Eyeball Cheesecake for Halloween
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Get ready to gouge your eyes out, Hungry People.
It’s Halloween season so my kitchen looks more like a haunted house rather than a place to cook dinner. I like my Halloween foods straight up freaky-looking; none of this “kid friendly” Halloween dessert stuff.
If you’re like me and appreciate all things spooky, no-bake cheesecake dessert quite literally has it’s eye(s) on you.
While this dish looks terrifyingly complicated, all it takes is a little bit of extra patience to get that LOOK.
Make sure to allow each component to set fully so that everything stays together for the final cut. Jell-O, especially when enhanced with extra gelatin, sets quickly. The no-bake cheesecake base on the other hand needs at least 8-10 hours to fully firm up – if you try to remove it from the pan too early, it will simply seep out of the sides and fall flat.
I recommend making the cheesecake a full day ahead of assembly. In fact, if you are short on time, you can make the cheesecake several days in advance.
You can also make the eyes ahead of time as well – but I recommend not more than 48 hours in advance. After that, the panna cotta begins to shrink and the irises won’t adhere to the panna cotta.
No-Bake Halloween Cheesecake
The first part of this recipe is making the cheesecake base. Made with a chocolate cookie crust and then refridgerated to set, this cheesecake is actually scarily easy to make.
- Nabisco Famous Cookies – these are crispy chocolate cookies; use a food processor to finely crush for the crust
- butter – melted then mixed into the crushed cookies to make the crust
- cream cheese – room temperature is best to get the smoothest consistency
- sweetened condensed milk – to flavor the cheesecake
- sour cream – to add some tangy flavor
- lemon – to boost the tartness of the cheesecake flavor
- whipped cream topping – think “Cool Whip” and not the stuff that comes out of the can; for adding air to the cheesecake filling
- vanilla – for added flavor
For a cheesecake that can reveal clean sides, I recommend using a greased spring-form pan lined with parchment paper.
Greasing AND lining the pan properly will ensure your cheesecake can be removed from the pan easily. I lightly sprayed the pan with cooking oil before pressing on the parchment paper. The paper should cover all exposed area on the inside of the pan to prevent anything from seeping around the edges of the paper. Any seeping will cause the paper to stick – so make sure you carefully cover the entire pan.
Making EYEBALL Panna Cotta Cheesecake Topping
There are a few different components to the eyes:
- Jell-O (or flavored gelatin equivalent) – pick your favorite color and flavors for the irises
- gelatin – to help set the irises, pupils and panna cotta
- black writing gel – the same gel you buy for writing on cakes; mix with a small amount of water and gelatin to help it firm up
- panna cotta – for the whites of the eyes; a simple Italian cream dessert thickened with gelatin
This recipe uses of gelatin to achieve a firm but wiggly look.
When using gelatin there can be a fine line between just enough to hold something together to set correctly and too much that you end up with something more like a gummy bear than Jell-O.
Adding additional gelatin to the flavored Jell-O is essential to getting the irises to hold their shape and adhere to the panna cotta. I recommend adding about a half to full tablespoon of gelatin per box of flavored powdered Jell-O mix before making the Jell-O according to the instructions on the box.
Eyeball Cheesecake for Halloween
- 8 tablespoons butter melted
- 1 cup Nabisco Famous Chocolate Cookie Wafers finely crushed
- 64 oz cream cheese room temperature
- ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup whipped cream topping (e.g. Cool Whip)
- 3 oz Jell-O one box per eye color
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin per box of Jell-O
- 1 ¾ cup hot water per box of Jell-O
- 2 tubes black writing gel
- 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
- 1 tablespoon water
FOR PANNA COTTA WHITES:
- ¼ cup water
- 3 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon salt
FOR BLOODY TOPPING:
- 1 box raspberry Jell-O
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
- Grease a springform pan lightly with cooking spray oil. Line the pan bottom and sides with parchment paper that overlaps slightly to prevent any leaks around the sides.
