If you’ve read our about page, you know that Chungwon has a bit of a scary obsession with strawberries. I played the “two foods for the rest of your life” game with her and, no surprise, ‘Korean strawberries’ were the first words to come out of her mouth. They are apparently way better than North American strawberries and yes, I’m already frustrated that I haven’t tried them. I’ve known this girl for ten years now and her face still lights up with ridiculous pleasure whenever she is presented with almost anything strawberry-related (the exception being anything that portrays strawberries unattractively, which revolts her to her core.)
Anyway, for years, she has dreamed of the perfect strawberry cheesecake. It’s trickier than you might think. How, for instance, do you achieve intense strawberry flavour without watering down a rich, dense cheesecake filling?
We’re so glad that we (and science) found the answer. It’s these:
Freeze-dried strawberries. They’re not exactly a grocery store staple, but you can look for them at gourmet/specialty stores. For any of our neighbours to the south, I believe Trader Joe’s has your back. (edit: I just visited you and you bastards have freeze dried strawberries everywhere)
Because they can be easily crushed to a fine powder, they provide exactly the strawberry flavour you want without effectively ruining the dense, melt-in-your-mouth texture that Chungwon absolutely requires of a cheesecake. If you can’t find these freeze-dried wonders, or strawberries just aren’t your jam (in which case, good luck befriending Chu), the hazelnut version of this recipe is just as lovely.
Making these little beauties individually also means they will bake and cool much faster than a whole cheesecake. And I don’t know about you, but less waiting time before eating is always a plus in my book.
The recipe starts off like any other good cheesecake recipe. With a crust made from cookie crumbs and a bit of butter. The original recipe calls for oreo crumbs, but as you can see from our pictures, we didn’t have any on hand, so we substituted graham cracker crumbs and added a spoonful of cocoa because we felt guilty about forgetting the oreo thing. Regardless of what kind of crumbs you go with, the important thing is to pack the crust firmly onto the bottom of each muffin cup and set aside.
For the filling, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. It’s really best to use room temperature cream cheese but I’ll let you in on a little secret: if you were slightly careless and forgot to take your cream cheese out of the fridge, you can microwave it for about 15-20 seconds and it’ll soften right up. DON’T FORGET TO TAKE OFF THE FOIL WRAPPER BEFORE YOU MICROWAVE IT. I am not responsible for any kitchen accidents related to this tip. I have lawyer friends.
Into the beaten cream cheese, mix in sugar and vanilla and beat further until smooth. Then beat in an egg, followed by the flour, followed by another egg, mixing very thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.
If you’re doing the full recipe, I would recommend using a hand mixer. Since we were only making half the recipe on this particular occasion, I got my workout on beating the filling by hand.
Now that you have a lovely vanilla cheesecake filling, divide this mixture in half. To one half, mix in some vanilla bean paste – this addition is totally optional but it gives the cheesecakes those pretty little specks of vanilla bean seeds. To the other half, mix in your freeze-dried strawberry powder.
But how did you make that powder?
We dumped some freeze-dried strawberries in a double layer of plastic sandwich bags and went at it with a meat mallet. Seriously. That’s how we did it.
Take your strawberry cheesecake mixture first and spoon about 1½ tbsp of it on top of the crust in each muffin cup, being careful not to get too much batter up the sides of the muffin cup. I’m not specifying this because that’s what I did and Chungwon yelled at me for being messy. OK fine, that’s what happened.
Gently shake the pan or use a spoon to help even out the strawberry layer. Then spoon a layer of vanilla filling on top of each cheesecake and again, gently shake the pan to even out. Don’t be alarmed that the batter fills pretty much right up to the top of each muffin cup – this is expected.
Bake at 325°F for about 18-20 minutes or until the filling is completely set. Remove from the oven and allow cheesecakes to cool completely in the pan before transferring to the fridge to chill.
Once the cheesecakes are cooled, you can decorate them with melted dark chocolate and strawberry powder, or you can leave as-is and serve.
Before you start telling me what an amazing job I did decorating and how talented I must be, let make it clear that these stunning cheesecakes were beautified completely by the delicate and far less clumsy hands of Chungwon, so please direct all that praise her way.
Download and print the full recipe in PDF: