We all have favorite recipes we get excited about when the holiday season rolls around. Mashed potatoes, crab dip, pecan pie—you name it, there’s someone who loves it. For our friend Alex, who runs a start-up tech company called BuzzStarter, it’s cheesecake. And I don’t mean he just likes cheesecake a lot, I mean he LOVES it. Like, this much:
What an expression of pure excitement.
What could inspire such devotion? You won’t be surprised to know it’s family tradition. Alex made his first cheesecake with his mom for the holidays when he was in grade school, and cheesecake has been a family tradition ever since. They made a lighter, cottage cheese version that first time, which he called the “best he ever had,” but they’ve experimented with different recipes every year since. I took that as a challenge and invited him to drop by our kitchen to chat, bake a couple of my favorite cheesecake recipes and share a few tips along the way.
We started with a full-sized OREO Cheesecake, which is a perennial favorite with everyone in our kitchens. Alex remembers being “perplexed” the first time he saw a springform pan—something we can all relate to, no doubt—but he looked like an old pro when he was baking with me. Then we moved on to PHILADELPHIA Mini Cheesecakes, which are super easy to customize with seasonal toppings and holiday flavors. We got creative with COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, cranberry sauce, mint, melted KRAFT Caramels, berries, BAKER’S ANGEL FLAKE Coconut and crushed OREO Cookies. Ever wonder how to chop OREO Cookies correctly? It’s all in how you hold the knife. Behold!
Of course, this man cannot live on cheesecake alone…or at least not anymore. Alex is also a breakfast expert—bacon and pancakes are his specialties. He’s perfected his trademark pancake by trying over 150 different recipes! But even an expert can have major cooking fails, and Alex told us about the one time he almost set the kitchen on fire trying to re-create his favorite restaurant French toast: “The night before, I got all the ingredients. Everything was ready. The next morning I started making it, everything was going great. About 20 minutes later, the fire alarm in the building went off because I smoked the entire kitchen! Nobody could breathe in there. They had to evacuate the entire building.” He has the pictures of his sad, burnt French toast, but the bacon still came out perfect. Moral of the story: bacon.
Alex spends as many as 28 days a month working away from home, so we asked him for some advice on traveling during the holiday season. “Get water. If you’re going to travel, you’ve got to stay hydrated.” But as busy as he is, he’s all about making time for the important things in life—like food and family.
One of Alex’s most recent trips was home to visit his family for Thanksgiving, where he got to relax (a little bit) and, of course, make cheesecake with his mom. I’m happy to report that this year our mini cheesecakes recipe made the cut for their Thanksgiving dinner. But these cheesecakes are no one-trick ponies—they’re also perfect as a Christmas dessert. Give them a try yourself!