Speaking of good, the delicious BC cherries have been here for a few weeks now, and my oh my do they ever make me happy. I’m a frequent visitor to the fruit truck at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, filling up my shopping bag with pounds of the red jewels. Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Until they’re gone. But, we won’t dare think of that right now, will we? Most often, I eat the cherries just out of hand. Biting into one, and tasting its sweetness, is one of the greatest joys in life, if you ask me. To bake with cherries, they have to be pitted, obviously, which can be a cumbersome task to some, but necessary if you value your dental work. To those, like me, who have a good cherry pitter and look for any excuse to use it, it’s a task I look forward to every summer. Besides, I love me a good cherry dessert something fierce, and if a little pitting is what it takes, then so be it. The hard part is deciding which dessert to make. Pie, of course, is always a favourite, and so is cheesecake. My unofficial coin toss declared it to be cheesecake, which just means I’ll bake a pie another time.
Thankfully, I recently found a recipe where you make mini cheesecakes in jars. Not wanting the commitment or the caloric trappings of a whole cheesecake in the house, I knew this smart (and tasty!) recipe was perfect for me. Julie Van Rosendaal, a Calgary-based food writer, makes a living writing smart and tasty recipes, and her cookbook Out of the Orchard: Recipes for Fresh Fruit from the Sunny Okanagan (TouchWood Editions) is a fantastic resource for summer stone fruit. Julie said to use graham crumbs, but I didn't have any in the house. As luck would have it, way in the back of the cupboard was a bag of chocolate cookie crumbs. Score! Chocolate and cherry is one of my favourite dessert combos ever. So, about these little cheesecakes. They are perfection. Just press buttered chocolate cookie crumbs into the bottoms of small jars, spoon in the cream cheese mixture (perhaps use handheld beaters, or your stand mixer to get the creamy filling super smooth), then top with a most glorious cherry compote. The neat thing about these cheesecakes is that you can transport them without much fuss. Just be sure the lids are screwed on tight, and pack them in a cooler. If you’re serving them outside, Julie recommends serving them on ice, so everyone can just grab a jar and go. These are a perfect make-ahead party dessert - they’ll keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. But, you don’t need a party make this dessert. To those of us who love cheesecake, any cheesecake, stopping at one jar is going to be a real problem.
I made these cheesecake jars one week ago - right before Sunny suddenly took ill. The kitchen sink had just finished draining when I took one look at him and knew we had to go to the vet. Hours later, Dixon and I sat on my couch, still numb with shock and grief at what had occurred that evening. We ate these small jars of dessert, with heavy hearts and swollen eyes. Cold and sweet, I savoured every bite.
Chocolate and Cherry Cheesecake Jars
1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
2 Tbsp melted butter
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
8 oz (250g) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 -3/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 cups fresh or frozen cherries, pitted
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1. To make the crust, stir together the cookie crumbs, melted butter, and sugar. Divide between the bottoms of 6-8 small (½ cup/125 ml) ring-top jars. Or, you can use 4 larger jars. Choice is yours!
2. To make the topping, bring the cherries, sugar and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the cherries are soft, squishing some of them against the side of the pan with your spoon. Remove from heat and set aside to cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
3. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, cream and vanilla until smooth. You may need to add more cream if you want the filling creamier. I use my stand mixer to get the filling super smooth. Divide between the jars, spooning it over the crust.
4. Spoon the chilled cherry topping over the cheesecakes. Screw on the lids and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve them, or for up to 3 days. Recipe inspired from Out of the Orchard, by Julie Van Rosendaal (TouchWood Editions).