MJ’s mom’s cheesecake: tiny and terrific

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Ooohhh, cheesecake! I know for so many people this conjures up mental pictures of New York delis and thick slabs of pale creamy cake topped with a layer of sour cream.  But for me, the word cheesecake brings images of my mom’s Cherry Cheesecake. Not New York style, it relies on a yellow cake mix for its crust and part of the filling, and a heapin’ helpin’ of vanilla as well, with canned cherry pie filling a “must” for the topping. It was a favorite for birthdays and spring holidays, so this time of year always has me wanting to make a big panful. Easter just wouldn’t be Easter without Cherry Cheesecake.

Now, if you read my Doughnut Bread Pudding blog, you know I’ve been having “discussions” with my scale. And while the thought of a 13″ x 9″ panful of cheesecake sounds like heaven, it isn’t the best choice for me right now. So, what’s a girl to do to have her cheesecake and eat it too?

Answer: Think small. By making a few tweaks to Mom’s recipe, I could make lots of little cheesecakes and satisfy my cravings without losing control, and have plenty of tasty, tiny treats to share with my teammates. Plus, I would get a chance to use some lovely new cupcake liners and mini bake and give pans. I’m a pushover for pretty papers.

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Here’s my copy of the original recipe. You can see it’s well used, and an older version. I really need to update it with all the new changes.

Pardon me while I climb on my soapbox for a moment, but if you’re the family baker, or keeper of a special secret recipe, do take the time to write it down as best you can for the future bakers in your family. Here on the King Arthur baker’s hotline, we often hear from folks who have lost a beloved baker in their family, and treasured family recipes along with them. Food and comfort are so deeply entwined for so many of us, and being able to make Grammie’s cookies or Uncle Skippy’s famous chili after they’re gone can make the difference in remembering them with fondness as we share their special dishes with others; or with sadness if the recipe is lost.

I’ve made an effort over the last year to collect and correct my recipes so my daughter Shannon will have my recipes for years to come. It makes me feel good knowing my secrets are safe, and that recipes like this one, handed down from her grandmother, will be there for her.

OK, I’ll get down now.

Follow along with the new recipe: MJ’s Mom’s Cheesecake. Be sure to take your cream cheese out early to allow it to warm to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300°F.

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First change. Using our cake mix has made a huge difference in this recipe. No more “fake” vanilla flavor. If you must use a grocery store mix, choose one of good quality, and avoid “pudding in the mix” cakes.

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Remove one cup of the dry mix and set aside. Pour the rest of the mix into your mixing bowl.

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Add the egg, oil and water. (Second change, a touch more oil, and a little water to bond the crust together).

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Mix on low speed until large crumbs form.

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The mixture should hold together when squeezed. If you have to really press it together, add a teaspoon or two more water until it holds together easily.

Prepare two 12-cup, or four 6-cup muffin tins, either well sprayed with cooking spray or lined with cupcake liners that have been lightly sprayed. (Third change, tiny cheesecakes for individual servings. Mom used to make a 13″ x 9″ pan, so we used to cut pieces that were way too big to be considered “moderate.”)

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A loosely filled tablespoon cookie scoop is about the right amount of crust per cup. If you’re using smaller or larger cups, adjust accordingly.

** Take a minute to add the lemon juice to the milk now. It can sit and “clabber” while you fill the muffin tins.**

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Press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the well, and about 1/4″ up the sides.

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To do the sides of the muffin papers, I find it easier to remove the papers from the tins. Use your fingers to pinch on both sides of the paper, keeping an even thickness.  Set aside.

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Add the remaining 1 cup cake mix, cream cheese, eggs, and sugar to your empty mixing bowl. If a few crumbs from the crust remain, no worries, they’ll blend into the batter. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, until well blended.

See the tiny specks of cream cheese in the batter? My cream cheese should have been a little warmer to eliminate those lumps. Fortunately they’re very small and will work out as the milk and vanilla are added.

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The milk/lemon juice is ready to go;, small chunks have formed. The more fat in the milk the more “clabber” you’ll see. Our milk is 1%, so the pieces are very small.

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I thought you might like to see my “faux mise en place.” Mise en place is French for “everything in its place”. You know it better as all those tiny little bowls of ingredients set in front of a TV chef so they don’t have to search for anything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very helpful as a way to make sure you’ve included every ingredient, but I don’t want to wash all those little bowls. You can bet your bippy Bobby Flay doesn’t wash little bowls in his TV kitchen!

My solution is to use already used dishes or measures. I clabbered my milk in the tall glass measure, and used my already dirtied tablespoon to measure the vanilla into the same cup I used for sugar, and set them together on the counter.  This way, I won’t forget either, but that’s one less dish for me to wash.

Back to the recipe. Add the milk to the batter, and blend until smooth, then add the vanilla, just until incorporated. Try not to overbeat.