- Use a food processor to pulse the chocolate cookie wafers into small fine pieces. Pour in the melted butter then pulse the food processor again to combine into a thick 'dough' for the crust.
- Spread the 'dough' onto the bottom of the springform pan in an even layer to form the crust. Freeze while preparing the cheesecake filling.
- In a large bowl, combine the room temperature cream cheese with the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla. Use a hand mixer to cream everything together.
- Use a spatula to fold in the sour cream and whipped cream topping. Fold until the mix is an even, consistent creamy color. Do not overmix.
- Pour the cheesecake filling onto the crust. Use the spatula to spread the cheesecake filling evenly to the edges. Tape lightly to release any air bubbles. Chill for at least 8-10 hours. The cheesecake can be made up to a week in advance.
- Lightly grease the sphere molds with cooking spray. Use a paper towel to wipe out the excess oil – too much oil will pool in the molds and create an uneven surface texture.
- In a small bowl or cup with a lip for pouring, whisk together the dry Jell-O and gelatin. Microwave 1 3/4 cups of water for 2-3 minutes until steaming hot. Pour the boiling water into the bowl and whisk until the Jell-O is completely dissolved.
- Pour the Jell-O into the sphere molds about 1/4-1/3 of the way full. Fill just enough to create "irises" in the molds. Chill for about 30 minutes to an hour to fully set.
- Meanwhile, squeeze the contents of the black writing gel tubes into a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the gelatin and water and let the gelatin bloom for 5 minutes. Microwave the black writing gel for 30 seconds
- Pour into the bowl with the gelatin and stir to combine. If the mixture is too thick, microwave in 10 second intervals until the gel melts together with the gelatin.
- Transfer the gel mix to a squeeze bottle. If the gel sets while you are preparing the rest of the ingredients, remove the lid and mircowave in 5-10 second intervals until liquid again.
- When the irises are set, dab a small dot into the center of each iris to create a pupil. Different sized pupils up the creepy factor! Pop the molds back into the fridge for 15 minutes to set the pupils.
PANNA COTTA "WHITES OF EYES"
- Find a large bowl that can fit the bottom of the pot you will use to simmer the cream. Fill it about half way with water and ice cubes. Set aside.
- In a small pot over medium heat, whisk together the milk and heavy cream. Stir in the sugar, salt and vanilla. Do not bring to a rolling simmer – when the liquid starts to steam heavily and consistently after being stirred, remove it from the heat.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the gelatin and water. Let the gelatin bloom 5 minutes. Pour the gelatin into the steaming cream mix and whisk gently until the gelatin is fully dissolved.
- Carefully place the bottom of the pot into the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the mixture is cool but not cold. It should no longer be steaming but should still be a liquid after about 10-15 minutes. Remove the pot from the ice bath and transfer the cooled liquid to a cup with a lip for pouring.
- Pour the cooled panna cotta into the molds with the irises and pupils. Do not overfill the molds – leave a small lip around the top of the mold so that the eye is easier to remove once set. Transfer the molds to the fridge to set for 8-10 hours.
- In a bowl or cup with a lip for pouring, whisk together the raspberry Jell-O and gelatin. Pour in hot water and stir until the Jell-O is dissolved. Cool until no longer warm but not starting to set – about 30 minutes.
- Leave the eyes out for about 15 minutes prior to assembly to make it easier to remove them from the molds.
- Keep the cheesecake in the springform pan while placing the eyes. Gently press the eyes into the surface of the cheesecake. Pour the raspberry Jell-O AROUND the eyes – pouring directly onto the eyes may stain the whites/irises red. Try to leave most of the eyes above the 'blood' to create a floating effect. Chill for one hour to fully set.
- Leave the cheesecake out for about 30 minutes prior to serving to help ease releasing the springform from the sides of the cheesecake. Gently release the pan and pull of the parchment paper. Transfer the cheesecake to a serving plate.
- Chill until ready to serve. Slice with a hot, sharp knife for best results. Happy Halloween!