Mini Valentine’s Day Cheesecakes: A Trio

Good things come in threes. My sisters and I. The Lord of the Rings movies. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Appetizer, entree, dessert.

And cheesecakes! At least in my world.

These cheesecakes are sweet, decadent, and small enough where you can have a sample of each without feeling like you have to unbutton your pants stuffed! A perfect Valentine’s dessert for two, or one, if you’re not into that whole sharing thing.

Head over to North by Northwestern to check out my full post and get the recipes!

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pop Tarts

I tried to do too much this weekend. That happens sometimes. I spread myself too thin, put too much on my plate, or put too much pressure on myself. I kinda, sorta, maybe did that during my “relaxing” weekend at home
See, I got this idea in my head that I had to make every single recipe that I had bookmarked in the past week. I had to make blondies and pies and cupcakes and caramel and cookies. I was on a mission. 
I spent virtually all of Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. A prospect that normally would have had me tickled as pink as my KitchenAid. But I wasn’t. I was scattered and stressed and sloppy. And baking started to feel like something more akin to a chore. Soon, making the food was something I had to do, it was no longer something I wanted to do. 

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Salted Caramel Pretzel Cheesecake

As I have mentioned before, I work at a restaurant. And at said restaurant we have gelato – which is just fancy Italian ice cream. We have the regular flavors like Tahitian vanilla and dark chocolate and then there are some more interesting ones like caramel mascarpone pistachio and key lime pie. I have personally sampled every flavor a million times in the customers’ best interests. You know, for quality control purposes.

A lot of the flavors are inspired by favorite desserts (Traditional pumpkin pie = good. Pumpkin pie in ice cream form = ohmygoodness.). The opposite happened with me. I was inspired by the flavor salted caramel pretzel to create a dessert. And thus, the Salted Caramel Pretzel Cheesecake was born!
Now, I have never made a real, honest-to-goodness cheesecake before. With the springform pan and the water bath and the TWO POUNDS OF CREAM CHEESE. But, I was willing to take that bullet for the blog.
I searched and searched for a plain cheesecake recipe that I was willing to use – and finally found it at Simply Recipes. I love Elise’s blog and peruse it frequently and so should you! Her cheesecake recipe came from the incomparable Dorie Greenspan, Baking Maven Extraordinaire. I knew it would not disappoint. 
To make this a Salted Caramel Pretzel Cheesecake instead of just a regular ol’ vanilla cheesecake I substituted half of the graham crackers in the crust for crushed pretzels, used salted butter and topped the cake with salted caramel (duh) and more crushed pretzels. Di-vine. 
I wish I could honestly say that if this hadn’t turned out I would have been okay with it. If it had been too salty or pretzely or caramely (no such thing in my opinion), that I could have just shrugged it off. But I don’t think I could have. I am very good at following recipes – it’s why I love baking so much, the precision of everything. I’m a bit of a control freak and I am in complete control when I am in the kitchen. For this dessert I was doing two things I had never done – baking a cheesecake and making homemade caramel.
Being able to execute this dish has made me a more confident developer. It has inspired me to be willing to take more risks in the kitchen and to follow my gut (literally). 
Salted Caramel Pretzel Cheesecake (recipe adapted from Simply Recipes via Dorie Greenspan)
CRUST
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (a little less than a package and a half)
1 cup pretzel crumbs (I used about 20-30 of the small dipping rods)
2 TBSP sugar
Pinch salt
5 TBSP salted butter, melted
FILLING
2 pounds (4 8oz. packages) cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or regular extract, I just like the little flecks of vanilla from the paste)
4 large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 350, move rack to bottom third of oven.
Mix the graham cracker, pretzel crumbs salt and sugar in a bowl with your hands. Add the melted butter and mix until all the crumbs are wet. Press crumbs into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan that has been wrapped tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil. Bake for 8-10 minutes until crust is golden brown and fragrant. Remove from oven to cool. Lower the temperature to 325. Put 2 quarts of water on to boil.
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add in the sugar and beat for another 4 minutes. Add the salt and vanilla, beat until incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions to ensure all the cream cheese is thoroughly blended into the mixture and there aren’t any clumps floating around. Add the sour cream and whipping cream and beat until incorporated. 
Place springform pan (with cooled crust) in a roasting pan (or if you’re like me, a large skillet) that is deep enough to fill with water halfway up the side of the pan (about 1.25 inches). Pour the filling over the cooled crust, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Place pan in the oven and fill with the boiling/hot water. This keeps the cake moist and prevents it from cracking.
Bake in preheated oven for 90 minutes. Turn of the heat and crack the oven door an inch. Leave the cake in the oven for another hour to cool; this will also prevent cracks from forming on the top of the cheesecake.
Cover cooled cheesecake with foil and chill in the refrigerator for at least four hours, if not overnight.
While the cheesecake cools, prepare the salted caramel sauce. 
Salted Caramel Sauce (adapted from the Amateur Gourmetvia Zoe Nathan from Food & Wine Magazine)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Do not stir.
Using a wet pastry brush, wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Boil over high heat until the sugar turns a deep amber color, about 6 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully (read: SLOWLY) whisk in the cream. Add the butter and salt. 
Pour the caramel into a glass jar or bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Makes about 1 ½ cups sauce.
Covered, the caramel will last for two weeks in the fridge. 
Tip: If your sugar recrystallizes when you add the cream, don’t fret. Continue stirring and turn the stove back on to medium heat. Allow the sugar to bubble and nearly boil again, about 5 minutes. Remove again from heat and continue as directed, stirring constantly.
Once the cheesecake has chilled, and you are ready to top with caramel sauce, remove foil from top and set pan on plate or cake stand. Run the edge of a blunt knife (I used a butter knife) around the perimeter of the cake, loosening it. Using a blow dryer on low heat circle the pan a few times to take the chill off the pan and more easily remove the form. Unlock the form and slowly pull up to remove.
Top the cheesecake with ½ – 1 cup of caramel and smooth the top. Add crushed pretzels to finish.
Leftover caramel, meet spoon. Spoon, meet my mouth.
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