Well thank goodness the snow is back. I was about to lose my marbles there, because skiing ice is a little hard on my knee, which I hyper-extended thanks to jamming my ski under some wind slab in the backcountry. My knee is mostly fine, but I’m icing, doing strengthening exercises, and a little bit of skiing. Just a little bit.
“is there snow on my face?”
jeremy grabs some turns before starting the work day
So if you follow my personal account on Instagram (https://instagram.com/jenyuphoto/), you may have noticed that I have been busy experimenting with my sous vide cooker. Sure, it’s great for steaks and chops and chicken and fish and eggs, but… what about sweets? I decided to try it out on cheesecake, because I’ve baked cheesecakes in a water bath in the oven before. It’s like a jacuzzi for cheesecakes. The thing is, I can only make individual cheesecakes with my sous vide cooker. You CAN make whole cheesecakes in a sous vide oven, or you can sous vide the filling in a bag and squeeze the contents onto a crust (but that sounds a little janky to me). I’ve been excited to try a lemon cheesecake for some time, because the citrus adds a nice bit of zip, zest, and brightness to cream cheese, which I find to be incredibly flat tasting. But first, let’s make the raspberry sauce. I use frozen organic raspberries because they are cheaper than fresh and work just as well for our purposes.
lemon juice, water, sugar, frozen raspberries
combine water and raspberries in a saucepan
simmer until the berries break down
Once the raspberries have cooked into a mush, I like to run them through a food mill. You can just as easily give them a whir in the blender or food processor until smooth, and strain the seeds out with a fine mesh sieve. As it turns out, a few (more than a few) seeds got through my food mill, so I wound up straining my purée through a sieve anyway. If you don’t care about or like seeds in your raspberry sauce, then don’t worry about straining. Return the purée to the same saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice, and simmer it until the sauce thickens.
put the berries through the food mill
stir in sugar
add lemon juice
While the raspberry sauce cools, you can get the other components ready, like the crust. I really like a graham cracker crust. I just do. But I understand that some folks can’t eat graham crackers. If you still want a crunchy crust, try toasted pistachios, ground to the same consistency as graham crackers. You don’t even need to add the sugar and butter (or if you want it sweet, add just a touch of sugar). If you’re allergic to nuts and can’t eat gluten, maybe skip the crust altogether or use crushed gluten-free cookies. Of course, if graham cracker crust seems too pedestrian and you are an eater of gluten, try crushing some of your favorite cookies in place of graham cracker crumbs. It’s all about options. We’re targeting a crust with the consistency of wet sand.
melted butter, sugar, graham cracker crumbs
mix the sugar and crumbs together
stir in the melted butter
The cheesecake filling is straightforward. I have seen a lot of recipes that tell you to throw everything together in a blender and call it good. But I don’t do it that way. I like to cream the cream cheese and sugar together into a paste before adding the other ingredients. Beating the sugar into the cream cheese helps to break down any blobs that might otherwise persist when you add liquids and slimy (but wonderful) things like eggs. I don’t like getting lenses of pure cream cheese in my cheesecake. This method gives me a consistently even cheesecake batter.
eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla, cream cheese, lemons (lemon zest and juice)
cream the sugar and cream cheese together
grate lemon zest
add lemon juice to the ingredients
pour in heavy cream
There is flexibility in what kind of vessel you use to cook your cheesecakes. Generally, we’re looking for canning jars anywhere up to 8 ounces in volume. I suppose you could go larger, but I find most guests can’t finish that much cheesecake. I recommend avoiding jars with narrow necks. Wide mouths are good. Straight- or mostly straight-sided makes for easier filling, eating, and cleaning. The reason we want canning jars is because their lids are designed to allow the air in the jars’ headspaces to escape when placed in a hot water bath. I’ll expand on that when we sous vide the cheesecakes.
