made "that time" for "that woman", who, two days before her Oscar party, decided to add mini-strawberry cheesecakes to her menu -- which caused you to go looking for strawberries in February -- not to mention 28 mini-cheesecake pans. "That woman" would be me, and, as I always say, "the devil is always in the details."
Truth told: While I never use all 28 of them at once any more, I'm never sorry I invested in them. We have three kids. There for a few years, within a span of about ten years, my life was full of graduation and engagement parties, bridal and baby showers, one in-my-home wedding, and, a 50th wedding anniversary party for my parents -- all catered by me. During that period of my life, I purchased many things in semi-large quantities.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 whole graham crackers)
1/4 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
8 tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)
~ Step 1. Break the graham crackers into smaller pieces and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses process them to crumbs, then, with the motor running, process them to fine crumbs, about 10 more seconds.
~Step 2. Place the crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the brown sugar, and using your fingertips, work the sugar into the graham cracker crumbs. Melt the butter and add it. Using a spoon, thoroughly incorporate the butter until a moist, grainy, semi-cohesive, crumb mixture forms.
~ Step 4. Place the cheesecake pans on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan and refrigerate the crusts while preparing the cheesecake filling according to the following directions:
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced into quarters
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon strawberry extract (vanilla extract may be substituted)
3-4 tablespoons cold water
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup Confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sour cream or heavy cream, your choice*
Note: In my original recipe for these cheesecakes, I used heavy cream (which is pictured here because it has seniority rights and it works great). I whipped it to stiff peaks and folded it into the cream cheese filling mixture at the very end of the mixing process. I have since decided that I like the tangy taste of sour cream, which requires no whipping, folded in better. Your choice.
~ Step 1. Cut the strawberries into quarters, placing them in a medium bowl as you work. Add the sugar and the extract. Using a spoon, stir to thoroughly combine. Set aside, to allow the strawberries to macerate, for 15 minutes, stirring with the spoon 3-4 times during this time.
~ Step 2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries to the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, reserving the juices remaining in bowl. Process the strawberries to a puree, starting with 15-20 rapid on and off pulses, then turning the motor on for 45-60 seconds.
~ Step 5. Place the gelatin, which is now very thick, in the microwave. Melt it, without allowing it to simmer or boil, 8-12 seconds.
~ Step 6. Add the gelatin to the puree and stir thoroughly. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
Note: If you are using whipping cream, using a hand-held electric mixer, use this time to whip it to stiff peaks and place it in the refrigerator to chill.
Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, beat until creamy and smooth, about 45-60 seconds. Add the strawberry puree and beat until smooth and uniform in color. Note: If using the whipped cream, lower the mixer speed and fold it in.
~ Step 8. Remove cheesecake pans from refrigerator. Ladle 5-5 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup + 1- 1 1/2 tablespoons) of filling into each.
Return to refrigerator & chill for 4-6 hours or overnight, then...
... freeze 45-50 minutes (no longer). These are to be "semifreddo", the Italian word meaning "half frozen". Remove from freezer, run a paring knife around the perimeters, remove from pans and serve with whipped cream and strawberry slices.
Special Equipment List: food processor; spoon; slotted spoon; 8, 3"-round x 2" high mini-cheesecake pans w/removable bottoms; tart tamper; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; sharp paring knife
Cook's Note: Another one of my favorite cheesecake recipes, which is made with a gingersnap cookie crust and baked, then finished off with a caramel-pecan topping is ~ Oh My Cup of Tea: Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares ~ can be found in Categories 6, 11, 18 or 21. What an dreamy indulgence.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)