One thing I look forward to every year when the weather starts cooling down and the days get shorter are pomegranates! I remember when I was young and these fruits were terribly rare, so getting to eat just one, juicy, messy, red pomegranate each year was such a treat. Nowadays, though, they're everywhere, but that doesn't mean I don't love them any less. I find that pomegranates are great for desserts and for sweet touches to savory dishes--I'll often make a pomegranate-orange-cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.
Anyways, here's a flavor combination that struck me last season why eating pomegranates: pomegranate-basil-vodka. And I *had* to put it on a cheesecake. Don't ask me why. I have no idea. But, despite how funny it may sound, trust me, they are good. So when Maria asked me to come up with a cheesecake dessert as part of her wedding dessert bar and when I found out she's Russian, I thought these pom cheesecakes with a hint of vodka and basil would be perfect.
I got my round mini cheesecake pans at Sur la Table, and they are awesome. I did lightly oil the sides, though, because I'm paranoid like that, but I had absolutely no problem sliding the desserts right out.
A quick note about the recipe here: I have to confess that I don't have exact ingredient amounts for the pomegranate-basil-vodka reduction because I sort of play it by feel, so please adjust what I've written here for your own preferences, whether you'd like a thinner or thicker sauce, less basil taste, or more vodka taste, etc. If you have any adjustments and improvements to share, I would love to hear them! For the cheesecakes, feel free to use your favorite cheesecake recipe. I personally like my cheesecakes baked, but I think this pomegranate sauce could work quite nicely with non-baked cheesecakes as well.
Read on for recipes...
Cheesecakes with Graham Cracker Crust
adapted from the Cheesecake Factory recipe.
makes about ~36 mini cheesecakes
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 tspn ground cinnamon
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg, cloves, or allspice
1/3 cup melted butter
1. Combine ingredients and mix thoroughly. Mixture will be crumbly, but when pressed between your fingers will stick together.
2. Press the crumb into your cheesecake mold, using a flat bottom to press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan and up the sides a little. (I found that about a Tbspn of crust was sufficient in these mini cheesecake molds, and I used the end of a small rolling pin to press the crumb down.)
3. Put the pan in the freezer while making the cheesecake filling.
For the cheesecake filling
(Note: I can't remember whether this makes too much filling or not...)
Have all filling ingredients at room temperature.
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
16oz. sour cream
1/4 cup flour
2 tspn vanilla
2 tspn lemon juice (don't skimp on the lemon juice! I find that it adds just the right taste to the cheesecake.)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy with mixer on low throughout.
3. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until creamy.
4. Add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Add flour, vanilla, lemon juice, and mix.
6. Add sour cream and beat well.
7. Pour the filling into your spring form pan.
8. Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes.
9. Do not remove from oven! Turn the oven off, prop open the oven door ~ an inch or two, and leave for 1 hour.
10. Remove from oven, let cool in the fridge for 24 hours to season.
Pomegranate Basil Vodka Reduction
makes enough for one squeeze bottle, but you really only need half a squeeze bottles for 36 mini cheesecakes.
1 bottle fresh Pomegranate juice (Pom's works, but Trader Joe's pomegranate juice is cheaper and just as good)
1 large pomegranate, seeded
a handful of large basil leaves
~1/3 cup vodka
1/4-1/3 cup sugar
1/4-1/3 cup cornstarch
empty teabags or cheesecloth with string
1. Shred basil leaves and stuff into teabag or cheesecloth.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine juice, pomegranate seeds, prepared basil bag, vodka, sugar and cornstarch. Whisk often to break up the cornstarch.
3. Bring to a boil and boil for about a minute. If the mixture is too runny still, simmer and reduce some of the liquid until desired consistency.
4. Pour mixture into a squeeze bottle with a large opening in the nozzle (large enough for pomegranate seeds to pass through). When mixture is cool, squeeze onto prepared cheesecakes.