First fill the jars with a couple of tablespoons of crust. Don’t press the crust down like you would in a springform pan, because that can make it very difficult to extract/eat with a spoon (think about it, a cut slice with a pressed crust breaks easily enough, but not when it’s packed into the bottom of a jar). Simply tap the base of each jar lightly on a kitchen towel on your work surface to even the crumbs out. Next, fill them up with cheesecake batter! Leave about an inch of headspace (so nothing should occupy the top inch of the jar from the rim). If you like raspberry swirl, add a teaspoon or two of the raspberry sauce to the cheesecake and swirl it in – otherwise, you can wait to use it when you serve the cheesecakes.
spoon the crust into the jars
fill with batter
add raspberry sauce (optional, but good)
I used 7 of my 7.4-ounce Weck tulip jelly jars for these cheesecakes, because they are a pretty shape and I like the simplicity of sealing the lids (a rubber gasket, a glass lid, and two metal clamps). Now even though you aren’t supposed to reuse the rubber gaskets for canning, they work just fine (as long as they aren’t cracked or torn) for sous vide cheesecakes since we aren’t preserving the cheesecakes… at least I hope not! The other option is to use Ball-style canning jars with lids and a twist ring. The caveat is to make sure your ring is secured finger tight over the lid. That term “finger tight” has been the source of some confusion for folks on other recipe sites. It means as tight as it will get using your finger tips without the use of tools or full palm grabs leveraged with a giant bicep. What we want with “finger tight” is to be tight enough to keep the water out, but loose enough to let the air escape. If water gets into your uncooked cheesecake, your cheesecake is no longer cheesecake.
So how is that air going to escape, anyhow? Canners will be familiar with the concept, but for everyone else, remember that little pocket of air we left in each jar? It is at or near room temperature. The sous vide water bath for our cheesecakes is swirling at 176°F. Once you place the jars in the bath, the pockets of air are going to heat up. By the laws of physics, that air (gas) will expand when heated. Those glass jars aren’t going to get any bigger, so the air will try to find the path of least resistance, which is through the “finger tight” or Weck gasket seal. Little bubbles should begin streaming out of each jar within five or ten seconds of entering the bath. AWESOME! As long as water isn’t trading places with the air (i.e. your seal is too loose), you’re in business.
Pro-tip: Set the first jars in one at a time and watch to see if they float. Be ready with a long spoon or chopstick to hold the jar down if it begins to go for a swim (the sous vide is circulating water constantly, so creates a current). Once it loses enough bubbles, it will rest on the bottom of the pot. Then add the next jar and make sure it stays down, too. Once there are enough of them, they should remain in place. The first one I put into the pot floated up and tipped over. It was fine (no leaking of water), but it was a bit of a mess on the inside.
sealed and ready for the hot tub
bubbles escaping – this is good
sous vide for 90 minutes at 176°f
I know you’re anxious to dig into those cheesecakes, but let them cool. First, let them cool to room temperature, then pop them into the refrigerator overnight (or at least for four hours). Of course, I peered at each of my cheesecakes while they were obeying the second law of thermodynamics on my kitchen counter. They looked full. I guessed that the cheesecakes had expanded during cooking. But the next day, when I pulled the tab of the rubber gasket to break the seal, I realized I was mistaken. The cheesecake was now sitting more than an inch below the rim of the jar. Duh! I said to myself. Because a vacuum was created when the air bubbles escaped into the water bath, the cheesecake would fill that space as it cooked. Once opened, it settled back into its relaxed structure. The good news? It leaves room for stuff like raspberry sauce!
opening the jar
cheesecake asking to be garnished
The result was a creamy, smooth, luscious, deceptively light dessert with fruity notes and just the right sweetness. I dare say it was perfect. If your intention is to plate the cheesecake out of the jar, I suggest using a straight-sided and/or even slightly narrower-at-the-base jar so you can run a knife along the sides and invert it without threat of disaster. However, I sincerely doubt anyone would refuse a modest little cheesecake in a jar – especially with some healthy fruit on top. Other bonus: it is easier to store in the refrigerator than a whole cheesecake.
