A Special Valentine + Easy Cheesecake Recipe

Melissa and her mom cheering on the Vols!

Test Kitchen Professional Melissa L. Brinley shares her special Valentine’s Day memories of her and her momma as well as an out-of-this-world cheesecake recipe. Check out the “Delicious Dips” story in the Jan/Feb issue for more recipes from Melissa.  

Melissa and her mom cheering on the Vols!

Melissa and her mom cheering on the Vols!

Every Valentine’s Day, I find joy in thinking back on my relationship with my momma and how it’s developed over the years. Why on Valentines Day? Well, a couple reasons. First, it’s always been a day for me to think of momma because it’s her birthday. It’s never been a mushy-gushy holiday for me with a significant other, and I’m okay with that. Second, does Cupid have a rule that your momma can’t be your Valentine? I don’t think so.

Momma’s favorite dessert is unarguably a cheesecake. For years, our family has had a joke with her about her cheesecake escapades. Baking is a very specific science, and if you tinker with it too much, your recipe will flop. Well, my dearest momma would get too carried away in the excitement of cheesecake and learning new ways to make something she loved and stretch the laws of science against her favor. 

I will never forget momma’s nonfat cheesecake phase. She whipped and mixed up a sticky mess, baking and chilling it for hours. When she proudly sliced into the cheesecake, the custard slowly oozed to refill the hole left by the slice. My younger brother burst into laughter, and my dad quietly switched the stack of plates for a stack of bowls. We got a few chuckles about it but ate it anyway. The flavors of momma’s cheesecakes were always spot on, so we didn’t mind having to eat them with a spoon. 

As I progressed through culinary school, momma finally started asking me questions like, “How come my cheesecake is always runny now? Should I use full-fat cream cheese again?” and we bonded while learning about cheesecake. I shared the knowledge I learned in my introduction to baking and pastry class, and she started stocking up on cream cheese for her experiments. Months went by, and momma’s cheesecakes improved. Her smiles are as wide as ever now as she lifts the pan from the oven in admiration for what she’s created in love for her family.

But I’ve held momma’s best kept secret: she really likes to bake the cheesecakes for herself! My family also appreciates them, but cheesecakes are momma’s treat. Sorry for outing you, momma. This year for her Valentine’s-Birthday gift I’m sharing the best cheesecake recipe. I combined the two desserts she loves most—cheesecake and chocolate-covered strawberries. This is for you, momma. 

Chocolate-Covered-Strawberry Cheesecake
A delicious cheesecake Melissa made just for her momma for her birthday and Valentine's Day.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cups graham-cracker crumbs
  2. 1/2 cup sugar
  3. 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  4. 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  5. 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  6. 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  7. 3 large eggs, room temperature
  8. 2 teaspoons vanilla
  9. 1-2 quarts ice water
  10. 1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
  11. 1/4 -1/2 (16-ounce) package chocolate-flavored candy coating
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 275°. Spray a 9-inch springform pan nonstick baking spray. Tightly line outside of pan with three sheets of foil, coming up around entire side of pan; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together graham-cracker crumbs, sugar, and cocoa powder. Pour melted butter over graham-cracker mixture, and press together using a rubber spatula. Pour graham-cracker mixture into prepared pan, gently press into bottom of pan with rubber spatula; set aside.
  3. In the work bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese at medium speed for 4 to 6 minutes until smooth. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk; beat for 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add eggs one at a time; add vanilla. Increase speed to medium, and beat for 15 to 20 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, pour cream cheese mixture into prepared crust. Place pan on a deep-rimmed baking sheet, and place on oven rack. Slowly pour 1-2 quarts ice water on both sides of pan, filling to at least 1/2-inch up pan. Do not fill above aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour.
  4. Leaving the oven door shut, turn off oven. Let cake cool in oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven, and run knife around pan. Let cool completely. Refrigerate in pan overnight. When ready to serve, run knife around pan again. Remove pan. Slice strawberries, and place on top of cheesecake. In a small saucepan, heat chocolate-flavored candy coating over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth; drizzle over strawberries. Allow chocolate to harden slightly for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
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