Thursday, February 3

Cheesecake Tarts

We recently had guests ask if they could have their after-dinner dessert in the Coop instead of in the dining room; that way they could sit by the fire and take their time over a glass of wine and a game of Scrabble. We thought that was a lovely idea! 

I just had to choose a dessert that could sit unattended for an hour or so if necessary without worrying that it would get too cold, or too warm, or fall or melt or run. It also had to fit two servings under my glass cake dome. And, of course, it had to look and taste like a special treat.

I came up with individual brown sugar cheesecake tarts and topped them with butterscotch, pecans and chocolate. I think it did the trick, because the guests have asked for the recipe so they can make it again for Valentine's Day.

So here it is...

Cheesecake Tarts with Butterscotch and Pecans

These tarts are simple to make, freeze well, and are infinitely adaptable to a variety of toppings. Instead of butterscotch sauce, try topping them with fresh or cooked berries, roasted winter fruit, or a drizzle of chocolate fudge sauce.
Serves 6.

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans 
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To Finish
butterscotch or caramel sauce** (homemade or store-bought)
toasted pecans, coarsely chopped 
dark chocolate curls or shards
lightly sweetened whipped cream

Special equipment: six 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms*

Preheat oven to 350°F. Set six 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, mix together the crust ingredients. Divide mixture among tart pans, about 1/4 cup per pan, and press into the bottom and up the sides of each pan.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and light brown sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in egg until just combined. Beat in sour cream and vanilla extract. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared tart pans.
Bake until the edges are firm and the surface looks dry but the centers are still slightly jiggly, about 10-15 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack then refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Make ahead: At this point, the cheesecake tarts can be covered loosely in plastic and refrigerated for up to one day or frozen for up to one month (place un-covered tarts in the freezer until frozen, then wrap in plastic and foil and transfer to a thick freezer bag).

To Finish

Heat butterscotch sauce just until it pours freely. Spoon a puddle of sauce on a cheesecake then tip and rotate the tart until it is evenly glazed with a thin layer of sauce. Repeat with remaining tarts. Chill for 5 minutes.

Remove tarts from pans by lifting up from the bottom. Then slide a thin metal spatula between the pan bottom and the crust and slide the tart onto a plate.

Top each tart with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate curls and toasted pecans. Or, top the tarts with just the nuts and chocolate and serve the whipped cream on the side.

* 4-inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms are available at specialty kitchen supply stores (I got mine from Golda's Kitchen in Mississauga, Ontario). If you don't have them, you can use 4-inch ceramic ramekins lined with foil (use the foil to lift the cooled cheesecakes out); or use one 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom and slice the finished tart into wedges for serving.

** I used my homemade brown sugar butterscotch sauce -- which includes a generous splash of 18-year-old single malt scotch whiskey. You can make your own or use a good-quality store-bought caramel sauce.

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