“Where have you been?”
“What have you been doing?”
“Why haven't you posted a new recipe?”
These are frequent questions from my readers. And I’d love to tell you all that I've been busy filming my own show, or that I couldn't come to the computer because I was elbow deep in tomato sauce, but the truth is sadly something very different.
At 40 weeks and 1 day pregnant my husband and I lost our little girl. Her heart just stopped, and we don't know why. We never got to hear her voice, or see her smile, or know what she looks like when she first wakes up. We never got to have all those “firsts” that we had excitedly anticipated.
We were ready for her: diapers unpacked, tiny clothes in her dresser and a place for her to rest her head right next to mommy. It was supposed to be the week we brought her home, the week we stumbled our way through parenthood, laughing as we put diapers on backwards and figuring out the difference between a “boppy” and a “breast-friend”.
But that's just not what happened.
Now this is the point where you may be thinking “this is such a private thing, why write about it on the internet?” Let me explain...
In my personal life everyone from my dry cleaner to the grocery store employees knew about my baby girl, and they watched day to day as my belly grew and grew (yes, I go to the grocery store every day). And then at 6 months pregnant she made her first TV appearance on the Food Network Star Finale. On national TV I stood there, belly in-tow, and told the whole world all about how blissfully happy we were to be growing our family.
So when we didn't bring her home and all these people started asking about her, we had to tell them. We had to share this very personal information, and we suddenly found ourselves having intimate moments with the most random people.
And then there came questions from all of you, my internet family. People would innocently ask how my baby was doing or how motherhood was treating me and I would have to tell them the truth. It's 2014, the internet age doesn’t allow for secrets.
But along the way I realized something. I didn't just have to tell them, I wanted to tell them, I wanted to tell everyone.
Every time someone asked, I got to tell another person about my daughter. I got to tell them that we named her Willa and that she had my ears, and lips, and that we even shared that little dimple on my chin. I got to say how big she was at 8lbs 4oz and how her hands were the longest I'd ever seen. I got to tell them how beautiful and absolutely perfect she was. And as I talked about her, I found that for a moment, though fleeting, I was truly happy. I may have tears in my eyes when describing her big cheeks and dark hair, but I want you to ask about her because when you do, she lives on just a little bit more every time.
I am constantly trying to find ways to remember her, to honor her. So as I am getting back on the horse and finding my way back into the kitchen I love so much, I knew my first recipe would have to be for her, for my Willa.
I know what she liked because we spent a lot of time together. And she often made her requests known. Lemonade became something I could not live without, and she sent me searching all over NYC for the perfect blend of lemons and water. Sugar was request number 2 and she would demand it constantly and in many different forms. And last, let us not forget, the cheese.
And so I thought I would take all these things and make baby Lemonade Cheesecakes for her. Sweet and tart and just what she liked.
Willa's Lemonade Cheesecakes
servings: 6 small cheesecakes
- Two 8-ounce bars cream cheese, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup + ½ cup sugar (keep separate)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature (purchase ½ pint)
- Juice + zest of 1 lemon
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 6 mini graham cracker crusts
- 10 tablespoons heavy cream (the portion of the ½ pint not used for the cheesecakes)
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1½ tablespoons powdered sugar
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 6 yellow Sour Patch Kids
- 6 very thin strips lemon peel
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have ready a baking pan (with sides) large enough to hold the crusts in a single layer (use 2 pans if you need to).
- Place 1 bar of the cream cheese, the ⅓ cup sugar, and the cornstarch in a food processor and process until combined and smooth (you can use an electric mixer for this instead, on medium speed). Add the remaining bar of cream cheese and process until well incorporated.
- Add the 6 tablespoons cream, the remaining ½ cup sugar, the lemon juice and zest, and the vanilla to the cream cheese mixture and pulse to combine. Then add the egg and process until the mixture is smooth.
- Pour the cream cheese mixture into the crusts, dividing equally. Arrange the crusts in the baking pan and place on the pulled-out rack of your oven. Carefully pour water into the baking pan to come halfway up the side of the crusts. Push in the oven rack and bake the cheesecakes until the centers are set—about 20 minutes. Then turn off the oven; crack the door open and leave the cheesecakes in it until they are close to room temperature—about 20 minutes. Lift the cooled cheesecakes from the water and transfer them to the refrigerator; let chill for at least 1 hour.
- Whip the cream while the cheesecakes are chilling: Place the cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Turn the mixer to high speed and whisk the cream until soft peaks form—1 to 2 minutes. Refrigerate the whipped cream, covered, until ready to serve.
- When ready to serve the cheesecakes, place 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar on each, spread it around and then tap off any excess. Use a torch to brûlé the sugar (melt and brown it) or turn on the broiler and place the cheesecakes under it very briefly. Tip the cheesecakes out of their tins. Place a dollop of whipped cream on each and decorate with a Sour Patch Kid and a strip of lemon peel.
- Depending on their size, the cheesecake filling may be more than enough for 6 crusts, and I always buy extra so none of that delicious filling goes to waste. If you end up with 1 or 2 additional cheesecakes, increase the total granulated sugar amount accordingly, so you can top each with 1 tablespoonful.
- To cut the strips of lemon peel, use a citrus zester with a channel cutter (a small blade that feeds the zest through a tiny hole)—they’ll come off in delicate curls.