A couple of years ago, my Tribune Cooks assignment fell the Wednesday before opening day of the baseball season, so I created hot dog recipes inspired by the Cleveland Indians.
This year's turn in the rotation comes two days after the Tribe's home opener, so again my thoughts turned to baseball.
Along with hot dogs, the food most associated with baseball is Cracker Jacks. The caramel-coated-popcorn-and-peanut snack even is in the song they sing during the seventh-inning stretch.
Tribune Chronicle / Andy Gray
Cracker Jack cheesecake takes the ballpark favorite and transforms it into a rich dessert.
So as I wondered what kind of dessert I could make with Cracker Jacks, I came up with the idea of a Cracker Jack cheesecake.
Now, normally, whenever I think of an idea for a dish I haven't seen before, I type it into a search engine on the Internet and discover that 50 chefs, bloggers and home cooks already have thought of it.
But when I typed "Cracker Jack Cheesecake" into my laptop at home, no exact matches came up.
Cracker Jack Cheesecake
Popcorn (1 cup ground)
3/4 cup ground peanuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup caramel topping
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put popped popcorn in a food processor, about one cup at a time, and grind. Repeat until there is one cup of ground popcorn.
Grind peanuts in food processor.
Combine popcorn, peanuts, sugar and melted butter in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. Put mixture in the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan coated with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until it is fluffy. While continuing to beat the cheese, gradually add the 1/2 cup of caramel topping. Add the eggs and milk and beat just until blended.
Pour mixture on top of the crust in the spring-form pan. Bake for about 40 minutes until the center is set. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
Stir sour cream and the remaining caramel topping together and then spoon the mixture onto the cheesecake. Run a butter knife around the edge of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan and let cool for another 30 minutes. Remove the side of the springform pan. Chill in the refrigerator.
Garnish the rim of the cheesecake with Cracker Jacks.
Instead of being excited, I got worried. Why hasn't anyone tried this before? Is this going to be harder than I think?
I did find a recipe for a tart with a popcorn crust, so I thought why not make a caramel cheesecake and put it in a popcorn crust?
Looking at caramel cheesecake recipes, I came across one for caramel pecan cheesecake that mixed ground pecans and graham cracker crumbs for the crust. I decided I could make my crust even more Cracker Jack-y by adding peanuts to the popcorn and grinding each separately in a food processor. And it's appropriate that peanuts are part of the base, because every Cracker Jack fan knows the peanuts sink to the bottom of the box/bag.
To be on the safe side, I doubled the recipe and made two crusts, one with peanuts and one without.
The result? I liked both of them. I preferred the one with peanuts - it's both nutty and buttery while still containing a hint of popcorn - but the plain popcorn wasn't bad either. If you have a nut allergy or just want to try it, use 1 cup of ground popcorn and do everything else the same.
Here's one warning, though. Working with ground popcorn is a pain. Instead of popping my own popcorn, I used a bag of microwave popcorn. Considering the trendiness of salted caramel these days, I figured any noticeable salt would work with caramel filling, and it was an effective shortcut. But grinding those popped kernels seemed to give them a static charge. They clung to the bowl, my hands and any surface to which they could attach. Once the popcorn is mixed with the butter and sugar, it's easier to handle.
The crust pairs well with the caramel cheesecake, which comes together easily, but the quantity isn't enough to make a towering dish. If I make it again, I'd probably tinker with the cheesecake part of the recipe, make my own caramel or increase the amount of filling.
Cracker Jack cheesecake doesn't really qualify as ballpark fare, but it can be a tasty treat while watching or listening to the Indians - or any other team - at home.