The Setting: The end of a slow and lazy Sunday in the wintry Midwest.
The Soundtrack: King of the Hill.
On the Stovetop: Kale frittata.
The Scenario: Recalling the perfect ending to an Irish meal...or any meal, really.
My first meal in Ireland (September 2010) set the tone for an unforgettable culinary adventure: loads of brown bread and butter to start, creamy roasted vegetable soup and deliciously flaky salmon in the middle, and a lovely, individual Irish-cream cheesecake to end on.
The cheesecake was light and creamy with a subtle hint of coffee and a crumbly chocolate-chip cookie crust. I knew right away I wanted to re-create it at home, but I was afraid I wouldn't do it justice.
The cheesecake's mousse-like texture and lack of skin on top suggested it was of the no-bake, gelatin-set variety. I had never attempted this kind of cheesecake, but I had worked with gelatin in culinary school and hoped I could figure it out.
The basic rules to working with powdered gelatin are these:
1. Let the gelatin absorb a small amount of liquid for about five minutes. This is called blooming because the gelatin gets all puffy and swollen.
2. Melt the gelatin so that it can be incorporated into the remaining ingredients.
3. Mix the gelatin into the remaining ingredients while it's still warm and fluid. This is a critical stage. If the gelatin starts to solidify before it's fully incorporated into the base mixture, the cheesecake will have gelatin blobs running throughout, like tiny little gummy snacks--not the worst thing ever, but certainly not the smooth cheesecake texture we're going for.
4. Chill the mixture to let the gelatin set. These mini cheesecakes will set within about one hour, but the texture and flavor will be better after several hours and even better on day two.
Even the crust on these no-bake cheesecakes is un-baked. It's meant to be a little on the crumbly side and only uses 1 T butter to bind the crumbs together. The key is to really compact the moistened crumbs down in the muffin liners to make them stick together. The result is a crust that stays together when you take it out of the liner but crumbles easily under your fork.
The cheesecakes are fine unadorned--I ate several this way because I was feeling lazy and impatient. They will, however, look and taste a little like something's missing.
To dress them up, I tried to make a whipped topping out of coconut cream (the thick, fatty layer from the top of a can of coconut milk) but I couldn't get it to hold soft peaks. I had to add a hefty amount of actual cream to get it to whip up, but the subtle flavor from the coconut cream was nevertheless delightful. Whether you choose to go this route or stick to an all-dairy-cream approach, definitely go for a topping of some sort. For the final touch, I like to use a cheap veggie peeler to lightly grate flecks from a block of semisweet baking chocolate right over the top.
Mini No-Bake Irish Cream Cheesecakes
1 3/4 cups chocolate-chip-cookie crumbs (I used about six Gluten-Free Double Chip Cookies, processed to crumbs in the food processor)
1 T butter, melted
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
8 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp fine salt
1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur
whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings, for garnish
Combine the cookie crumbs and the melted butter, attempting to moisten the crumbs evenly.
Divide the moistened crumbs evenly among the 12 cups in a standard-sized muffin pan lined with muffin liners.
Use a spoon (or your hands) to press the crumbs very firmly into the bottoms and partially up the sides of the cups. Set aside.
Whisk together the gelatin and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a small, microwave-safe bowl.
Set aside and allow to "bloom" for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and salt on med-high speed till smooth and creamy. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the Irish cream and remaining heavy cream. Increase the speed to medium and beat till smooth and creamy, 1-2 minutes. scraping down the bowl as necessary.
After the gelatin has bloomed (basically absorbed a good bit of the cream) for 5 minutes, microwave the gelatin mixture for 25 seconds to melt the gelatin. Whisk in the espresso powder.
With the mixer on med-low, slowly pour the melted gelatin mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Increase speed to med-high and beat till fluffy and voluminous, about 2 minutes.
Divide the mixture evenly among the cookie crusts and refrigerate for at least one hour, optimally 6-8, before serving.
To serve, carefully remove the liner from one of the cheesecakes, place on a plate, and top with a dollop of whipped cream and a grating of dark chocolate for some finishing flavor and flair.
Makes 12 mini cheesecakes.
Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.