Fried Cheesecake Bites

Bennigan's Copycat Recipe

Serves 4-6

1 (24 oz.) container cheesecake filling  (Philadelphia Ready to Eat cheesecake filling)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons sugar
3 cups cinnamon flavored animal crackers
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk
vegetable oil, for deep frying
powdered sugar (optional)

Note - If you cannot find Cats Cookies from Trader Joes, simply use animal crackers and mix 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon with the crumbs.

Empty the cheesecake filling into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the lemon zest, Grand Marnier, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mix until all ingredients are well blended. Prepare a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. With two spoons or with your hands make little balls using the cheesecake mixture. The size should be about the size of a cherry tomato (not grape tomato!).

Place the balls in rows on the cookie sheet -- as many as you can fit. Don't worry about crowding them, just don't let them stick together. Put the sheet in the freezer for 2 - 3 hours.

In the meantime, prepare your cookie crumbs. Place cookies (and cinnamon if using) in a large plastic zip top bag. Use a rolling pin or glass to crush cookies and make crumbs. Place crumbs in bowl and set aside. Close to the time you will remove the sheet from the freezer, prepare the batter using the flour, baking powder, egg, milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons sugar. Whisk until mixture is well blended and mostly lump free.

Heat a large deep pot with oil -- enough to go up the sides by about 3 - 4 inches. The oil should be heated to about 360 degrees. Use an attachable thermometer to ensure that this temperature is reached. If the oil is not hot enough, the balls will fall apart and melt everywhere. If too hot, they will brown very quickly and may burn.

Make an assembly line of the cookie sheet, followed by the bowl of cookie crumbs, and then the batter. Pick up a cheesecake ball and gently roll it in the cookie crumbs, to cover most of the cheesecake, but not all. Then dip the cheesecake ball in the batter (you can use 2 spoons or your hands) and shake off excess gently.

Drop ball in hot oil and wait for a very light brown color to appear. Roll the ball around to ensure even browning on all sides. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place cooked cheesecake balls on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all are cooked. Then sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar and remove paper towels if you'd like a prettier presentation.