Tag Archives: dessert

An Edible Souvenir

13 Aug

For our honeymoon last August, we spent a week on Vieques, a tiny island just off Puerto Rico. Vieques was a US Navy testing ground (i.e., a place to practice blowing stuff up) until 2003; civilian protests finally convinced the navy to cut it out, and upon their withdrawal eighty percent of the island was designated a protected wildlife refuge. The island is thus only beginning to attract significant tourism–until a “W” hotel opened last year, the only options for lodging were small non-chain hotels and B&Bs. Vieques was a great choice for us–nearly empty beaches, a bioluminescent bay, not (yet) overrun with tourists, great for swimming–but it’s definitely not for everyone. You’ve got to be ok with flying in a eight-seat puddle jumper, the odd bug in your rum, and an occasional encounter with one of these. And horses. Lots and lots of wild horses who will remove themselves from the middle of the road whenever they please, thank you very much.

We stayed at a fantastic B&B just outside Esperanza, the smaller of Vieques’s two very small towns. Every night we’d walk into town for dinner at one of the restaurants that opened up onto the malecón, which meant we had views like this while we ate:

On the menu at one of these restaurants was a dessert we’d never encountered before: goat cheese cheesecake. I was wary of such a thing, but we agreed to share a slice. We regretted this decision. The cheesecake was light, lemony, not overly sweet–exactly what a cheesecake should be. (Not this.)

We were back in Chicago for, oh, two days, before I tried to track down a recipe for this perfect cheesecake. I found a number that included a combination of cream cheese and goat cheese, which I am pretty sure was not the case with the Viequan version. No, I wanted goat, and goat alone. I found what I was looking for at Food & Wine: just goat cheese, a little sugar, and lemon. With a few tweaks, I was able to re-create–almost–the dessert we had that night.

Honeymoon Goat Cheese Cheesecake

for the crust:

  • 2 cups almond biscotti crumbs (You can of course use the traditional graham cracker crust, but I thought the almond would be a nice complement to the goat cheese and lemon. And it’s fancier.)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • dash of salt

for the cheesecake:

  • 11 ounces mild goat cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Before I get into the procedure, a few notes:

  • Make sure everything is at room temperature before you begin.
  • Don’t over beat the eggs.
  • On the subject of water baths: The jury is still out on whether water baths are important for the extra humidity, for providing even heat, or both. I didn’t use a proper water bath here simply because I don’t have a pan that is both wide and deep enough for my springform. What I did do is place a large baking dish full of water on the lowest rack of my oven, figuring that I could at least get whatever benefits humidity provides. I ended up with a cake that was plenty moist but that cracked slightly as it cooled. I don’t care too much about cracks–gives it character–but use a water bath if you can.

On we go…

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. If you’re using the method I described, place the pan on the bottom rack now. Prep your springform however you like–parchment circle on bottom, aluminum foil wrapped around the seam, etc.

Combine the crumbs, melted butter, and salt. Dump the mixture into the springform and spread evenly. With something sturdy and round–bottom of a drinking glass, bottom of a measuring cup–press the crumbs until they’re packed down and evenly distributed. Put the pan into the fridge to let the crust firm up until you’re ready to fill it.

In a large bowl, beat the goat cheese, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla until smooth. Add the eggs yolks two at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour at low speed.

In another bowl and using clean beaters, beat the eggs white until they’re firm but before they form peaks–they should still look “wet.” Beat one-third of the whites into the filling on low speed. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Pour the filling into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes; the very center should still look a bit wobbly. Cool completely before releasing the springform.

Black & Blue

19 Jul

Ever have one of those days that’s not truly bad, but not quite good either? One of those days when your plea to the universe is less “Why me?” and more “Come on, really”? A day when you realize that your grown-from-seed, vibrant-when-you-left pepper plants did not survive your weekend away? And the train pulls away the second you get to the platform, and you break the impossible-to-replace headphones you’ve used nearly every day for seven years, and your pizza crust fails for the fifteenth time? And the dryer is broken and you’re left with a pile of wet socks and underwear? Just one of those days when you’re feeling a little pushed around, a little bruised and black and blue?

Yeah, me too. Here’s some dessert to make us feel better.

Black & Blueberry Galette

for the filling:

  • 1 pound fresh mixed blueberries and blackberries (I used about 2/3 blueberries and 1/3 blackberries)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (3/4 cup if you prefer or if your berries are really tart)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

for the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water

to assemble:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • coarse sugar

To make the crust, combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until it’s evenly distributed in pea-sized bits. Add the vinegar to the ice water and slowly pour in, stirring gently. Use just enough water to make the dough come together; it’s ok if it’s a bit crumbly. Divide the dough in two and place each pile on plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to shape the dough into discs. Refrigerate the wrapped dough for at least 1 hour. (This will make 2 crusts, so you’ll have one to freeze.)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Gently stir together the berries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, cinnamon and cornstarch.

Cut or fold a piece of parchment paper to the size of a rimless baking sheet. Lightly flour the parchment. Roll out the dough in a rough circle to 1/4″ thick.

Pile the fruit mixture into the center of the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a ring about 2″ wide. Working in one direction, gently fold up the sides of the crust over the fruit. Brush the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Slide the pastry onto the baking sheet. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Cool on a wire rack.