just pile it on
the humble sous vide cheesecake in a jar
so velvety smooth
12 oz. frozen raspberries
2 tbsps water
4-6 tbsps granulated sugar, to taste (start with 4, add more as needed)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 tbsps granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsps unsalted butter, melted
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsps Meyer lemon zest
4 tbsps Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
*Gluten-free options include skipping the crust altogether, using about a cup of ground toasted pistachio nuts (omit the sugar and butter), or using crushed gluten-free cookies in place of the graham cracker crumbs.
Prepare your sous vide: Make sure your canning jars can fit into the sous vide vessel. Fill the vessel with enough water to cover the tops of the jars by at least an inch. Set the sous vide temperature to 176°F.
Make the raspberry sauce: Combine the raspberries and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the fruit to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring and occasionally crushing the berries with the back of a spoon or spatula. Remove from heat. To get a raspberry purée you can: 1) run the sauce through a food mill or 2) give it a blitz in the blender until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh sieve. Pour the purée back into your saucepan with 4 tablespoons of sugar and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Add more sugar as needed. Set the pan over medium-high heat and stir until the sauce begins to boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens (about 4-5 minutes). Set aside and let cool.
Make the crust: Mix the graham cracker crumbs and sugar together in a medium bowl. Stir in the melted butter until the mixture resembles wet sand.
Make the cheesecake filling: Beat the cream cheese and sugar together with a mixer until smooth and uniform. Mix in the heavy cream, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla.
Prepare the jars: Use 7 8-ounce canning jars (mine were 7.4 ounces). Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of crust into the bottom of each 8-ounce jar. If you have crust left over, divvy it up among the jars if you like more crust. Don’t press the crust down! This makes it incredibly hard to scoop it out for consumption. Instead, lightly tap the bottom of each jar on a surface lined with a kitchen towel to settle the crust evenly. Pour the cheesecake batter into each jar, leaving at least an inch of head room. Spoon a teaspoon or two of raspberry sauce on top of each cheesecake and gently swirl it into the cheesecake, keeping the rest of the sauce in the refrigerator for later. You don’t have to swirl or even add the sauce to the cheesecakes if you prefer not to, in which case you can reserve all of the sauce in the refrigerator for serving.
Seal the jars: If using lids and twist rings (like a Ball jar), you want to twist the ring until finger tight. Finger tight means it’s as tight as you can get it using your fingertips as opposed to a hydraulic mechanism or other such tools. In this instance, it means we want the lids to be tight enough to NOT ALLOW water into the jar (because it will ruin your cheesecakes), but not so tight that air cannot escape the jars. If using Weck jars, simply fit each lid with a rubber gasket and clamp onto the jars. Note on Weck jars: For canning, Weck says you shouldn’t reuse the rubber gaskets. Since we are merely looking for a good seal on the cheesecakes for the 90 minute water bath, I reused my rubber gaskets that had been used in canning once before. They worked perfectly. If they start to crack or break, it’s time to get a new(er) gasket.
Cook the cheesecakes: Using a jar lifter or other similar tool, lower each jar into the water bath. Watch carefully as the first ones might float or tip over. We want to keep them upright. If necessary, use a spoon to hold each one down until it begins to bubble. The hot bath will heat the air in the jars, causing it to expand and escape as little air bubbles from the jars. Once the air has evacuated the jars, they will remain upright. Also, if they are packed in without much room to move about, they should stay put. Cook the cheesecakes for 90 minutes. Remove from the water bath and let cool on the counter. Once cooled, refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Note: The cheesecakes will look like they have filled their jars because they are in a vacuum (when the air was expelled from each jar). When you open the lids, they will deflate. It’s okay. It may not look pretty, but that is why you serve the cheesecakes with raspberry sauce on top.
Makes 7 individual cheesecakes.
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