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Mini cheesecakes are easy, impressive, gluten-free

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Nealey Dozier
Goat Cheese, Honey and Pistachio Mini Cheesecakes with Meyer Lemon Cream

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Nealey Dozier
Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 6:24 p.m.

Looking for an extraordinary dessert recipe that also happens to be gluten free? These individual goat cheese and honey cheesecakes with Meyer lemon cream are sure to be the piece de resistance of any special occasion when they are served.

This recipe isn't overly complicated per se — most of the work can be done in the food processor, and the various components can be made ahead. Each and every component offers a specific flavor or textural element, which together will rival any cheesecake at a fancy dinner out. The salted-pistachio crust provides a crisp, nutty contrast to the just-sweet-enough creamy filling. Goat cheese gives the cheesecake layer a soft and mellow tang, while a wisp of honey lingers through each and every bite. A dollop of Meyer lemon cream provides a bright and barely tart glaze to gussy up the sweets even more. And, don't skip on the candied pistachios — they take this dessert from merely homemade to James Beard Award-worthy.

And, a bonus for gluten-free eaters: These are, indeed, gluten-free, provided all of the nuts and other ingredients are certified gluten-free, of course.

Nealey Dozier is a writer for, a blog for people who love food.

Goat Cheese, Honey and Pistachio Mini Cheesecakes with Meyer Lemon Cream

If you can find only unsalted pistachios, add 14 teaspoon kosher salt to the pistachios when grinding.

If you can't find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons and add an extra tablespoon or two of sugar.

For the pistachio crust:

1 heaping cup shelled, roasted, nd salted pistachios (see headnotes)

14 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

1 log (11 ounces) mild goat cheese, room temperature

14 cup granulated sugar

12 cup (4 ounces) creme fraiche or full-fat sour cream, room temperature

2 tablespoons good-quality honey

14 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

Pinch of fine sea salt

3 large eggs

For the Meyer lemon cream:

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

12 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest

12 cup Meyer lemon juice, from 3 to 4 lemons (see head notes)

14 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

For the candied pistachios:

12 cup shelled, roasted and salted pistachios, finely chopped

2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon hot water

To prepare the pistachio crust: Combine the pistachios and the sugar in a food processor or mini chopper and process until it becomes a fine meal. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the melted butter; the mixture should resemble wet sand. Divide the dough evenly among 12 wells of an individual cheesecake pan (or a mini-muffin pan filled with cupcake liners) and press firmly into the bottom.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, refrigerate the crusts until chilled. Bake the crusts for 10 to 12 minutes until set. Cool completely before filling.

To prepare the filling: Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Combine the goat cheese and the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process for 1 minute. Add the creme fraiche, honey, vanilla and salt and process for another 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, if needed. With the food processor running, add the eggs through the feeding tube one at a time, and mix until just combined; do not over mix. (If you do not have a food processor, you can whisk the ingredients by hand in the same order.)

Transfer the filling to a measuring cup with a pour spout and fill each cheesecake well almost to the top. Place the cheesecake pan on a sheet pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cheesecakes are just barely set. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill the cheesecakes for a minimum of 4 hours.

To prepare the Meyer lemon cream: Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy, for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the eggs and yolks and beat for 1 minute, until well combined. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and continue mixing until incorporated. (The mixture will become curdled and lumpy upon adding the lemon juice, but it will smooth quickly upon heating.)

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer; the mixture should be just thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Transfer to another bowl and press plastic wrap directly on the surface. Let the mixture cool at room temperature until ready to serve. (Lemon cream will keep in the refrigerator for one week. The texture thickens as it chills; you can whisk in a tablespoon or two of heavy cream to thin, if needed.)

To prepare the candied pistachios: Spread the chopped pistachios on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or a sheet of parchment paper. Whisk the brown sugar and hot water to dissolve. Pour the mixture over the pistachios and toss to combine. Bake in a 350-degree oven until the nuts are golden and toasted, for 8 to 10 minutes. When they are cool, crumble the pistachios for serving.

To assemble: Remove the cheesecakes from the pan and remove metal rounds from the bottom. Bring them to room temperature before serving. Drizzle with the Meyer lemon creme and a sprinkle of candied pistachios.

Makes 12 bite-sized cheesecakes.

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