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To fill the wells, I pilfered PJ’s favorite 8-cup measure and poured the batter in. Looks like 5 cups exactly.

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Look Ma, no spills! Well, maybe one little drip. It’s hard to pour and take pictures at the same time.

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Bake the cakes at 300°F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tops are just set. Turn off the oven, prop open the door, and let the cakes cool in the oven for 30 minutes.

For the unlined pans, you can see the cake has pulled away from the edges ever so slightly.

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The lined pans won’t pull away, but the centers will be set, and the edges just barely browned.

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Our mini brioche pans (coming to a KAF summer catalogue near you soon!) also make  tasty tiny treats. They travel very well, and look cute to boot. These would be best served with a spoon, as they don’t unmold  easily. Trés elegant.

Once the cheesecakes are just barely warm to the touch, refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To serve, top with canned cherry pie filling, or any other fruit flavor. You can also top with colorful chips, sprinkles or, for those decadent days, chocolate ganache.

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The perfect little treat to celebrate your special occasion. Who wouldn’t love to say “Go ahead, honey, eat the whole thing! ”

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for MJ’s Mom’s Cheesecake

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. simone

    That’s a great idea. My sister took my mother’s recipe box to Kinko’s and had our special recipes copied and laminated. Now we both have mom’s recipes in her handwriting.

    We used to make this cheesecake too!

    Reply
  2. Alsace

    I’ve gotten an education on this site, but what’s so bad about “pudding in the mix” that it should be avoided?

    Good question! I think “pudding in the mix” cakes would just be too moist/dense for this recipe. Irene at KAF

    Reply
  3. Memoria

    What would be a good recipe to use for the yellow cake if we want to avoid boxed mixes?

    Thanks!!

    You could use our Golden Vanilla Cake recipe Molly@KAF

    Reply
  4. April in CT

    Oh these take me back to my childhood! My mom used to make a similar version quite often as I was growing up. She used a vanilla wafer as the ‘crust’ though. I love the idea of trying the cake mix!

    Reply
  5. Jean Sutton

    I have made these little cakes, and they are delicious. I am always looking for small “somethings” to serve for a tea I have every year. Another little bite I use and they go over well: I buy 2″ chocolate cups by the box (chocolate does not deteriate if kept cool and dry). I bake a vanilla sponge type cake in a jelly roll type pan. After the cake has cooled, I cut the cake with a buiscut cutter and place in the bottom of the chocolate cup. To this I drizzle 1 tablespoon of an orange or rasberry liquor. I also add the same liquor to my buttercream and ice the little cups with it. They make a pretty presentation, especially with a bit of orange or a rasberry on top of the buttercream.

    Reply
  6. Angela

    I’m getting little imagines in my head of cheesecake flan now. Put a light caramel in the bottom of each cup and carefully pouring the cheese cake on top. Skips the crust and makes unmolding easy. Wonder if the caramel would need to be cooked longer first. I think my usual flan recipe calls for a 30 minute bake time…

    Reply
  7. Barb

    Is it possible to use lower fat cream cheese? Does it change the consistency?
    Thanks,
    Barb

    The consistency and “mouth feel” will be slightly dfferent. Experiment, have fun. Frank @ KAF.
    Sorry I didn’t note it in the blog, but yes, you can use low fat cream cheese for one of the 8 oz packages. I have done this with no major differences in taste and texture. Low fat is fine, no fat just doesn’t cut it. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  8. Cynthia

    THis has just enough (but not too much)measuring and mixing to let my 10 year old loose in the kitchen.

    ANd she has been sitting over my shoulder drooling…..
    Yes, this would be a great project for kids who love to bake. The timing is just enough, without being too much, and there are enough steps to be interesting without being dull. Hope your cheesecakes come out great! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    I first tried individual cheesecakes as a child while visiting family in Ohio. I still remember….so yummy. Thanks for posting this recipe.
    I once asked a family friend for the recipe to her special chocolate pound cake. She told me that she does not share the recipe. Why do some people feel compelled to keep recipes to themselves? In my opinion why not share the love????

    I’m with you, Elizabeth – Not sharing recipes is absolutely beyond me. I don’t sit in judgment; people must have their reasons for “culinary secrecy” – but I simply don’t understand it. Bake it forward! (More on that in a few weeks…) PJH

    Reply
  10. janet mcclumpha

    I subscribe to your newsletter, although I live in the UK. It was helpful to haveyour suggestion for the recipe for golden vanilla cake as opposed to using a box mix. We don’t get such a wide range of mixes over here as you have in the USA. I think I may also have found a suitable substitute flour for your white wholewheat. It is Marriages organic light wholemeal plain flour.I have used it in my bread maker without any problems. I really enjoy the newsletters and one day I may get to the store.

    Reply
  11. Donna

    Here’s another view on sharing recipes: I was planning to attend a neighborhood dinner and bring dessert. A friend was going to attend also and suggested I bring a chocolate mousse cake recipe she had. She gave me the recipe and when I asked her to clarify something in the recipe, she said, “I’m not sure–I’ve never made the recipe. I just give the recipe to people who are going to the same event I am and eat it there!” After I made it, I understood–it was sooo good but not something I would want sitting around my house to add to my waistline!
    I’ve heard the same thing about some recipe contest entries. Some of the contestants just write up recipes that sound good, and only make them once or twice during the contest. I’m a “try it again, just to be sure” kind of gal! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  12. JoAnn

    Adding lemon juice to milk makes buttermilk – Can you just use same amount of buttermilk?

    Actually; No, adding lemon juice to milk does not make buttermilk. It makes aciduated, lemon flavored, milk. And that is just what you want for this recipe. In the past buttermilk was made from the liquid released during the churning of butter, hence it’s name and butter flecked nature. Today buttermilk is a cultured dairy product usually made from non or low fat milk. It’s consistency is thicker, making it not an appropriate substitution for this recipe. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  13. Mary Henson

    To answer Elizabeth’s question as why people don’t share recipe’s. It could be what happened to me once. I gave a favorite recipe to a relative that included the use of some expensive items. My sister-in-law was not willing to buy and use the expensive items and then complained that I had left something out of the recipe because it didn’t taste the same.
    Oh, Mary. What a shame that your generous offer of sharing ending in a less than pleasant way. I hope you will continue to be so openhearted and share recipes in the future in spite of one bad experience. Happy Baking! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. Julie

    Love the colorful mini-muffin papers! Any chance the catalog will carry those anytime soon?

    Indeed, Julie – I know they’re ready to go online. I’ll rattle a cage or two and see if we can push them live ASAP. Thanks- PJH

    Reply
  15. AJ

    I’m going to try this for our next potluck get-to-gether. It
    will be an excellent way to control portion so you know you
    have enough for everyone. On sharing recipes…my neighbor’s
    daughter got together with her and all the aunts and cousins
    and put together “scrapbook cookbooks”. They had “theme”
    sections (family picnics/birthday dinners/holidays etc.). They copied pictures (hurray for color copiers!),put decorations
    and favorite recipes for each theme. Thus was preserved many
    family treasures! They did them in binders so new things could
    be added in. I asked for one and I’m not family!
    What a great way to share favorite recipes. Last Mother’s Day my Mom passed down the family cookbook to me, complete with hand written notes on my favorites. It is a real treasure to me for so many reasons. I plan on blogging her tomato soup cake someday! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  16. cynthia

    We made these yesterday and ended up with 6 cups of batter. After we had filled the 24 cupcakes we had put crust in We still had 2 cups of batter left. I was out of anything yummy to make a crust out of so I just poured it into a pie plate and baked.

    What do you think we did to have so much batter? They baked beautifully and tasted GREAT.
    I’m glad you liked the cheesecakes, but it’s had to tell why you would have had so much batter without more information. Give us a call at 800-827-6836 and we’ll troubleshoot the recipe with you. Molly @ KAF

    Reply
  17. Kathleen

    What a great idea! for the mini cheesecakes. I also like the idea of passing recipes on, especially family ones. My Grandmother was a wonderful cook and baker. She made the best lemon meringue pie I ever had. I even requested it for one of my birthdays. Unfortunetly, Grandmother didn’t use recipes and most of hers died with her. So please pass your recipes on to family and if you don’t have family than pass it to good friends. They will appreciate it more than you might realize. I only have 2 of my Grandmothers recipes and wish I had more.

    Reply
  18. Cindy Leigh (in CT)

    April, I too remember those individual cheesecakes with the vanilla wafer on the bottom. My Aunt (also here in CT) used to make htem, and we don’t have the recipe (she is gone). They were very rich, didn’t set up very firm like some baked cheesecakes, did not have cake mix in the batter, and were usually topped with cherry pie filling.My guess is they were cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, but I wish I had the recipe!
    I have made the Nilla wafer cheesecakes in the past as well. Mini cheesecakes are great for bringing to a party, you can make several different topping to suit everyones tastes. You can check out hungrybrowser.com as a great resource for lost recipes. I bet the Nilla wafer cheesecake is there! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  19. Nicole

    query:
    is it more effective to measure or weigh the dry ingredients when baking
    thanks i am off to the kitchen today to make these delightfuls!
    Thanks in advance
    Nicole
    info@recipecarousel.com

    While not strictly necessary, weighing your ingredients eliminates the guess work when baking. Molly @ KAF

    Reply
  20. mary

    Thank you another great recipe! I love reading this blog & have learned a lot.

    What is the best way to handle the baking/ cooling in oven if my oven will only hold one 12 muffin tin at a time? Can I use two racks & reverse half way through or can I refrigerate the others while waiting to bake them?
    I would use two racks, switching them halfway through and following the rest of the recipe. Molly @ KAF
    I agree with Molly. I use 2 racks and switch the pans halfway through baking. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  21. Patricia Willems

    I’m with Janet mcclumpha – I live in the Netherlands, subscribe to your newsletter and would LOVE to try the mini-cheesecakes. What’s the contents (in oz for instance, or else in cups) of the one pack of KAF Golden Vanilla Cake Mix? Then I can try and substitute it with something that is for sale here in The Netherlands.
    Our cake mix weighs 24 ounces. Molly @ KAF

    Reply
  22. Candace

    Please write a bit more about using your Golden Vanilla Cake recipe. Do you just use the dry ingredients? I agree about the “fake” taste of cake mix; but they are great when you have to pull out something fast. You can fancy them up pretty easily. Thanks!

    Candace – Yes, just use the dry ingredients. Have fun! Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  23. Joni M

    I’m not finding the Golden Vanilla Cake recipe–or is this your box mix, but rather I do see a Golden Layer Cake recipe when I did a search–is this the same one you are referencing above? If so, the cheesecake recipe says to take 1 C of dry mix–so how does this work–do you mix up the whole Golden Layer Cake recipe and remove a cup of that with the liquid already mixed in or take 1 C of dry ingredients before adding the liquid? Not understanding how to use a homemade recipe vs using a boxed mix…

    Joni – The recipe is referring to our box mix, item # 3478. I am pretty sure you could mix up your own cake ingredients (only dry) and use just as the recipe says. I’ll ask MaryJane to chime in. So, check back later for her expert advice. Elisabeth @ KAF
    Hi Joni,
    While I have made this cake for many years, I have never made it with a “from scratch” cake. I have always used a mix. I agree with Elisabeth, and suggest you use the dry ingredients, plus the oil and water from this recipe. You are needing the flour for structure, the sugar for sweetness, etc. I hope this helps. Do let us know how it turns out. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  24. GWEN

    I have been making these mini cheese cakes for years and I use the vanilla wafers, these are the firs deserts to go. Where do you get the pretty cupcake papers from?

    These sweet swirl baking cups (or papers) are available through our catalogue or website. They come in an assorted set (blue, green, red, and orange) or in the individual colors (green,red,orange). A set of 60 papers is $6.95. Look for mini-papers to come soon! Happy (colorful) Baking! Irene at KAF

    Reply
  25. Laura in NC

    Could you freeze these? I’d like to make them for my son’s graduation party.

    Laura – Cheesecake freezes beautifully. These minis should do just fine. Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  26. Marsha Phillips

    Are these cheese cakes made in regular sized muffin pans or in the miniture pans? Can they be made in either? These are made in the mini muffin pan, but could be made large if you wished. they would need a slightly longer baking time. Mary @ KAF

    Reply
  27. Mimi

    If I wanted to make a chocolate version, would I add melted chocolate or dry cocoa to the batter, and how much?
    Hi Mimi,
    When I tested a chocolate version, I didn’t add any extra chocolate, besides the cake mix. It was a very mild chocolate cheesecake, with a fudgy tasting crust. If you wanted to bump up the chocolate flavor in the cheesecake itself, you could add some melted, cooled chocolate to the batter. Try about 4 ounces, see how you like it, and adjust from there. We’d love to hear how it comes out!

    Happy Baking! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  28. Cheryl

    Hi MJ-
    I’ve made this same recipe before! It is wonderful, my husband’s favorite dessert. If I put want to make this in a 9X13 pan do I still use same amount of water & oil?
    Also, last time I made this I used 1% milk & the cheesecake seemed watery after I cooked it for the allotted time. Did I do something wrong?
    Hi Cheryl,
    You can make the recipe in a 9×13 pan, I’ve done it before too. If you are using a KAF mix, the water and oil would stay the same. Some boxed cake mixes may not need the same amount, especially if they are labled “moist” or “supermoist”. Just add the oil and water in parts, using all of it only if needed.
    For the milk, we always use 1% milk in the test kitchen, so that’s what I tested the recipe with. You can try 2% or whole milk to see if you like the texture better. Just be sure the cheesecake is fully set in the center. Remember, all ovens baked differently, so the baking time may vary.
    Hope your husband enjoys it! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  29. jo

    Love this site. I had this mini cheesecake with vanilla wafer for the crust in the 80′s in Los Angeles. Recipe was not given since the Japanese lady make my friend promise not to give out the secret. It was very light and I was guessing theirs mayo in it. My friend passed away and never got the recipe when we parted. Cheesecake with blueberry topping is yummy too.

    Reply

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