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Discerning Diner

Cheesecake to top off Easter dinner? Sweet!

By Elan Head

April 15, 2006

Happy Easter!

I wonít be able to make it home for the holiday this year, so instead Iím having a few friends over for Easter dinner.

Thereís nothing too complicated on the menu: just a leg of lamb, roasted potatoes and plenty of good wine.

That, and cheesecake.

When I was casting about for dessert ideas, my mind stuck on cheesecake ó chocolate cheesecake in particular.

I wanted something I could make in advance, and cheesecake fit the bill. But I also wanted it to be quick and easy, so after a little thought, I decided to ditch the traditional crumb crust.

I donít know about you, but Iíve always preferred the cheesecake to the crust, anyway.

Finally, I wanted something I could serve with minimal fuss. So instead of making one large cheesecake that I would have to slice at the table, I decided to make individual cheesecakes in ramekins ó which are suggestive of Easter baskets, anyway.

With my mission clear, all I needed was a recipe.

After some experimentation, and guided by the tangy chocolate cheesecake in Alice Medrichís terrific cookbook Bittersweet, I hit upon the following formula.

I donít know if itís the platonic chocolate cheesecake or not, but itís extremely good and it sure couldnít be simpler.

Hereís what you do. Empty one 8-ounce package of cream cheese into a food processor and allow it to come to room temperature (or something like it) while you prepare the ramekins.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter eight ramekins and set them in a baking dish. Fill a tea kettle with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Put it on the stove to heat while you prepare the batter.

Finely chop four ounces of best-quality bittersweet chocolate. (For my experiments, I used El Reyís 73.5 percent extra-bitter dark, available at the Tempe Whole Foods.)

Measure two tablespoons of water into a microwave-proof measuring cup. Heat in the microwave until the water starts to boil (about 20 seconds).

Stir the chocolate into the water. The water should be hot enough to melt the chocolate, but if itís not, return the cup to the microwave for another five to 10 seconds, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

Pulse the cream cheese in the food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Add a half cup of sugar and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract and pulse again.

Add one egg and pulse just until incorporated into the batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add another egg and pulse again.

Now blend in the contents of one 8-ounce container of sour cream.

Finally, scrape the chocolate mixture into the batter and pulse just to blend. If you beat in too much air at this point, youíll have bubbles on the top of your cakes (though theyíll still taste just fine).

Divide the batter among the ramekins, taking a moment to wipe up any dribbles. The water in your kettle should be boiling or close to it; pour it into the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Transfer the entire assembly to the oven.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 35 minutes, until the cheesecakes are just set but are still quite moist when checked with a toothpick. Remove from the oven and let cool in the water bath for an hour.

Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and chill for at least three hours, or up to 48. Just before serving, you can garnish the cheesecakes with jelly beans and spun sugar, or dust the tops with cocoa or powdered sugar.

Or simply serve them as is, which works for me!

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