If you’ve ever been to one of my culinary/health talks or have spent much time hanging out in my online kitchen, you know I’m forever singing the praises of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt. Why? For many reasons. It has one-quarter the sugar of low-fat flavored yogurt, for one thing. The ingredient list on Fage plain whole-milk yogurt reads: “Milk, cream, cultures.” That’s it. The ingredient list on low-fat/no-fat yogurt reads like a chemistry lesson. With lots of sugar thrown in. Big difference right there.
Plus, whole-milk yogurt is far higher in protein than its de-fatted cousins, and that protein plus its unrefined fat means that whole-milk yogurt is far more filling than its watery, sugared-out brethren. Not needing as much yogurt because it’s so satisfying = not having to buy as much yogurt = lower grocery bills. Yet another perk.
Plus, I vastly prefer plain whole-milk Greek yogurt in place of everything from sour cream to mayo since I find the flavor of the yogurt to be more refreshing. If all of that isn’t enough, you can also transform whole-milk Greek yogurt into (a far more nutritious version of) cream cheese by simply letting it sit in a colander in the fridge overnight. The excess whey — that’s the liquid that rises to the top that we normally stir back in — will drain out and leave behind ultra-thick, velvety curds. Little Miss Muffet would be in tuffet-squatting culinary bliss.
Once you’ve scooped your DIY cream cheese out of the colander and into a bowl, you can spread it on whole-grain bagels, smear it on lox, or make cheesecake with it. (Or anything else you’d normally do with cream cheese.) I opted to make mini pumpkin cheesecakes with mine. All you need to do is whip up a simple crust in your food processor and tuck it into muffin cups before pouring in the pumpkin and baking your little cakes. Your homemade cream cheese will make these little cheesecakes marvelously creamy and lush!
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Homemade Cream Cheese Makes 12 mini cheesecakes.
For the crust:
2 cups almond flour (handy tip: grinding sliced almonds in a coffee/spice grinder costs about half as much as buying pre-ground almond flour)
4 dates, pitted
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
6 T. melted butter (3/4 of a stick)
For the cheesecake:
About 1 1/2 cups whole-milk plain Greek yogurt (my favorite is Fage), which becomes about 1 cup of homemade cream cheese
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
1/2 cup freshly cooked or canned pumpkin
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
To make the homemade cream cheese, place the yogurt in a colander and suspend it over a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, you’ll have your cream cheese! Use 1 cup for this recipe and keep any leftovers to use as you would store-bought cream cheese.
Preheat oven to 325F and line a muffin tin with 12 cups. Parchment cups will work FAR better than paper cups — paper cups may become wet and rip apart. Parchment cups are sturdy and will come away cleanly from whatever you’ve baked in them.
First, make the crust by placing all ingredients into a food processor and blending well. You may need to chop up the dates before adding them — halved or whole dates are difficult to process. Press enough of the crust into each muffin cup to completely cover the bottom.
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the homemade cream cheese with the remaining cheesecake ingredients, stirring briskly until well-blended. Spoon into the crusted muffin cups. I like to pour the cheesecake batter into a two-cup measuring cup with a pouring spout, then pour the batter from that into each waiting cup. It’s much easier, less messy, and just overall more efficient than trying to spoon or scoop the batter out of the big mixing bowl. Each muffin cup will be nearly full.
Bake for 30 minutes at 325F, then reduce heat to 300F and continue to bake for another 20 minutes or until tops are just starting to crack and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing the cups from the tin. Don’t let it sit on the rack in the tin for too long — even parchment will eventually get soggy if it sits in a heated tin long enough to collect a substantial amount of moisture. Note that while the cheesecakes will be bubbly and high and threatening to come out of their cups when first removed from the oven, they’ll fall as they cool.
Place individual cups on rack and let cool completely before serving or stashing away in the fridge. Cheesecakes can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Not only do they make great desserts, they make great breakfasts, too!