Three years ago, I went home to Texas for three weeks over Christmas. I was there for the holidays and a family wedding a week into the new year, and I had determined that it was easier to spend an extended period in my home state than it was to fly back and forth. My little sister was home for her winter break too, so we had an odd period of time where our childhood living arrangements were real again, except that everyone had a driver’s license and their own bathroom this time.
Our parents were happy to have us home, even though three weeks is a long time to have company. They made sure we were fed and had transport and as much access to their miniature schnauzer as we wanted (which was all of the access), and requested little in return. In fact, the only thing that was asked of me was to teach my mom to make a cheesecake. Her mom, my grandmother, made wonderful cheesecakes, so I liked the idea that my mom would know how to make one too.
Of course, there was one problem: I had never made a traditional cheesecake. I still haven’t. Sure, I have baked layers and swirls of it into other things and I have even made a couple of vegan cheesecakes, but I have never done the full springform in a water bath thing. I know it’s not technically difficult, but I live in fear that water will seep into my cake no matter how tightly-wrapped it is and that the work and necessary 24-hour chill will be for nothing. Other people are afraid of pie crust. I am afraid of cheesecake.But! But. I was going to make a cheesecake with my mom, even going so far as to have my older sister give her a Fat Daddio cheesecake pan for Christmas. I was going to do this thing. And then…I didn’t because we found 43 other ways to fill our time and there was the wedding and then it was time to go back to NYC.Now it’s Mother’s Day weekend three years later and I still owe my mom a cheesecake. I remain reticent about attempting a big one (yes, I know it’s silly) and I don’t know when I’ll be with her long enough to carve out the time, so I have made it easy on both of us and made miniature versions that don’t involve a foil-wrapped pan. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I made you six cheesecakes.This small-batch recipe makes just enough to fill six 4-ounce mason jars, but you can easily scale it up depending on your needs. The cheesecake itself is remarkably easy to make—it has a total of nine ingredients and two major steps (both of which are easy), and most of the time commitment is spent waiting for things to cool.As for the water bath (“bain-marie”) step that I fear so much, it’s a breeze. Mason jars are water-tight, so my fear of soggy cheesecake foiled-by-foil doesn’t apply here. These mini desserts bake up evenly and beautifully every time!They are delicious, too: rich, creamy and tangy with a brown sugary graham cracker crust. You can top them with anything you like: strawberry-rhubarb compote, cherry pie filling, whipped cream, peanut butter caramel…anything! I kept it simple by piling on fresh berries. Why create more work for myself when the perfect topping is sitting in the produce department, you know?!Aside from being cute, delicious, and portion-controlled, I love that these cheesecakes are portable. Just press a little plastic wrap to their surfaces after chilling, screw on the mason jar lids, and pack them into a cooler for premium picnicking. Pack the topping(s) separately and let everyone customize their own!So, after 3.5 years of blogging, there is my first “traditional” cheesecake! Maybe I’ll be brave enough for the real deal before Labor Day. Got any leak-proofing tips for me? Leave them in the comments!Happy Mother’s Day to all those celebrating, especially my cute mom ❤
Mini Mason Jar Cheesecakes
makes 6 small cheesecakes
9 graham crackers
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
6 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 8-ounce brick full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325F. Grease 6 4-ounce mason jars.
Make the crust. Place graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor and process until no large pieces remain. Add light brown sugar, melted butter, and salt. Process until the mixture resembles wet sand, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Place 3 tablespoons of the crust mixture into eat prepared mason jar. Press down to form a crust. Place mason jar crusts in a high-rimmed dish. Bake crust for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack while you prepare the filling.
Make cheesecake. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in sugar, followed by egg, sour cream, and vanilla, until mixture is smooth.
Place 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake mixture in each mason jar. Use the back of a spoon to lightly smooth out the tops, then tap each one on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Return jars to the high-rimmed pan, and place the pan on a counter near the oven.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Remove from heat. Carefully pour water into the baking pan until it is halfway up the sides of the cheesecakes. Do not get water in the mason jars. Carefully move pan into the oven. Bake 30 minutes until puffed and ever-so-slightly golden.
Carefully remove pan from oven. Use tongs to remove mason jar cheesecakes to a rack. Do not get water in the mason jars.
Let cheesecakes cool completely on a rack. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or until thoroughly chilled. If not serving immediately, press plastic wrap to the surface. Garnish with berries or other desired topping before serving.
Store leftover cheesecakes in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. To freeze, press plastic wrap to the surfaces of the cheesecakes and screw on mason jar lids. Freeze for up to one month. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or in a dish of lukewarm water at room temperature for 90 minutes.