Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with CNN.com. She likes tackling English toffee, sharing green soup, cajoling recipes from athletes and studying up on food holidays.
When you have a hard time recalling what summer feels like, from the warmth of sun on bare toes to a lazy wind ruffling your hair, food will take you there. It’s the sizzle of your neighbor’s grill as he attempts teriyaki satay for the first time, or fried chicken and icebox pie on the Fourth of July. For me, it’s sunflower cheesecakes.
That sweltering July day defied normal summer temperatures in Georgia, and dared to make a mockery of delicate desserts like chocolate and cheesecake. However, I carefully packed an ice-cold combination of the two alongside my cargo of camera gear, preparing for a Sunday 2 p.m. sizzle at Coolray Field.
Working for the Gwinnett Braves, the triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, had already given me nearly three months of baseball-shooting experience, an enviable tan (excluding my white, white feet, always shoved in a pair of dust-coated sneakers) and a family of co-workers that I adored.
So on the hottest day of the year, and a punishing Sunday game at that, I thought we all deserved a little something special just for surviving a 2 p.m. opening pitch, when we were used to a cooler start … five hours later.
A week before, I had hosted the annual summer party at my house. Every year, we invite some of my closest friends over for a food extravaganza. Three days of cooking lead up to the finale on Saturday, when my friends come over and we make gluttons out of ourselves over trays and trays of savory and sweet concoctions.
My mom and I always make too much of everything, even enough to outlast all of the bags of leftovers my friends take home to share with their families.
When we whipped up too many miniature sunflower cheesecakes, we stuck the excess in the freezer. That July day, though, the little cakes were coming with me. Not only did they look cheerful, with their almond-sliver-and-chocolate-drop tops, but they tasted pretty darn good too.
Once I arrived, I strapped on my camera gear like a sports-shooting warrior and began tracking down all of the members within my “Coolray family.” I suppose the parchment-lined Tupperware looked a little out-of-place, but I was used to sweating all of my make-up off in front of these people on a daily basis.
I stopped by to see Lacie, Doug and John, ushers at the premium level seats. They had all been so kind to me from day one on the job, not to mention the countless conversations in between innings and before games.
Eventually I made my way up to the control room, delivering cheer to the video and production team. It was an unexpected delight for each of them, and soon, all of the cheesecakes had been given away.
I settled into my first inning spot, as protected from the sun as possible at 2 p.m., one camera hanging off my right shoulder and another perched on a monopod, aimed at our starting pitcher.
Heat overwhelmed me, until the little things began to appear: a cup of ice water, a wet towel, a recommendation of where to get a nice angle and escape the sun. My friends were returning the favor. Talking and laughing with them, my eye to the viewfinder, I almost forgot about the hottest day of the year.
My next trip back to the stadium, I brought a few copies of the recipe to share.
So if you’re craving a taste of summer and a little bit of sunshine, these sunflower cheesecakes are sure to make you smile. You don’t have to wait for warm weather, seasonal ingredients or even for the sunflowers to bloom.
(Makes about 2 dozen)
Used with permission from Hershey’s Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook
24 vanilla wafers
2 packages 8-oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 Tbsp butter
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with muffin cups. Place one vanilla wafer in the bottom of each cup.
In a large mixer bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Stir in peanut butter chips. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture into each cup.
Bake 15 minutes, or just until set but not browned. Cool in pans on wire racks.
In small bowl, place chocolate chips and butter and microwave on high 30 seconds to 1 minute or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred.
Drop teaspoonfuls of chocolate mixture onto the center of each cheesecake, letting white show around edge. Place almond slices around chocolate mixture to resemble petals. cover, and refrigerate.
does anyone know what type of plate those little cheesecakes are on? I've been looking for a set like that for years.... reminds me of "home".... any ideas?? franlitz at gmail dot com
Another "how to put different junk foods together and pretend it's home-made" type of recipe. Are you a fan of Sandra Lee by any chance?
I'll try this recipe, except I'll be using Eagle Brand milk's no cook cheesecake.
8 oz Philadelphia cream cheese softened
1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
1 T vanilla extract
1/3 C lemon juice
Mix 'em up and it's a done deal in 5 minutes.
Then you're not really trying this recipe, are you.
How adorable :)
Good story and recipe.
I know this wouldn't be good for the Hershey's cookbook but for "Sunflower" cheesecakes, I would suggest using something like apricot preserves in the middle instead of the chocolate.
i think they look delightful and i appreciated the story connected to them.
Yeah, not to mention the quote: "...my friends come over and we make gluttons out of ourselves." I don't think I'd want to admit that — especially when so many people across the globe have nothing to eat for days and days...
So sell your car and your home and donate the proceeds to those hungry people.
Come on, getting together with family and friends and overindulging isn't remotely related to world hunger.
Looks like a recipe for obesity.
That's right, Dee. Nobody in the world should ever eat a cupcake because it will make them horrendously fat. Food should never be fun.
What's fun about eating this junk? Eat to live, don't live to eat. I'm guessing you weigh at least 300 lbs or better.
Enjoy your tofu and alfalfa sprouts... and have a nice day.
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