A soft graham cracker crust with the simplest cheesecake filling makes these cheesecake cookie cups the perfect cookie plate surprise.
Especially during the holiday season, I crave everything with cinnamon and other warm spices. Bonus points for cookies with molasses in them, like graham crackers and our super soft chocolate ginger molasses cookies.
Nothing goes with those spices better than cheesecake, but I’ve got cookie gift boxes to fill and cheesecake just doesn’t travel. I remember years ago making soft graham cracker cookies to make copycat moon pies, and they were a huge hit. One local parent actually asks me about them nearly every time I see him. For real.
Why bake them in a muffin tin?
I started out making almost these exact cookies but as thumbprints. You can actually bake the cheesecake filling right in the middle of the thumbprints, and it does work.
But you just can’t get enough cheesecake filling in there to satisfy. Instead of thumbprints, though, I was sure I could bake these cheesecake cookie cups with a deeper well, and bake a true cheesecake filling together with the cookie dough.
I learned long ago how to make a cookie recipe into cookie cups. I baked them empty and fill them with no-bake cheesecake or whipped cream and berries soon before serving. They make such an impressive presentation but are super easy once you get the technique.
The beauty of baking these in a muffin tin is that the cheesecake filling and the cookie dough rise together in the oven. I use very little leavening in the cookie dough and only an egg yolk in the filling instead of a whole egg. That helps the cookies keep their shape and form. And the filling is deep enough to actually taste like cheesecake.
You don’t want someone to bite into one of these cookie cups and say, “Tastes great. What did you say was in the center?”
What is the dough like to work with?
This cookie dough is not dry, but it’s not wet, either. The ingredients are balanced just right, which makes it especially important that you bake by weight, not volume (and use one of my recommended all purpose gluten free flour blends).
When you mix the dough, it will stay in wet crumbs until you knead it together with your hands. In that way it’s similar to our strawberry white chocolate chip cookies. Trust the process, though. There are no mistakes in the recipe.
A word about mini muffin tins
We talked about miniature muffin tins when we made our two bite gluten free brownies, but it bears repeating here. They are not all created equal.
You can use any miniature muffin tin to make these cheesecake cookie cups. You can even shape them similarly to how you would using the muffin tin, and bake them (filled) on a baking sheet (they will flatten a bit, though).
But you’ll have the best luck with these if you can make them in a miniature muffin tin with relatively deep wells and gently sloped walls (not entirely vertical). I usually use a USA Pans brand miniature muffin tin, but I just bought some “Good Cooks” brand that I’m kind of hopeful about (You know the brand you often find in grocery stores? I really like it!).
My current favorite standard muffin tin is a nonstick pan made by Wilton that isn’t too dark and isn’t too light. I’m tempted to try their miniature muffin tin, but it’s not like anyone is begging me for mini muffin tin recommendations so it’s hard to justify yet another tin!
Ingredients and substitutions
I’ve got good news and bad news about substitutions, but mostly bad news. 😔Let’s jump right in.
Dairy-free: First, the good news is that you can make the cookie cup portion of this recipe dairy-free by replacing the unsalted butter with half (56 g) Earth Balance Buttery Sticks and half (56 g) nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening. You could probably also try using all Melt brand vegan butter. It’s worth experimenting.
The cheesecake filling is an entirely different story. Cheesecake is the third rail of dairy-free baking. I’ve tried soooooo many recipes and variations of recipes, and absolutely nothing has tasted like actual cheesecake to me.
Absolutely none of the dairy-free cream cheeses taste authentic to me. I’ve tried them all. I’ve also tried cashew-based dairy-free cheesecake fillings. Some taste pretty good, but they’re just not cheesecake to me. I’m so sorry to disappoint!
Egg-free: This is a hurdle, too. Both the cookie cups and the cheesecake filling call for egg yolks. Egg whites can often be replaced by aquafaba, and whole eggs with a “chia egg.” But egg yolks are hard. I’ve never had much luck. If you have a favorite egg-free egg yolk substitute, please let us know in the comments!