Cranberry Orange Mini Cheesecakes

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I ‘was able to’ participate in a charity bake sale on Monday, and as part of our Social Committee (wheee….cough cough) I was lucky enough to be a Main Contributor!  That actually just means that I got to splurge on more groceries (reminding self:  it’s for charity) and prepare twice as much food (it’s for charity) for the table.  And then I got to pay again to buy it back for lunch (CHARITY).  Oh well, it’s for a good cause and all that jazz.

Anyway, potlucks and bake sales are kind of a crap shoot and I always worry over what to bring.  If I do a pasta dish will they think I’m cheap?  (Answer: yes)  Should I do something bland to try to please all palates, or aim for more flavorful ethnic fare and hope for the best?  (Answer:  it doesn’t matter.  It really just doesn’t matter).  My colleagues are such an eclectic and ethnically diverse lot that whatever you make is bound to be well received by at about half the group…but only half the group, and the other half won’t touch it.  Ergo, you might as well just please yourself.

I opted for a giant aluminum chaffing dish full of oven baked jerk chicken drumsticks, possibly because the meat happened to be on sale, and about 5 dozen mini cheesecake bites.  A little bit spicy and a little bit safe was my approach, and it seemed to work just fine.  Judging by the scattered crumbs and lack of leftovers we had at the end of the day, I’d say we did fairly well as a group.

More importantly, however, making mini cheesecakes meant that I was able to use up some leftover cranberry sauce.  From Thanksgiving….or possibly Easter.  It’s hard to say, really.  Every turkey-based holiday (which for our families happens to be most of them) yields a fresh batch of cranberry sauce which gets shipped home with us and languishes in the fridge for a few days before I break down and put it in the freezer…..for an indeterminate length of time.

The thing about cranberry sauce, however, is that it’s actually invincible. One day, when robots take over the world and raze down all the remaining evidence of the previous human civilization, they will kick their tinny robot boots through ash and char and find nothing but a few cockroaches and a half dish of grandma’s cranberry sauce.  True story.  It is due to just such quality predictions that I’m thinking of changing my name to Nostra-Tinus.  I think it’s kind of catchy.  Also:  the Leafs are not actually going to win the Stanley Cup this year.  Jeez, I’m getting good at this.  Okay, quick, someone throw me a fiver and I’ll predict the name of your next house plant.  (Note:  It’s ‘Aloe G’.  You can money up at the end of this post)

But getting back to the cranberry and orange mini cheesecakes, they were my offering of choice for 2 reasons:

1) Yes, the ability to use leftover cranberry sauce was a big bonus.  This is key for all you Yanks, considering that Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

2) My laziness knows no bounds, and this is one of the easiest potluck sweets that I could think of to make for a crowd.

Speaking of feeding a crowd, I made about 5-6 dozen.  Okay, that’s a lot of cheesecake, even for someone like me.  For you, because I care, I have halved the recipe.  If you were making mini cheesecakes for a crowd, or because you just watched Paranormal Activity and danggit if you’re sleeping tonight so you might as well do something productive and delicious, the original recipe is at the bottom of this post.

I adore rich, creamy cheesecakes but using yoghurt lightens up the texture so they’re fluffy and less dense.  The tart yoghurt pairs nicely with cranberries, and (like most of my desserts) you won’t find these little two bite indulgences to be too sweet.  They may not have been particularly photogenic, but I would say that might have something to do with the fact that it was Sunday night at 11pm and after mini-cheesecake #44 my urge to be tidy and aesthetically pleasing had abandoned me.  Anyway, dubious photos aside, they’re still a nice salve for the aching sweet tooth without having as much of a post-consumption guilt factor.

Cranberry Orange Mini Cheesecakes

Makes about 2.5 dozen, give or bake

Crust:

  • 3/4 cup +  2 tbsp Graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2.5 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger *

Filling

  • 16 0z (2 bricks) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup yoghurt
  • 1.5 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup home made whole cranberry sauce or fruit pie filling**

* You know that you should use up or replace your spices every 6-9 months, right?  You should also throw out your mascara after 4 months, change your oil every 3 months, and call your cranky uncle every 12 months on his birthday.  But do you do these things?  No.  Ground ginger is one of those spices that lingers in my spice rack for far longer than I’d like to admit.  For that reason, I ended up using almost a full teaspoon of stale tawny dust.  Yeepers!  I imagine that if you were more responsible than me, which isn’t a difficult feat to achieve, a half teaspoon would probably do you fine.

** This is not the time for canned cranberry sauce which gloops out of the can in an “it’s painful to pass that” kind of way.  And I don’t mean pass that down the table, nudge nudge.  Anyway, you want a higher quality and home made cranberry sauce that still has recognizable cranberries in it. It should also be fairly thick.  If your sauce is watery and loose, dissolve 1 tsp of corn starch in 1 tbsp of water (or orange juice) and mix it in.  Heat the cranberry sauce at a simmer until it thickens up, and let the sauce cool completely before spooning it on top of the cheesecakes.  It’s also worth noting that my cranberry sauce always has some orange & lemon zest in it.  If yours doesn’t, you may want to stir 1 tsp of orange zest into the mix to echo the orange flavor and really make it pop.  As for the ‘fruit pie filling’ thing, well, I know that not everybody makes cranberry sauce on the holidays.  If you choose to use a canned cherry pie filling (of a color not found in nature) or what they like to label ‘blueberry’, these bites will still be delicious.  I might pout a bit, mind you, but only temporarily.

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Preheat your oven to 325ºF with your racks in the center positions.

