A couple of weeks ago at work, someone brought in key lime cookies from Trader Joe’s. I had never had them before. In fact, I have never been to a Trader Joe’s before. They don’t have them in West Virginia. That’s why I had to make my own Everything Bagel Minus the Bagel Spice.
Anyway, these cookies. One bite of the sweet, sour, crumbly goodness, and I was obsessed. I took a couple back to my desk and immediately started thinking about what I could make with them. I wanted something that wouldn’t overwhelm the perfection that is this cookie. It didn’t take long for the perfect answer to pop into my head – Cheesecake! It would be the perfect creamy counterpart to the cookies.
But honestly, who needs a whole cheesecake? Unless you’re hosting a huge party or attempting to recreate that one episode of Friends (in which case you’ll be eating cheesecake off the floor – but that’s your choice), you probably don’t need an entire cheesecake. Therefore, this recipe makes 6 individual, cupcake-sized cheesecakes – perfect for you and a few friends, or your roommates, or to bring to your parents. That way, you don’t have to invest in a whole bunch of money in cream cheese, spend hours huddled over the oven to make sure that your cheesecake doesn’t crack, or end up with more cheesecake than you can (or should I say should?) eat in one sitting. This is millennial cooking at it’s best – delicious, easy, unfussy, fast – something you can do for cheap after work and bring to your next get together.
Thankfully, my local grocery store has a decent approximation of the infamous Trader Joe’s cookies. Look for a lemon shortbread, probably covered in powered sugar.
Last thing before we get to the recipe. This recipe calls for zesting a lemon, which means that you’ll remove the yellow part of the rind of a lemon, while leaving the bitter white pith. The best way to do this is with a lemon zester, a one-use tool that spends the rest of the time clogging up your kitchen drawers. The second best way, I’ve found, is to use a sharp cheese grater. For those of us who haven’t gotten around to purchasing either of those tools, despite having lived on our own for a full year, a sharp knife will do the trick. If you’re careful.
Using a very sharp knife, you can peel the zest off the lemon in thin strips, by carefully and gently moving the knife parallel to the fruit. Continue around the whole fruit, avoiding the white pith.
Don’t figure that you can skip zesting the lemon and compensate by adding more lemon juice. The flavor in lemon juice is sensitive to heat, meaning that it changes when it’s baked. However, the oils in lemon zest are not sensitive, which means that most of the lemon flavor in dessert comes from the zest.
Finally, on to the recipe!
Difficulty – As cheesecakes go, this is pretty easy. You don’t mess with waterbaths or anything.
Time – 45 minutes (25 active), plus more to cool
- 1.5 cups lemon cookies (about 15 or so cookies, depending on their size)
- 1/2 stick of butter (1/4 cup)
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- zest of 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup sugar, or more or less to taste
- 1 egg
- oil to grease the pan, or cupcake liners or both
- Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Either grease the cupcake tin, or put liners in. The cupcake tin I used is a jumbo one, which is why my cheesecakes are so squat. If you have a normal sized tin, use that. Your cheesecakes may be taller.
- Prepare the crust. Crumble the cookies, either in a food processor or by using a plastic bag and a coffee mug. Place in a bowl and set aside. Melt the butter, and then add it to the cookie crumbs. Mix until the crumbs look like wet sand, and then divide equally between the tins. Using a shot glass or something similar, press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan.
- Prepare the batter. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl. Beat until smooth, or 2-3 minutes. Then, add the zest, juice, sugar, and egg. Mix until well combined. Pour about 1/4 cup of the cheesecake batter into the tins.
- Bake. Bake the cheesecakes for 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are set and the middle is just wobbly. Let cool completely before serving. It’s best if you allow it to cool at room temperature for 2-3 hours, then overnight in the fridge.
- Serve. These are good without topping, but a little lemon wedge is pretty.