Cheesecake can sometimes be thick and pasty. One way to avoid this is to add the dense cream cheese to a light and delicate flan mixture. The result is both body and lightness, relatively speaking. The individual flans are inverted on top of a homemade graham cracker base. Orange caramel on top provides a tart palate-cleansing blast of sweet and sour.
Hint: The cheesecake flans can be made in round ramekins or in oval molds.
For the caramel:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
For the cheesecake:
6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/3 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
For the orange sauce:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh orange juice, warmed
1/2 medium peach, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch thick julienne
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
6 Graham Cracker Cookies (recipe follows), cut to the size of the tops of the ramekins
Place 5- to 6-ounce 2-inch high ramekins in a deep baking dish.
For the caramel, combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and stir just to moisten the sugar. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer about 9 to 10 minutes without stirring, until the sugar has melted and caramelized and is medium amber in color. If any sugar crystal cling to the side of the pan as the sugar boils, brush down with a pastry brush dipped in water. To check the color, use a fork to drizzle a small amount in a white plate.
Immediately pour about 1 tablespoons of the caramel into the bottom of each ramekin and rotate the ramekin to coat the bottom.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F.
For the cheesecake, bring water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler large enough to accommodate the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the cream cheese and milk in the owl of the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whip until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer, place over the simmering water, and whisk with a hand whisk until slightly warm and creamy. Return to the mixer, add the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice, and whisk until thoroughly combined.
Fill a pitcher with very hot tap water. Set the baking pan with the ramekins on the oven rack and pour enough water into the pan to reach halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the cheesecakes are set. Carefully remove the baking pan from the oven, remove the ramekins from the water bath, and place on a cooling rack. When they have reached room temperature, cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate to chill the cheesecakes and soften the caramel, 4 to 6 hours or, preferable, overnight.
For the orange sauce, combine the sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and stir just to moisten the sugar. Place over medium heat and bring to boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes, and is a medium amber color. Add the orange juice and peach. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook to reduce the cause by about one-third, to about 3/4 cup of liquid. The flesh of the peach will help thicken the sauce. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and discard the peach slices. Let the sauce cool, then add the Grand Marnier.
To serve, loosen the cheesecakes from the ramekins by wrapping a warm towel around the bottom of each one and running a knife or small palette knife around the edges of the cheesecake. Place a cookie in the center of each serving plate, invert a ramekin onto each cookie, and life the ramekin. If the cheesecake doesn’t release, dip the bottom of the ramekin in a dish of hot water for several seconds. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the orange sauce around each cheesecake.
Graham Cracker Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen cookies
1 1/4 cups crushed graham crackers (about 10 whole store-bought grahams) or graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup almond meal or very finely ground almonds
1/4 cup hazelnut meal or very finely ground hazelnuts
3 tablespoons finely ground pistachios
11 tablespoons (5 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
In a medium bowl, combine the crushed grahams, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 3 to 5 minutes, scraping the bowl as necessary, until well combined and lightened in texture. Mix in the egg until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the graham cracker mixture.
The dough will be sticky and somewhat soft. It if is too difficult to work with, chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour to firm.
To form the dough into a log: Slightly dampen the work surface, to anchor the plastic, and lay out two overlapping pieces of plastic wrap to form and 18-inch square. The size of the dough can vary depending on the size of the cookie you want to make. If the cookies will be used as a base for the cheesecakes, the log of dough should be about the same diameter as the tops of the ramekins. Place the dough about 6 inches up from the bottom of the edge of the plastic wrap and mold it into a log about 7 inches long. Pull the plastic wrap up over the log and press down on the far side of the log, being careful not to catch the plastic wrap in the dough. Using a ruler, or the blade of chef’s knife, push the dough toward you from the far side of the log to seal the plastic and straighten the roll. Slowly roll the dough up in the plastic wrap, pinching it from the sides as you roll to compact the dough. The finished roll should be about 5 to 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Twist both ends of the roll and tie with kitchen twine. Trim the ends of the plastic wrap.
Refrigerate, standing on one end, until firm, at least several hours, or preferably overnight. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.)
Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or Silpats (or line just one sheet if you are only baking 6 cookies for the cheesecakes.)
Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place on the baking sheets (the cookies will spread, so place only 6 on each sheet) and bake for about 12 minutes, or until crisp and golden.
To trim the cookies for the cheesecakes, transfer the hot cookies to a work surface and cut them using a cutter the size of the top of the ramekin. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.