Friday, January 11, 2013

A Little Bit of Both: Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries and Turtle Brownie Bites

A few weeks ago, I was asked to bring a dessert-type thing to a NYE party, I found it difficult to decide what to bring.  Should I bring a decadent chocolate dessert or a lighter, fruit-based choice?  Should I make something that requires a plate and fork or finger food?  I did not have time to bake the day of the event, so whatever I chose would need to be simple enough to assemble in a couple of hours.

After spending far too long researching what to bring, I thought of the big family dinners we had growing up - these events always included a choice of two or more desserts.  When us kids were asked which selection we preferred, we promptly declared,"A little bit of both."   I had my inspiration:  I would assemble a platter with a little bit of both:  Cheesecake-Filled Strawberries and Mini Turtle Brownie Bites.  

Recipes abound on the Internet and Pinterest for both of these items.  Some recipes call for making your own components, others employ a mixture of those which are store-bought and homemade.  I did not have the time to make my own cheesecake, caramel or ganache - I was going semi-homemade.  While I spent a bit more money in the store, I saved myself the time and hassle of cooking and cleaning all afternoon.  

Keep reading to see how my husband and I assembled a yummy tray of elegant small bites that was a big hit at the cocktail party:

Cheesecake Filled Strawberries

  • Strawberries, washed well
    Note:  The big, dipping strawberries were not available, so I used the largest I could find the day of the event.
  • Cheesecake
  • Graham Crackers - about 4 squares, crushed

General How-To:
  • I rinsed the strawberries well and patted them dry. 
Rinse the berries really well.
  • Next, I removed any remnant of stem so the berries sat flat on the leaves.  Some recipes advise to remove both the stem and leaves before hulling the berries. My berries were not huge to begin with, so I used the stem as the base of the bite, and removed only the remnants of the stem and left the leaves.   After I sliced the end of each berry (using a paring knife) and removed the cavity, I placed all the cuttings in a bowl for future use. 
Slice the bottom of the berry off...
And remove a cavity from the berry.
  • Once my berries were prepped, I addressed the cheesecake filling.  I originally planned to make my own cake.  But then I took my husband grocery shopping. He suggested that we just buy the cheesecake, rather than spend time making the filling from scratch.  After all,  I really only needed the guts of the cake.  We purchased a small, NYC-style cheesecake (without a crust) in the bakery department.
Store-bought, NYC-style, crust-less cheesecake
  • To prepare the cheesecake filling, I sliced off the hardened top of the cake, placed the rest of the cake in a bowl, and then used a spatula to mix it all together until it had a creamy consistency.
Cheesecake turned into filling
  • I placed a piping tip into the corner of a gallon-sized plastic bag and then filled the bag with my cheesecake mixture.    
Fold sides of the bag down to ease the process, scoop filling and fill your bag.
  • Once all the cheesecake mixture was in the bag, I snipped the corner and squeezed the mixture into the the corner.
Cheesecake filling ready for berries
  • Alas, the tip I chose was a bit small.  When I squeezed the filling, the whole piping tip came out of the hole.  No worries, though - I just piped through the bag, without a tip.  This method worked just as well, and took no time at all.   After I filled all the berries, I used the back of a spoon to smooth the surfaces.
Filling berries took no time at all.
  • Now for the topping.  I crushed up my graham crackers to use as a topping.  I could easily have left the berries unadorned, drizzled them chocolate, topped them with nuts or berry coulis, etc.   
Crushed graham cracker to sprinkle on berries
If you choose graham cracker, as I did, sprinkle the tops of the berries with the graham crackers just before plating so that the topping does not get soft and soggy.
Completed Berries
 My cheesecake stuffed strawberries were a big hit - both taste and presentation were well-received.  My pictures may not be as pretty as the ones on Pinterest (I used my phone's camera), but the taste is just as good or better!  Going semi-homemade was SO the way to go with this dessert, too - everyone seemed to enjoy the combination of cheesecake and strawberries, and no one could tell that the cheesecake was not hand-crafted.

Turtle Brownie Bites:

Now, on to the chocolate portion of the program.  I knew I wanted something rich, dark and chocolaty for my dessert platter.  But what?   My typical cookies were good, but a NYE party dictated something a bit more dressed up.  While scouring Pinterest for ideas, I happened across several repins for turtle brownie bites.  Hmm.  Chocolate, caramel, pecan and brownie?  All in two bites?  Yum!

Just like the strawberries, many recipes exist, with varying degrees of complexity.  My husband offered to assist me with the preparation, and loved the idea of semi-homemade as well.  So, rather than making brownies from scratch, homemade ganache or salted caramel sauce, we bought ready-made ingredients, and assembled them into our version of the mini turtle brownie bite!

  • Brownie Bites
  • Caramel Topping
  • Fudge Topping
  • Pecan Halves
Mini Turtle Brownie Bites:  Four Ingredients are all it takes!
General How To:
I lined a cookie sheet with wax paper and a baking/cooling rack.  The wax paper is to catch the drips from the toppings.  Next we placed the brownie bites on the rack.    After my husband microwaved the fudge topping (so that it would drizzle properly), he simply used a spoon to drizzle the toppings on each brownie.  Then, he placed a pecan half on top.  That's it.  Super simple and done in 5-10 minutes.

Wax paper catches caramel and fudge topping drips.
  • He placed the sheets of brownie bites in the refrigerator to set up.  The bites were good to go after about an hour.  
Let bites set up in refrigerator for about 1 hour
After removing them from the refrigerator, we placed each bite in a mini cupcake liner.  This made it easier for guests to handle - no one likes sticky hands!
And, to transport the brownies, we plated them with an overturned funnel to keep the plastic wrap from messing up the tops.
Turtle Brownie Bites ready for transport.
These were a hit with guests as well.  The chocoholics in the crowd especially loved them.
A little Bit of Both:  Plated and ready to Enjoy!
Both of these small bites are in my rotation for quick, easy, and party-worthy dessert items.  I was able to assemble them in less than an hour, and did not spend a ton of time cleaning up pots, pans, etc.

By being O.K. with going semi-homemade, I was also able to share a little bit of both with my friends.  What's better than that?

Have you made these items?  Share with me what tips and hints you have.      

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