This month, Elle at Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah at Taste and Tell hosted the Daring Bakers' Challenge of Cheesecake Pops from the cookbook Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. Basically, frozen balls of cheesecake, dipped in chocolate, on a stick. My husband was ecstatic! (He's a cheesecake nut.)
This was definitely going to be a challenge as I had never attempted a cheesecake in my life. My friend, Bethany, and I decided to undertake the first part of the task together: Make the Cheesecake. (This is her first month as a Daring Baker, hooray!) Armed with five pounds of cream cheese, we began. It was nice to bounce ideas off another live person during a challenge as opposed to just reading other's posts with their tips/comments. The cheesecake came out beautifully and was probably one of the best cheesecakes I've tasted.
All in all, the whole recipe was pretty painless (good recipe Jill O'Connor!) and, unfortunately, that makes for a pretty bland post. The most crazy parts were having to cut the top crust off the cheesecake so harder bits weren't in it and rolling the balls with my hands since the cheesecake refused to be scooped.
After the cheesecake cooled, I molded the balls. After the balls froze, I needed to dip them in chocolate. And here's where I got creative: I made carmelized sugar decorations to give them a "gourmet" look. Believe it or not, they were super easy to make.
You take about a cup and a half of sugar and over medium heat melt it until your pan is filled with a puddle of brownish goo. Cool the outside of the pan with a plunge into cold water (careful not to get any inside with the melted sugar) and stir until it thickens just a bit. Once you've got it here you need to work quickly before the caramel stuff hardens into something akin to enamel. Use a spoon and drizzle the goo onto wax paper. Get crazy with it.
Once you've got out as much as possible, put the pot into the sink and fill it with water. (If you let it soak, changing the water every 10 minutes or so, the sugar will dissolve completely on its own. Good luck trying to clean it any other way.) The sugar will harden and you can break it into decorative pieces. If you're way better than me you can drizzle specific shapes. I just went for the "general chaos" method.
Caution: Once the sugar has completely melted, quit cooking or else it will get a burnt marshmallow taste. (Can you guess how I know that?) Personally, I'm quite the fan of burnt marshmallows, but no one else in my family cares for them too much. Also, the flavor overpowered the entire pop so we had to eat the decoration and pop separately to really appreciate the cheesecake.
After I made the caramel thingies I proceeded to dip the balls, then quickly smoosh a decoration onto it. It was fun. But since our little town didn't have lollipop sticks, I had to use bamboo skewers. This gave it quite a kitchen-weapon sort of feel as I let the dipped pops harden by stabbing the skewers into a block of styrofoam. I quite enjoyed it.
But nothing was enjoyed quite as much as eating those little suckers. Talk about the perfect amount of cheesecake. More than a bite, but not too much that those little thoughts of "this is a lot of cheesecake" creep into your mind. For the next three days or so, after lunch and dinner we'd all reach into the freezer and grab a pop. So good. So delicious. So now a part of my go-to recipe collection.
All in all it took three days, start-to-finish. But it could have been done much shorter than that. The nice part was that it didn't have to be. Of course, leaving the cheesecake pops sans chocolate in the freezer for a week might develop odd flavors, but it's not like bread where you have a specific window of time for the work to be done or it's bye-bye end product.
Here's the recipe and it comes highly recommended by me (my comments in red).
Makes 30 – 40 Pops
5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)
Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional
Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.
In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.
Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.
Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls (Mine were about the size of a large walnut but they only weighed one oz. I think it was the perfect size though. Two ounces would have been pretty darn big.) and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.
When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety. (I melted the whole amount at once and working quickly, having enough time to dip them all while the chocolate was still dippable. (Yeah, that' s a word I just made up. I had a bit leftover that I mixed with some almonds for some chocolate-covered almond bark stuff. Don't let good chocolate go to waste.)
Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.
Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.
Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.