With the holidays approaching, I start craving a touch of decadence with dessert. Candied citrus is where I turn for that luxe, almost stained glass finish on these mini cheesecakes. In a mixture of sugar and water, whole citrus slices become juicy, chewy candy that intensifies the flavor in each creamy, chocolate and orange bite.
1 unwaxed orange
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
⅔ cup fresh orange juice
30 chocolate wafer cookies
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese (1 standard package)
½ cup sour cream
⅓ cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
12 cupcake liners
Watching the orange slices transform is the most satisfying part of making these incredible little desserts. The translucence of each piece is achieved by slowly cooking the fruit and giving it an occasional gentle flip. Since it can take a while for the candied orange to dry, this step can be done a day in advance. If you are short on time, the slices can be made the same day, as any syrup that drips onto the top of the cheesecake just adds extra orange flavor.
When it comes to timing, also remember that starting with room temperature cheesecake ingredients leads to a smooth and creamy finish. Cheesecake takes a bit of planning in this regard, but the results are well worth it.
Begin by cutting the ends from each orange and slicing the rest into ⅛-inch rounds.
Fill a large pan with water, add the sugar, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, add the orange slices in a single layer, and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until even the pith is translucent, about 40 minutes. Flip the slices every 15 minutes and check their progress. Lower heat as syrup reduces to maintain a simmer. When they are ready to be removed, transfer the orange slices to a cooling rack to dry. Drain the hot syrup from the pan and reserve for use in drinks.
In addition to the candied orange on top, the cheesecake layer is flavored with a bit of orange. Rather than using zest or an extract, I prefer to reduce fresh orange juice to create a syrup. Reduce the ⅔ cup orange juice to 2 tablespoons of syrup by cooking it over medium heat in a small saucepan. Set aside to cool.
Next, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a standard, 12-cup muffin or cupcake pan by lightly spraying the inside of 12 cupcake liners. Finely crush the chocolate wafer cookies. Melt and slightly cool the butter, then add it to the cookie crumbs. Divide the crust mixture evenly among the liners and press it into the bottoms.
For the cheesecake, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, slightly beaten eggs, vanilla extract, reduced orange juice, and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Process until smooth. Divide the cheesecake batter evenly over the chocolate crusts. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheesecakes are almost completely set. Allow the cheesecakes to cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once completely cooled, they can be chilled in the refrigerator.
For the topping, cut candied orange slices into small triangles and arrange on top of each individual cheesecake.