Strawberry Swirl Cheesecakes

My valentine will be at a sales meeting in Phoenix next week, so we're celebrating a little early this year.  Friday night steaks, sauteed spinach, twice baked potatoes and little strawberry cheesecakes.  Yum.  Trust you have some fabulous ideas for your own celebration, but if you need a dessert suggestion I'm here for you.  Quite possibly I am literally here for you, because at this moment I have 10 little cheesecakes baking in my oven and if you do the math that means I'll have at least 6 leftover even if I share them with Sara and Quinn.  Maybe Purdue girl, Kelly will come home and help me out.  :)

This recipe is adapted from a Wolfgang Puck column published a few years ago in the Indianapolis Star.  I have a very fat recipe binder with plastic sleeves, those magnetic pages, punched printouts from online and divider pockets.  This page is marked with a colorful paperclip too so I can easily track down one of my favorites.  Wolfgang starts with a cooking a quick strawberry compote and in-season I use fresh strawberries, but in February frozen strawberries are half the price and perfectly suited for cooking down in a compote.  He also uses "fully-leaded" dairy products (in my kitchen, that's full fat).  I've always made this with neufatchel (or one-third less fat) cream cheese for two reasons:  1. no softening required and 2.  no difference in taste or texture and saving some fat and calories.  I know it's a dessert, but there is no difference and a little savings here and there always helps.  Do not use fat free cream cheese EVER.  Horrid.  End of discussion.  I usually employ reduced fat sour cream for the same two reasons listed for reduced fat cream cheese.  This time I actually did not have sour cream (oops) so I substituted plain fat free Greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt is nice and thick.  I wouldn't try this with regular yogurt unless you wanted to bother with straining it for a few hours.  I keep a big tub of Fage 0% Greek yogurt in my refrigerator at all times.  I am rather addicted to muesli with yogurt, peanut butter, honey and a banana for breakfast.  Never hungry until lunch.  Excellent.

The little cheesecakes are baked in little one-cup ramekins.  Ramekins are easy to find at Crate and Barrel, Cost Plus World Market, Pier One, Target and etc.  Inexpensive, useful and cute.

So, where were we?  Probably ready for the recipe.  Enjoy!

Strawberry-Swirl Cheesecakes

Strawberry Compote
4 cups fresh strawberries, cleaned and cut into thick slices or 1 12-16 oz. bag frozen strawberries
3/4 C sugar
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks

Spago Cheesecake Filling (adapted)
3 8-oz. packages reduced-fat cream cheese (NOT FAT FREE, please I am begging you)
1 1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 T dark rum
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs

kettle of boiling water

fresh berries and real whipped cream for garnish, if desired

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Spray 10-12 one-cup ramekins with cooking spray.  Get out a big baking pan that will hold the ramekins.  You might need to use two pans.

Make the strawberry compote by combining all of the ingredients in a non-stick saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens and just coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 15 minutes.  Remove cinnamon sticks and let cool a bit.

Make the cheesecake filling in a stand mixer.  Cream the cream cheese, sugar and salt at medium speed scraping the sides and bottom as needed.  Once the mixture is smooth, raise the speed to high and beat until lightened and creamy, maybe five minutes.  You can't really do this wrong.  Add the sour cream or yogurt, rum, lemon juice and vanilla and continue beating until well-blended.  Add the eggs and beat just until combined.

Bring a kettle of water to boil.

Arrange the ramekins in your baking pan(s).  Spoon a generous tablespoon of compote into each ramekin.  Reserve leftover compote in the refrigerator until serving.  Fill each ramekin with the cheesecake filling (3/4 to all the way full, your choice).  Place the baking pans in the oven leaving the rack safely pulled out partway so you can very carefully pour the boiling water around the ramekins.  You are making a bain-marie, water bath, for the cheesecakes so they do not crack when baking.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cheesecakes begin to pull away from the sides of the ramekins and are almost firm to the touch.  Carefully remove the pan from the oven.  Know where you are taking it so you do not scald yourself with the water bath.  Carefully lift the ramekins out of the pan and place on a wire rack to cool (I have silicone tipped tongs that work great for this).  Refrigerate, covered at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge and invert onto a serving plate.  If they stick, dip the bottoms of the ramekins in hot water for 30 seconds to loosen and try again.  Or, just eat them out of the ramekins.  Nothing wrong with that presentation either.  Serve with reserved compote and a little fresh fruit, if desired.  Go all out and add a garnish of light whipped cream (you know, the real stuff in the can, Trader Joe's is good) if you have it, but for the sake of good food never serve these or anything with artificial whipped topping.  A little preachy here, but I am doing you a favor.  You are worth real food.

Happy Valentine's Day!
things I forgot to pose: yogurt, salt

compote warming up

cream cheese, sugar and salt ready to blend

compote nicely thickened

adding the eggs, rum, vanilla and lemon juice

spoonfuls of compote deliciousness in the ramekins

cheesecake filling distributed

boiling water in left hand, camera in right = very precarious kitchen situation

all done!

cooling on the rack


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