Last week I traveled to the Lower 48 to make desserts for an event. It was a celebratory affair with family and friends, full of hopeful moments. Similarly, I wanted the desserts I made to lift the spirit -- to be small, beautiful bites of optimism. These Key lime cheesecakes in mini Mason jars fit the bill perfectly, with their citrusy brightness and indulgent creaminess.
If you're intimidated by making larger cheesecakes, mini cheesecakes are a great place to start. With fewer steps, the absence of the often-terrifying springform pan and water bath combination, a shorter baking time, a much briefer trip to the refrigerator and no need to carefully slice the cake, mini cheesecakes can be the simpler way to go. As a bonus, the Mason jars make a lovely presentation when you're aiming to impress.
To enhance these cheesecakes, I added Key lime zest and juice to the filling and a shiny layer of tart Key lime curd on top. But the recipe is extremely versatile. Swap lemon for lime and top with fresh berries. Or make a classic vanilla cheesecake base and top with chocolate or caramel sauce just before serving.
For the crust:
1½ cups crushed graham crackers
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
pinch of salt
For the filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon Key lime zest
2 tablespoons Key lime juice
Key lime curd (optional)
24 (4-ounce) Mason jars
Put crushed graham crackers, sugar, melted butter and salt into a bowl. Stir to combine, until all the crumbs are moistened by the butter. Add 1-2 tablespoons of the graham cracker mixture to each Mason jar. Use the back side of your tablespoon to press the crumbs down firmly into the bottom of the jar to form a crust.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have two 13-by-9-inch baking pans ready.
In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Gradually pour in the sweetened condensed milk, followed by the eggs, zest and Key lime juice until combined.
Carefully pour the cheesecake batter into each Mason jar, filling each jar ¾ full.
Pour hot water into each of the baking pans, about one-third of the way up the sides. Gently line up the jars in the pans, 12 jars in each pan, being careful not to splash the water into the cheesecakes.
Bake the cheesecakes for 20-25 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pans from the oven, then gently remove the jars from the pan and set them on a wire rack to cool completely. Top with a spoonful of Key lime curd, if using, just prior to serving (you can find a recipe for homemade Key lime curd at alaskafromscratch.com). Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Alaska From Scratch