Keaton Ashton didn’t go into season nine of Kids Baking Championship expecting to nab the $25,000 grand prize. “Really, my only goal was to make it past the first couple of challenges,” says the 13-year-old from Sugar City, ID. But he emerged as a front-runner during the first episode when judges Valerie Bertinelli and Duff Goldman instructed the kid bakers to decorate mini cheesecakes with edible brushstrokes. “I thought, what’s something that’s out of the box?” he says. His s’mores-inspired cheesecakes, topped with brushstroke flames made from candy melts, wowed the judges so much that they named him the challenge winner, foreshadowing his ultimate victory. Try this recipe inspired by his clever idea. —Francesca Cocchi for Food Network Magazine
Preheat the oven to 325˚ F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Beat the cream cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and salt in a large bowl with a mixer until smooth. Remove a heaping 1/4 cup of the batter to a small bowl and mix in the cocoa powder until smooth.
Mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a separate small bowl. Press into the muffin cups to make a crust. Pour in the plain batter, then gently swirl in the chocolate batter with a spoon.
Bake the cheesecakes until set, about 30 minutes. Let cool, then refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. Top with mini marshmallows, caramel sauce and the candy melt brushstrokes.
Candy Melt Brushstrokes:
Melt 1/2 cup each red, orange and yellow candy melts in separate small bowls in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring. Using the back of a spoon, make swipes of each color on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let harden, then arrange on the cheesecakes to look like flames.