Cheesecake is the perfect dessert. Not because it is universally loved (though that helps), and not because it's so easy to make (it's...not), but because it allows you to do what dessert should do - it allows you to express your creativity and passion in a way that brings pure joy to your guests' mouths. The cheesecake is the perfect vehicle for experimentation and conforms to whatever occasion or flavor profile you wish.
There is no hard and fast recipe that I use, but this is the basic outline of how to make the cheesecakes. I am putting this out in the world in hopes that it will inspire your creativity, and if it does, please please please let me know in the comments below.
The structure consists of the crust, an optional second layer, the cheesecake, the topping, then the garnish. All of this is in half-pint mason jars and cooked sous vide which completely eliminates most of the fear from making cheesecake since it's impossible that it will dry and crack. Any half-pint mason jar will work, but I highly recommend the wide-mouth variety. The ingredient amounts below make about 12 individual jars, though the ratios can be scaled up or down easily to make more or fewer.
Cookies or graham crackers
Brown Sugar (optional)
Semi-sweet chocolate chips - coarsely chopped (optional)
Combine cookies and butter in food processor until completely crushed. You want enough butter that the crushed cookie is moist and starts to clump and stick together. The exact amount will depend on the type of cookie you use. Add confectioner's sugar if your cookie and butter mixture is too "gritty." Mix in any additional sugar or other flavor (such as coffee grounds or additional chocolate chips).
Press about 1/8” to 1/4” of the mixture into the bottom of your mason jars firmly. I use a small wooden dowel wrapped in plastic wrap to help press the mixture down, though I’ve also used my fingers (this is a pain though).
Bake the crust in jars for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Long enough to set and smell really good. Allow to cool completely.
4 8-oz packages of Philadelphia cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 fl oz Heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
Lemon or orange zest (optional)
Set your water bath to 175 degrees.
Beat cream cheese and sugar in bowl until light and smooth. I recommend using an electric mixer here and the cream cheese is much easier to work with when at room temperature. Add eggs one at a time and beat until blended. I usually do this part by hand as opposed to with the electric mixer. Gently mix in heavy cream and vanilla.
At this point, if I am making a fruity cheesecake, I will add some orange or lemon zest (very fine shavings)
Add to the jars on top of the baked and cooled crust (or on top of the optional second layer). You can spoon it in, but using a piping bag helps considerably to get in in without getting it all over the jar. You can get disposable piping bags on the cheap at most grocery stores.
Close the jars, but not too tight - you want to see little air bubbles escaping when you submerge the jars in the water bath. Cook in water bath at 175F for 90 minutes. Remove carefully (I use kitchen tongs and a towel) and allow to cool before refrigerating for 12-24 hours. Make sure it has finished setting before adding topping.
Get creative! I have used fruity compotes, melted chocolate, caramel sauce, infused balsamic vinegar. This is one of the primary ways to define the cheesecake.
Opening the jar should be a delight. Garnish with something that pops both visually and with strong smell. I love fresh mint leaves, bits of chocolate, orange peel twists, finely ground espresso. Just make sure it is complementary with the topping. I recommend adding the garnish the same day you serve if you make the cheesecakes several days before serving.
Optional second layer
I am still experimenting here. A caramel sauce has worked well here, but I think you could do something nice and fruity. You just want it to be firm enough when cooled that it can act as a base for the cheesecake. Here is how I made the super easy caramel sauce:
1 package (11 oz) individually wrapped caramels
1 5oz can of condensed milk
Unwrap the caramels and place in a glass bowl. Add condensed milk. Microwave for 5-6 minutes, stopping to stir every minute, until smooth and creamy. Pour or spoon over crusts before it cools too much.