Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The theme for my friend Josh's birthday party potluck was simple. "Delicious."

With that mission in mind, and in the spirit of birthdays as celebrations steeped richly in traditions of cake and ice cream and sweets in the name of you just being you, I decided to bring dessert. I immediately started to think of layers of cake holding up buttery frosting...but before I got carried away, I figured I should ask the birthday boy what he thought sounded, well, delicious.

"Josh," I said, "when you envision eating dessert at the end of a perfect birthday potluck, what are you eating?"

"Well," he pondered out loud, "I'm not a big fan of chocolate. And I like cheesecake, but I just had cheesecake last weekend, and I like apples, and fruit crisps, and things that are crunchy, and I always like caramel..."

So. Not cake and not exactly an exact answer. But birthday wishes should never go unfulfilled and dessert is not truly dessert if it is not indeed delicious, so I set my mind to thinking. A little cheesecake...apples...caramel...crunchy... Some mixing here and matching there, and before too long those ingredients spelled out a recipe for this:

Cheesecake cupcakes with oatmeal crisp crusts, sauteed cinnamon apples and apple cider caramel. Which, all together, spelled out this:

A mouthful of a name in description, we resorted to knighting the little creations, "Clayton Cups," after the honoree himself, though agreed the name didn't do the 3 bite-sized creations quite the justice they deserved (no offense Josh). But whatever the name, what these jumbly delights were was one big mouthful of tastiness! Creamy cheesecake was punched up with soft, spiced apples, the required element of crunch and the not to be forgotten, dark caramel fancied-up for the occasion with a hint of cider.

Bellies packed nearly full with the evenings perfectly delicious mish-mosh of captain crunch fried chicken, perogies, peach kugel and baked ziti, the apple crisp cheesecake-ettes were the perfect odd pairing to a good bottle of red wine and great company.

So not a seven layer cake, but a birthday done right all the same. I've always loved home cooking because, reminiscent of backyard mud pies and sandbox stews, no matter how strange or unexpected the ingredients you put together, it doesn't have to be about subtlety, complementing flavors, doing things right, or neatly or even that well. It's about having fun, making friends happy, stirring a bunch of things together in a pot and and sharing what you've stewed up. And sometimes, when life is good, and you're feeling pot-lucky on your birthday, everything comes out just, truly delicious.

Mini Apple Crisp Cheesecakes

1 recipe vanilla bean cheesecake

For the crust:
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup oats
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of allspice

1. Combine sugar, oats, cinnamon and allspice. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.
2. Pat a thin layer of mixture into the bottom of cupcake liners. Bake at 350F for approx. 10 minutes, or until crisp.
3. Set aside.

For the apples:
2 Granny Smith apples
1 T butter
3 T brown sugar
3/4 t cinnamon

1. Peel apples and slice thinly. Cut each slice into thirds.
2. In a sautee pan, heat butter, sugar cinnamon and apples together until apples are soft, but still hold their shape.
3. Set aside.

For the caramel:
125 grams sugar
40 grams water
40 grams apple cider
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
pinch of salt
1/4 t vanilla

1. Cook sugar and water over medium-high heat until golden brown.
2. Deglaze with cider.
3. Stir in condensed milk, salt and vanilla.
4. Let cool.

To assemble
Place three pieces of apple into each oatmeal crusted cupcake liner. Pour cheesecake mixture over apples, filling each liner 3/4 full. Using a piping bag, pipe* caramel ontop, in swirls, letters, dots or any shape that looks delicious. Bake at 250F, for approx 20 minutes, or until set.

If you don't have piping bags on hand, fill a ziplock with caramel, twist it closed and cut a small hole in the corner of the bag. Voila; you are ready to pipe!!

Yield: 24 Clayton Cups

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