I like to know how to do things. Not everything, but I am naturally curious, which leads me to want to know how to do things. I like being capable, even when I don’t have to be. The pure challenge of mastering a new skill is one of the many reasons I enjoy cooking. I will tackle a recipe that has an interesting technique or ingredient combination even if it isn’t something I might want to eat, simply because I want to know how to do it.
Last week was the perfect storm of ideas that were begging to be tested. First, my molecular gastronomy starter kit from Molecule-R arrived on Monday, so I was primed to geek out on some food science. Then, on Wednesday, I happened to spot this recipe from The Beeroness on Foodgawker. Beer, chocolate, pretzels, all in one dessert? You had me at beer!
I was obsessing all week on this recipe, but was hesitating because I am not really a big fan of cheesecake. It isn’t that I don’t like a bite of cheesecake, but a whole slice just really isn’t that appealing to me. My solution was to turn this recipe into mini cheesecake bites and then to top it off with sour cream pearls. The perfect opportunity to give the recipe a whirl and try out my molecular gastronomy kit!
Jackie at The Beeroness did a fabulous job developing this recipe, but I did tweak it a bit to fit my perception of how I wanted it to turn out. Since I was making a much smaller version, I cut the filling ingredients in half. One of the other major changes I made was to the crust, reversing the proportion of pretzel to graham cracker to give the crust a saltier bite. Finally, I skipped the sour cream topping in the recipe and made my sour cream “pearls” instead.
The beer I selected was Rogue Chocolate Stout which has a nice deep flavor with no lingering after-taste. The original called for Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot, which I was actually able to find, but I preferred the smoothness of the Rogue Chocolate Stout. The end result has a hint of beer, but really, it simply amps up the depth of flavor created by the dark chocolate and espresso powder. When I first read the recipe, I hadn’t noticed the espresso powder and had made a mental note to add it. Great minds must think alike!
Making the sour cream pearls was super simple and fun with the help of a dip in a sodium alginate bath. My lack of patience got the better of me in this process, because everything indicated that I should let the bath sit for about 2 hours before creating the pearls and I only waited about 45 minutes so they didn’t set up as well as they should have. The final result was not only beautiful to look at, also created a burst of freshness on the tongue which was a welcome contrast to the richness of the cheesecake.
If you aren’t feeling like putting on your science hat, you can skip the pearls and simply serve each cheesecake with a dollop of the sour cream topping. It is equally delicious.
Now go buy some beer and start baking!
Mini Chocolate Stout Cheesecakes with Pretzel Crust & Sour Cream Pearls
Preheat oven to 350°. Place rack in center of oven with one rack underneath. Place a pan on the bottom rack filled with water, directly underneath where you will bake your cheesecakes.
Thoroughly butter sides and bottom of each opening in a 12 serving mini-cheesecake pan, set aside.
For the crust:
- 2 standard size graham crackers
- 1 ½ cups salted pretzel sticks
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 6 tblsp. Melted butter
In a food processor, add the graham crackers, pretzels, and brown sugar. Process until you have a crumb consistency. Slowly add the melted butter and process until it resembles wet sand. Carefully spoon about 1 – 2 tablespoons of filling into bottom of each opening and tamp down until you have a nice even, firm base. I used the bottom of a straight-sided shot glass, which worked perfectly. Wipe insides of each opening so you don’t end up with crumbs on the side of your cheesecakes.
For the filling:
- 4 oz. dark chocolate, such as Scharffen Berger 70% dark chocolate
- ½ cup dark stout beer such as Rogue Chocolate Stout or Lagunitas WTF
- ½ packages of cream cheese, softened (total of 12 oz.)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tblsp. + 1 tsp. flour
- 5 tblsps. + 1 tsp. good quality cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 ½ tsp. instant espresso powder
In a saucepan over medium heat, add the beer and chocolate, stirring constantly until melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the cream cheese and sugar and beat until completely smooth – you don’t want any unmixed lumps of cream cheese! One at a time, add the eggs, scraping the sides and bottom of bowl between additions. Again, make sure everything is very smooth. Pour the cooled chocolate/beer mixture into the mixer and beat until completely combined. Lift the head of the mixer, and sprinkle the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt over the batter. Mix on low speed until just combined.
Very carefully, spoon batter into each opening until it is nearly full. Smooth mixture and then give pan a couple of good taps on counter to help set and smooth.
Bake for 15 minutes or until just set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack. Once completely cooled, remove from pan by pushing up from bottom of each opening, one at a time, place on tray and refrigerate at least 45 minutes.
For the sour cream pearls:
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- Freshly squeezed juice of ½ lemon
- 2 g. sodium alginate
- 1 ½ cups water
Mix the alginate bath by dissolving the sodium alginate in 1 ½ cups room temperature water and blend well with an immersion blender. Set aside and allow to “gel” for about 2 hours.
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Add more lemon juice if necessary to achieve a mixture that is still thick, but just thin enough to form droplets when pushed out of syringe. If it is too thin, it will just hit the surface of the bath and splatter.
Once the alginate bath is ready, set up your station with the sour cream mixture, a rinsing bath of 2 cups room temperature water and small plate.
To form the pearls, draw the sour cream mixture into the syringe and push drops into the alginate bath. Leave for about 30 seconds, stir and remove with a draining spoon and transfer to the plan water bath. Stir, remove immediately with the draining spoon and transfer to small dish. Arrange decoratively on top of each individual cheesecake.