I lied when I said I didn’t like cheesecake

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DSC01131It’s true.  I tell everyone that I don’t like cheesecake but the truth is…I do like it and for some reason, cheesecake seems to be a favorite dessert of most people I know. Americans in general are crazy about it.  Heck, there’s even  a restaurant named after it!  I specifically remember my college roommate declaring her love for cheesecake, stating that she’d be having cheesecake as her wedding cake — years before she knew who she’d be marrying.

[And for the record, she had cheesecake.  Darn good cheesecake at that.  Some how, she mixed my two least favorite desserts, cheesecake & red velvet cake (I’ll talk about that another day), into a wedding cake and it tasted amazing!]

Unfortunately, with the exception of my college roommate’s wedding cake, I don’t tend to go as gaga as most over cheesecake.  Not because I dislike the flavor or taste of cheesecake but mostly due to the fact that the texture is lacking and it’s a rather  a calorie dense dessert — from crust to filling to the traditional cherry topping.

Let me break it down for you —

Crust:  

This is basically cookies [they try to trick you by calling them crackers, but they’re cookies] mixed with butter and baked to make another cookie to use as the crust.  Simply put, you just made cookies with butter and more cookies.

  • Graham Crackers: Simple enough, not really all that indulgent as long as traditional grahams are being used rather than the cinnamon-sugar topped crackers
  • Butter:  Butter isn’t actually horrible for you. But 9 out of 10 doctors don’t recommend drenching cookies in butter.

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Cream Cheese Filling: 

This is simply fat-added, sugar sweetened, emulsified milk.

  • Cream Cheese: This is usually full-fat cows milk mixed with emulsifiers to lend firmness, stabilizing the cream and lengthening the cheese’s shelf-life.  [Have you ever looked at the expiration date on unopened cream cheese?  It’s at least 3 months.  Doesn’t that freak you out?]
  • Cream: Yep, more cream because the cream from the cheese just isn’t enough.
  • Sugar: This is totally acceptable, this is a dessert.

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Topping:

  • Cherry Pie Filling [from a can]: Yes, I’m specifically stating it’s from a can because the likelihood of someone actually making their own cherry topping is slim to none.  America is all about short cuts and there’s nothing easier than “open & dump” when it comes to can goods.This canned pie filling is unnatural and overly sweet.  The red filling sure is pretty against the white creamy cheesecake base but doesn’t it look a tad artificial to you?  Have you ever seen cherries that hue of red? No?

    Me either. That’s because it’s fake.  And those cherries, they’ve been soaking in that thick, sugary syrup for god knows how long. They’re basically artificially flavored sugar bombs.

Now, usually, cheesecake – and most cakes at that – are served in oversized portions making that fatty, sugary dessert sitting on your plate that much more of an indulgence.  And if that’s what your intention is, to completely indulge, then pick up your fork and savor every bite!

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But for those of us that want to enjoy cheesecake without guilt as a regular weekday dessert – I went about healthifying my version of cheesecake, creating Chocolate Almond Cheesecake Bites!

They’re portion controlled bites that have a bit of added cocoa powder, chocolate chips and almonds to make for a flavorful, decadent weeknight dessert without the calorie and sugar bomb splurge of traditional cheesecake.  The almonds also add a dose of healthy fat, give the crust a bit of extra crunch and the mini chocolate chips add some texture and a touch of bittersweetness to the filling!

CHOCOLATE ALMOND CHEESECAKE BITES

Makes 24 bites

CRUST:

  • 5 sheets reduced fat graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup whole, unsalted almonds
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

FILLING:

  • 8 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened*
  • 6 ounces nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup egg whites **
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.  Line a mini-muffin pan with 24 foil liners and set aside.

Make the Crust:

In a food processor, process graham crackers until they reach a crumb-like consistency.  Place in  a small bowl and set aside.  In the same processor, grind almonds  into an almond-meal consistency and mix with graham cracker crumbs.

Combine graham cracker-almond crumbs with the melted butter until just coated, it will still be slightly course in texture.  Distribute mixture evenly into cupcake liners and firmly press crumbs together to form a tight crust.  Bake 7 minutes or until set.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool while making the filling.

Make the Filling:

In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese for 2 minutes.  This is mandatory as it helps give the filling a light texture by incorporating air.  Beat in the yogurt, egg whites, sugar, cocoa powder, and flour until smooth [about 2-3 minutes].  Add in the lemon juice and the vanilla & almond extracts until just combined.  Remove from mixer and fold in chocolate chips.

Evenly distribute the filling into each cupcake liner, filling about 3/4 of the way full**.  Bake for 16 – 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Finish cooling by placing the pan in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.  Serve after being well chilled.

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Notes:

* If you forgot to let your cream cheese soften, remove the paper packaging and place it on top of the pre-heating oven while you make the crust.  It should be just soft enough once you finish.

** Either store bough egg-whites or traditional egg whites may be used – simply measure out a 1/4 cup of either.

*** Depending on how light & fluffy you mixed your filling – you may have some remaining.  Place it in an oven safe bowl, lightly coated with non-stick spary and bake along side the mini cheesecake bites for a crustless treat.

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And just for comparison – let’s take a look at how my healthified chocolate almond cheesecake bites [left] compare to something similar – like the Cheesecake Factory’s Hershey’s Chocolate Bar Cheesecake [right, source].

Chocolate Almond Cheesecake Bite Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 4.31.10 PM

I’m not sure about the rest of you but 500 calories is almost 1/3 of my daily calorie intake (roughly 1 meal) and 30 grams of fat maxes out my average fat intake for the day. Plus, this doesn’t even account for the whipped cream and adorning chocolate syrup that accompanies the cheesecake to your table.

I know in my case, I’m much safer enjoying my portion controlled cheesecake bite with a glass of red wine on the side while not having to stress about burning the extra calories at the gym in the morning.

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