Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake With A Homemade Graham Cracker Crust

Happy New Year! We enjoyed some lovely champagne last night and good company.
 I make Chinese food every year for New Year's for us, regardless of whether or not we have company. But this year, we had family over and we really enjoyed it. I started cooking on Friday because the cheesecake was pretty labor intensive with the homemade crust, but completely worth the effort. I had planned on making this cheesecake last year, but since I was recovering from surgery (and although I was still cooking like a mad woman) I thought it might be a little too exhausting, which it would have been... it requires about 5 hours of constant standing in the kitchen!  So I've had my eye on it for a while and have been saving it for a special occasion.
The thing about cheesecake is, it's my favorite desert. It used to be anyway until I tasted the triple chocolate cake served at the Clam Bar restaurant in Syracuse New York. And I'm not even a big chocolate fan... but this cake... oh... I dream about this cake. I could make it at home, but I'm not going to even try it. I don't need to have access to this cake on a regular basis, it's a once, maybe twice a year thing.
 Anyway, the other thing about cheesecake is, Kevin can't eat store bought graham crackers. Which also means we've had no smores at any of our campfires. Store bought graham crackers contain preservatives he's allergic to - and I've yet to find any without them.
 So what else is a girl to do?... Make your own. It's actually not as difficult as you'd think, mostly it's just time consuming. But the entire cheesecake is, so if you make this, make it for someone you really love or really want to impress :) I made this cheesecake completely out of love. And because I just love making a giant mess in my kitchen that will take me two hours or more to clean up...
 Let me tell you, these are so good and so worth the work. Kevin couldn't figure out how they could possibly taste like "graham crackers" and once he tasted one, he told me I could make about 10 dozen of them. They are good, I was amazed at how tasty they are, and adorable. I can't wait to make them on the road so we can have smores around the campfire!
 Graham crackers from Smitten kitchen

Makes 10 4 x 4.5-inch graham crackers or 48 2-inch squares

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon sea salt 
7 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup flavored honey
5 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoon  pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons  granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse crumbs. (I still do this by hand, so you can do that as well, or use your mixer.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Meanwhile, prepare the topping, if using, by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and setting aside.

 Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. I made mine into two inch squares. I used my pizza cutter to cut the dough - a fluted pastry cutter would make pretty crackers.

Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.

 Using a toothpick or skewer (I used a wooden skewer, it does leave bigger, more pronounced dots like Smitten says on their website), prick the dough to form three dotted rows.

Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Mine took 16 minutes. Watch them carefully so they do not burn- which they will do quickly if you are not careful.  
This cheesecake will go on our list of favorites, I love the combination of the fresh cranberries with the raspberry liqueur.

Cranberry swirl cheesecake from Cooking light
4 ounces chocolate graham crackers 3 tablespoons canola oil Cooking spray 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries 1/2 cup sugar1/4 cup raspberry liqueur3 tablespoons water 1 cup sugar 2 (8-ounce) packages block-style 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/8 teaspoon salt 3 large eggs 2 large egg whites Preheat oven to 375°.Wrap outside and bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan tightly with a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Place crackers in a food processor; process until finely ground. Drizzle with oil; pulse until combined. Press mixture into bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of prepared pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 8 minutes; cool on a rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325°. Place cranberries, sugar, liqueur, and water in a saucepan; boil. Cook 8 minutes or until cranberries pop and mixture is syrupy. Cool 20 minutes. Place mixture in a food processor; process 1 minute or until smooth. Combine 1 cup sugar and cheeses in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Beat in yogurt, vanilla, and salt. Add whole eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Place 2 egg whites in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form using clean, dry beaters. Fold beaten egg whites into cream cheese mixture. Pour filling over crust. Spoon cranberry mixture over filling; swirl together using the tip of a knife. Place spring form pan in a 13 x 9-inch metal baking pan. Add hot water to pan to a depth of 2 inches. Bake at 325° for 50 minutes or until center of cheesecake barely moves when pan is touched.Turn oven off. Cool cheesecake in closed oven 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven. Run a knife around outside edge. Cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill 8 hours.
We ate Jasmine rice, Kung Pao chicken, Broccoli beef, Asian cucumber salad, and pork eggrolls. Our company didn't make it until midnight, but Kevin and I stayed up until about 2 AM with the dogs, and even the birds stayed up. The Prairie dogs were long gone.

I got a very special gift Friday night. After having adopted our current four Prairie dogs two years ago, one of them, Hector, let me hold him. Our former three Prairie dogs, I held everyday, they slept in bed, and in my chair, ran around the house. These four have been very different from the start, but they come from a different home life, they were skiddish, they bite... We've managed to get them over the biting, even our resident grump, Roman, and even Nervous Nelly does not run from us anymore. We've made leaps and bounds with them after lots of love, patience, and attention... but holding Hector in my arms was the first time I felt like I had actually accomplished something with them.
So I have a feeling we have a great year ahead of us. I wish for all of you a wonderful, healthy, and happy year in 2012.
Now I'm off to go sit and drink tea and rest... we are all feeling pretty lazy here today!