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No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Brain

Spook your friends and serve a delicious brain on Halloween. This no-bake strawberry cheesecake made in a plastic mold looks hauntingly real. Top it with fruit syrup "blood" and you've got the scariest dessert in town.
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 5 hr (includes chilling and freezing times)
  • Active: 40 min
  • Yield: 8 servings
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Ingredients

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 sleeve graham crackers (9 whole crackers)

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch fine salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake:

2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (from two and a half 1/4-ounce packages)

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch fine salt

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 cups heavy cream 

Bright red gel food coloring, for coloring the cheesecake

Strawberry Syrup:

1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Nonstick cooking spray, for the mold

Directions

Special equipment:
a plastic 9.75-by-8.5-by-4-inch (7-cup) brain-shaped gelatin mold
  1. For the graham cracker crust: Pulse the graham crackers, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor until crumbs form. Drizzle in the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the food processor.
  2. For the cheesecake: Whisk the gelatin into 1/3 cup warm water and let sit until softened, about 5 minutes. 
  3. Pulse the cream cheese in the food processor until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Then add the granulated sugar, vanilla, salt, lemon juice and softened gelatin. Pulse until completely smooth. With the food processor running, add the heavy cream and enough food coloring to make the batter a light pink. Process until combined.
  4. For the strawberry syrup: Combine the strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer and simmer until the berries are very soft but still holding their shape. Strain the syrup, transfer the berries to a small bowl and chill. Return the syrup to the saucepan and continue cooking until thickened, about 10 minutes. Chill the syrup until ready to use. 
  5. Coat a plastic 9.75-by-8.5-by-4-inch (7-cup) brain-shaped gelatin mold generously with nonstick cooking spray. Pour half of the cheesecake batter into the mold, swirling the batter to cover all sides of the mold. Freeze for 5 minutes to let the batter thicken. Using the back of a spoon, spread the batter up the sides so there is a 1/2-inch-thick coating around the entire mold. Freeze for 10 minutes to set the batter. 
  6. Add the strawberries to the center of the mold. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the strawberry syrup over the strawberries. Evenly spread the remaining batter over the berries, pressing the batter into the mold to fill any gaps. Top with the graham cracker crumbs, pressing to create a firm crust. Place the cheesecake in the freezer until the sides are very firm and almost frozen, about 2 hours. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 2 hours before serving. 
  7. To unmold the cheesecake: First, carefully place the mold briefly into a bowl of hot water, then run a small offset spatula around the edge of the mold to help release the cheesecake from the sides. Invert onto a plate and poke small holes in the mold with a paring knife to help release the cheesecake from the mold. Carefully pull off the mold. Top the brain with the remaining strawberry syrup.

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