Christmas Cheesecake Bites

Makes 36-42 Cheesecake bites
Takes 2-3 hours (you can chill 1-3 hours, which modifies overall time)

My 4 year old, Chef Izabella, loves to help me make every aspect of this dessert. From the crushing of the candy-canes, to the pressing down of the crust into the mini muffin tins, to the pouring in of the cheesecake filling and the swirling of the red and green food color gel. They are fun to make, delicious to eat, sort of healthy even, and they'll get gobbled up at any holiday party in minutes. We also like to share these as Christmas gifts with family, friends and neighbors.

For the Crusts You'll Need: butter flavored non-stick spray, 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 2 cups whole grain mini graham crackers*, 1/2 to 3/4 cup mini mint chocolate chunks (or chips, we like the Andes brand of mint chocolate chunks)

For the rest of the mini Cheesecakes You'll Need: 1/2 cup sour cream, 16 oz cream cheese (softened, at room temperature), 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 large eggs (room temperature)**, 3 candy canes, red and green food gel*** 

How to Prepare Crusts: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using butter flavored non-stick spray, lightly spray two 24 mini muffin tin pans and set aside. In a small sauce pan over low to medium heat, melt your butter, until it is just melted (do not over heat). You can also melt in a microwave safe bowl, in the microwave. I like the flavor better when melted in a saucepan.
In a food processor, blend up your graham crackers until you have course crumbs. Pulse in the butter and sugar until you have a well combined crumb mixture. Carefully transfer crumb mixture to a bowl. EASY NOTE: We toss our food processor bowl, blade and lid into the top rack of our dishwasher for easy cleaning.
Using a small teaspoon (from your regular silverware drawer) spoon in about 1 1/2 tsp worth of crust into each mini muffin tin. Press dough into tin with your fingers gently. Place into 375 degree F oven for 6-8 minutes, until crust is just lightly browned. Set aside and let cool. Once cooled, loosely spoon in or place with your fingers a good pinch of the mint chocolate chunks over each mini crust and set aside.

How to Prepare the rest of the mini Cheesecakes: Lower oven to 325 degrees F.
In a mixer, mix the sour cream, cream cheese and sugar until you have a smooth mixture. Turn the mixer off and scrape the sides of the bowl down. Mix again. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well combined. Turn mixer off and scrape sides down again. Mix again.
Smash candy canes in a sealed plastic bag with a meat mallet over a cutting board and transfer to a preparation bowl. Gently stir candy canes into filling mixture. Transfer filling mixture to a medium bowl. Using a regular teaspoon from your silverware drawer (the smaller spoon works great) carefully spoon in a heaping teaspoon of filling over each chocolate chunk filled crust, until the filling is just below the top edge of the muffin tin.
Using two small preparation bowls, squeeze in a bit of red food gel into one bowl and squeeze in a bit of green food gel into the other. Using the thicker back end of a toothpick, dip the toothpick into the food gel and swirl it into the cheesecake filling of each mini cheesecake bite. You can do one color per cheesecake bite or swirl both colors together.
Place mini cheesecake bite muffin tins on top of a parchment lined baking sheet (for more even cooking) into the 325 degree F oven for 20-28 minutes (tops will be lightly browned). When you press the top of cheesecake bite, it will bounce back just slightly. Remove from oven and let cool. Place muffin tins flat in refrigerator and let cool for 1-3 hours. Remove from refrigerator. Very carefully (avoid cutting muffin pan) using a small pairing knife or toothpick, loosen edges of each cupcake bite. Transfer each bite to a serving platter or storage container (if serving later). Enjoy.

* We use Annies Bunny Grahams, 6 little snack bags (or 6 oz). You can substitute for regular graham crackers if that is what you have on hand.
** When you set up your preparation tray (aka your mise en place), just leave the 2 whole eggs in their shells, in a small preparation bowl. You do not want to crack them early or the yolks will dry out.
*** Food gel vs food color adds very little to no extra liquid content. Food gel is preferred here to liquid food coloring. You can find food gel in most stores now or online.

4 Year Old, Chef Izabella's You Tube Demo Video for Christmas Cheesecake Bites 

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