Nothing says “I love you” like giving him the bigger piece of cheesecake…especially when it’s the really good sort of cheesecake, so tart and creamy-dreamy that you would happily eat every bite of it by yourself.
That said, I didn’t adopt the concept of individual desserts for wholly altruistic reasons. I did it to negotiate a peace between two perpetually conflicting interests:
Interest #1: Hunky husband, who comes home on Friday afternoons, having endured another week of dessert deprivation (self-imposed, I should say), hoping to find me, apron-clad and flush-faced, pulling something tasty—buttery, golden, and preferably burbling berry juices—from the oven.
Interest #2: The bathroom scale, who sometimes takes until Thursday of the following week to recover from its dismay at my having eaten several servings of something tasty—buttery, golden, and preferably burbling berry juices.
Operating on the infallible principle that you can’t eat something once it’s gone, I invested in a couple of ramekins and vowed to resume my weekend baking rituals on a slightly smaller scale. Originally, I had two 7-ounce ramekins, but my husband grumbled (playfully) about how quickly his seven ounces disappeared, so I upsized him:
His “ramekin” is now a smallish casserole dish (18.7 ounces to be exact), and mine is still 7 ounces. This recipe, though, doesn’t require that you perform any elaborate mathematical calculations to make it fit your own ramekins: Just use the ramekins you have on hand…and then surreptitiously eat the remaining cheesecake batter yourself! (I would say, though, that anything smaller than 7 ounces will probably just leave you and your sweetie heartbroken.)
This cheesecake does not have the dense, firm texture of most full-sized cheesecakes. It is almost a mousse—an airy, tangy, supremely creamy mousse. It is in no way difficult to make, despite the necessity of baking it in a water bath. (Please don’t be terrified by that idea. When you’re dealing with ramekins, water baths are simple.)
The only aspect of this recipe that you should be careful about is this:
If you are like me, you are always tempted to skip and/or combine steps in a recipe. For example, if a recipe says to add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, I scoff. Now what is the sense in that? I will always put them all in at once and let the chips fall where they may…unless someone gives me a good reason why I shouldn’t. Well, this is me giving you a good reason you should follow the order of operations for combining your cheesecake batter: Adding even just the littlest bit of liquid (astonishingly, even the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla) before you beat the cheese and sugar together will lead the cream cheese to wind up in little curdly bubbles, trapped inside a skin of liquid, instead of becoming smooth and fluffy. Trust me. I have thrown away batches of this batter on two separate occasions.
Individual Cheesecakes (makes 2 or 3, depending on the size of your ramekins)
6 graham cracker squares
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tablespoon sugar (turbinado or regular old white)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces of cream cheese
3 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup of fresh or frozen berries of your choice + 1 tablespoon or so of sugar (I like Turbinado sugar for its texture, but use what you’ve got)
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Crumble your graham crackers (using your hands or whatever method you like). Stir in the melted butter, 1/2 tablespoon of sugar, and salt. Combine it well, and then press it into the bottoms of your ramekins. Pop them into your preheated oven to bake. (That little bit of salt will give your crust a salted-caramel quality. Heaven help me: I just ate one of these last night, and I’m wondering how soon is too soon to make them again.) Now get busy on your batter while the crust bakes, but keep your nose on alert for the caramelly smell of crisp graham crust. It will take between 5 and 10 minutes. The nose knows.
3. In a stand mixer (preferably), combine your cream cheese and 3 1/2 tablespoons of white sugar. Using the whisk attachment, whip them together until they look fluffy and happy. (In the middle of this process, you’ll need to stop the mixer and get in there with your spatula and scrape the sides and the bottom because there isn’t much of this stuff, and the cream cheese will want to sink to the bottom without properly mingling with the sugar.)
4. Add your egg, egg yolk, and sour cream, and turn the mixer back on. Beat the holy hallelujah out of the mixture. (From time to time, I’ll hear the judges on Chopped tsk-tsking over the possibility that some contestant will “overbeat” something. Overbeat? Maybe that’s something that happens only in New York. In my Indiana kitchen, overbeating is a myth.) It should be stiff and fluffy. Now mix in your vanilla extract.
6. Scrape or spoon it into your ramekins. It doesn’t matter one bit whether your crust and your dishes have cooled. It will rise the tiniest bit, so don’t heap it past the rim of the ramekins, but you can fill them virtually to the top. Distribute it however you like, and then just eat the rest…or put it in the fridge until morning and spoon it onto the kids’ french toast. (I’m not worried about raw eggs. Obviously.)
7. Put your kettle on and almost-boil some water. Pour an inch or so of almost-boiling water into the bottom of a baking pan, and then set your ramekins down into the water. Carefully move your pan into the hot oven. (The only tricky part is being sure not to splash any water into the cheesecakes. Keeping the water level low is the key.)
8. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. (No, that’s not a typo.) Then turn off the oven and leave your pan in there for about another hour. When you take the pan out of the oven, the middles should still be very jiggly, but the outside edges should look set.
9. Remove from the water bath and cool them on the countertop for a while. Then put them in the fridge for at least an hour. Serve topped with your sweetie’s favorite berries. (If you’re making this for Valentine’s Day, think red berries.)
You, your sweetie, and your bathroom scale are welcome!