In a medium bowl mix together the graham crumbs, ground ginger, and 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Drizzle the melted butter over top and stir it all together until it starts to clump together like damp sand.

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Beat the cream cheese until it’s smooth and lump free.  Add the yoghurt, sugar and vanilla.  Beat for another minute or two until the yoghurt has all been incorporated.  Crack the eggs in one at a time and continue beating until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

If you’re going to use a stand mixer to do this, be sure to regularly scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as well as the attachment.  A hand-held electric beater/mixer does just as well, and you also have the luxury of licking it clean afterward.  Not that you couldn’t lick your giant KitchenAid flat beater, but…it’s somewhat lacking in the grace department when you do.

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Add the orange zest to the mixture and give it a stir to mix it through.

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Line 2 mini muffin pans with small paper cupcake liners.  Spoon a small amount of the crumb crust (about 1.5 tsp) into the bottom of each cup and press it firmly with your fingers to pack it down in a flat and even layer.

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Dollop the cream cheese mixture inside the cups until it comes about 3/4 of the way up the sides.  You don’t need to really bother trying to even out the tops, because inevitably the cream will swell and settle down nicely as it bakes.

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Bake the mini cheesecakes in the center of your oven for 25 minutes or until they’re puffed and just barely starting to turn a pale golden hue around the edges.

When the cheesecakes have cooled, spoon a small amount (1 tsp or less) of the thick cranberry sauce on top of each one.

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These tart but indulgent little fluffy bites are festively flavored with cranberry and orange, and look perfectly at home on a buffet sweets table.  Or in my mouth.  They look good there too.

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My favorite thing about mini cheesecakes?  They’re really, really hard to mess up.  And believe me, I’ve tried.  If they crack on top it doesn’t matter – the beasties will settle down and fill in again as they cool, and you’re going to dollop cranberry sauce on top of all the sins, regardless.

This is also a great treat to make with your offspring, because wee ones love tiny bite sized things and they’re great little helpers around the holidays when you want to spend some family time together.  Okay, I totally lied.  It has nothing to do with spending time with your kids.  It’s actually just because their teensy little child hands are PERFECT for packing down the crumb crust into the mini molds.   So, sue me.  I’m not into diapers and crying fits, but I wouldn’t mind having a tiny kitchen helper to help out with some of the boring grunt work once in a while.

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And now for the “cookie exchange” sized recipe!  So if you were going to feed a crowd and wanted to make several MORE dozen mini cheesecakes, the full measurements are below (makes about 5 dozen).

Crust:

  • 1 +3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Filling:

  • 32 oz (4 bricks) cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated orange zest
  • 3/4 cup home made whole cranberry sauce

Prepare as directed above and then find a large group of skinny people on whom you can pawn off your new treats.

  • Sandra

    These look awesome!! You definitely need to start participating in our company Bake Sales.

  • http://www.tobiascooks.com tobias cooks!

    they look great and seem to be easy to make. I like the recipe a lot.

  • jenb

    Okay, so I also have cranberry sauce leftover from Thanksgiving. Which has been in two closed containers at the back of the fridge. One of my housemates thinks it’s expired and should be chucked, and another thinks it’s perfectly fine – it’s got sugar and orange juice in it, so it might as well be considered jam, and hasn’t grown any mold. I’m siding with housemate number 2 but to be on the safe side, was going to use it up in a cranberry ribbon cake (plain ol’ vanilla butter-based cake, baked in a bundt pan, with a ribbon of cranberry sauce through the middle. What do you think??

  • http://cookiebakerlynn.blogspot.com Lynn

    I don’t have homemade cranberry sauce on hand, but these look like they’re worth making the sauce for. I love the itty bitty size – perfect for tasting but not feeling like you’ve swallowed a boat anchor.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Sandra – hey, I’ll always donate for a good cause! Even if I do grumble sometimes when the last tray is going into the oven about 4 hours before I need to wake up.

    Tobias – thank you so much! I’m always a sucker for cheesecake 🙂

    Jenb – hehehe. I’m so glad that someone else is in the same boat! I’m not kidding, we have about 4-5 containers of cranberry sauce. Some in the freezer, some in our upright, some in the fridge…. I am totally siding with housemate #2. God help me, because I’m usually such a stickler on food safety, but I truly believe that cranberry sauce is immune to deterioration and disease. I once ate leftover cranberry sauce in July. And yes, Easter was in early April. It tasted exactly like it had 3 months previous and I never got ill……alarming, but true. I also once ate a piece of grocery store birthday cake (the kind made from flour, fat and chemicals) before realizing that it had been there….a looooong time. It was a bit dry, true, but otherwise okay. Huh. These are things I shouldn’t admit so openly.

    Anyway, your cranberry ribbon cake sounds gorgeous!! What a great idea, and I fully support the usage!!

    • JenB

      So, just wanted to follow up to let you know that cranberry ribbon cake has been made and consumed and everyone loved and no one has died! Hurrah!

      I made this: http://coconutlime.blogspot.com/2006/11/cranberry-ribbon-cake.html and even had the ultimate compliment – someone asked for the recipe! Haha!

      I also found some cranberry sauce (wild, nonetheless) from my gramma, dated 2007. Now, that? Is too old and I will toss it, but still – she picked those berries! On her hands and knees! With two artificial hips and professional knee pads! (Read: please don’t tell her!)

      • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

        That recipe looks great. Coconut Lime is such a great site! I have nothing but respect for her. Oh god, that’s too funny about your grandmother’s sauce. NOTHING makes you feel as guilty as having to throw out something that a loved one put time, effort, or their limited mobility into!