Grandmothers and the Internet (Mostly) Can’t Be Wrong

5 Jul

So the first item on my Summer 2012 list  is a lattice crust pie. I didn’t set out to go in order, but you know what’s really good? Cherry pie. And you know what’s in season in the Midwest? Cherries. Nearly every stand at the farmer’s market last week had pints and pints of shiny purple-red Michigan cherries.

Choosing the fruit was the easy part. Now I had to decide on a crust recipe, and oh my goodness is that a touchy subject. Butter, no butter, all shortening, some shortening, egg, no egg…

I immediately rejected any recipes that included egg. That just ain’t right. And I would have sworn that all pie crusts used vinegar as a tenderizer, but the internet reveals this is not so. Well then. I hoped Smitten Kitchen could clear things up. Pie Crust 101 is Deb’s take on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. While CI is one of my favorite resources, they can be a little fussy, and I did object to their inclusion of vodka. I wanted a classic crust—the kind of thing someone would find on a brittle, yellowing index card in grandma’s recipe box, including my own. (I don’t know, maybe more grandmothers than I think keep vodka in the freezer? For pie crusts.)

My preference for streamlined recipes also steered me away from any that called for both shortening and butter. I wanted one or the other. In Pie Crust 102, Deb comes down firmly on the side of butter. In most things I usually defer to her wisdom, but…well, I decided I wanted to use shortening, for two reasons. Shortening simply seemed right. Something about Crisco strikes me as particularly American, something that sets pie apart from tarts and galettes. My grandmother’s kitchen always had a can of Crisco in the cupboard, and so does my mother’s. As I sat wondering if I had been unwittingly taken in by patriotic branding campaigns, I remembered that one of my other Summer 2012 list items is a fruit galette. I plan to use a Martha Stewart pâte brisée recipe, and pâte brisée is always an all-butter crust. (Crisco in a French kitchen? I think not.) So why not give myself the chance to play with two different doughs?

What you’ll see below is a composite recipe, the ingredients and measurements chosen from among what seemed to be the most common. Many recipes called for 2 ¼ cups flour, many for 2 ¾ cups flour, so why not try 2 ½? But maybe that 2 ½ cup recipe didn’t include vinegar—now it does. And so on. I’m not going to tell you this is the perfect pie crust, the quintessential crust, the epitome of flakiness. It might not be. But my taste-tester-in-chief was happy, so who am I to argue.

On to the pie!

Lattice Crust Cherry Pie

recipes and procedures are for a 9” double crust pie

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold shortening
  • ¾ cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the shortening until pea-sized chunks remain.

Add the vinegar to the water. Stir in gradually until the dough just begins to come together—don’t overwork it. You still want to be able to see streaks of shortening. Divide dough into two pieces and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least an hour.

When your dough is nice and cold, flour your rolling surface and the rolling pin, and keep a bowl of flour close by to dip into as needed. Roll out one crust, keeping it and your pin well floured, until it’s about a ¼” thick and the diameter is at least 2” larger than your pie pan.

Carefully drape your crust over the pan. If you get a few tears, just patch them with the excess crust you’ll trim from around the sides. Pop the pan back into the fridge while you make the filling and roll out the top crust.

And for that filling…

  • 5 cups pitted tart cherries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • coarse sugar like demerara or turbinado (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the cherries, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with just enough water to make a thick slurry – about a tablespoon or so. Stir into the cherries and set aside until you’ve decided what to do about the top crust.

And about that top crust…

You’ve got several options here. You can roll out the remaining piece of dough just as you did the first, drape it over the pie, trim the excess, crimp the edges, and cut a few slits in the top to let excess steam escape.

Or you can be an overachiever and make a lattice crust:

Roll out your dough just as you did for the bottom crust: ¼” thick, 2” larger than your pie pan. With a pasty wheel or pizza cutter, slice the crust vertically into even strips. You can make the strips as wide as 1” or as small as ½”—I’ve settled on ¾”. They really do need to be the same size though, so if you’re like me and your first freehand attempt looked like a drunk toddler’s work, find a plastic ruler, mark off each cut, and then use the edge of the ruler as a guide.

Now that you have your nice, even strips, go to your computer, click this link, and print Smitten Kitchen’s extraordinarily helpful illustration. I’ve tried typing out the method several times, but honestly, you’ll want a visual aid the first time. It’s really not as hard as it looks, I promise.

A third option would be a mock lattice crust. Still very pretty, but a little less time consuming, as you’re skipping the over-and-under part. Roll, measure, and cut your crust as in the full lattice procedure. Evenly space every other strip vertically across the pie, and then evenly space the remaining strips horizontally across the pie. Trim the excess and pinch together the edges.

So! Now that that’s settled…

Fill the bottom pie crust with the cherry mixture. Place the bits of butter over the cherries. Top with your chosen style of crust. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the crust.

Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. This bubbling part is important – thickeners like cornstarch need to reach a minimum temperature to do their thing. If the crust looks done before the filling bubbles, cover the perimeter with aluminum foil to keep it from browning any more.

Let the pie cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

The Tofu Has Landed; or, Chocolate Pudding

13 May

I have never been into tofu. I didn’t even see tofu until I was in college and it was available in the stir fry line in the dining hall. At that point I figured why have tofu when I can have chicken? But now that we’re experimenting with vegetarianism, I can’t default to chicken anymore. One can only eat so many beans, and I’m not interested in meat replacements like TVP. So let the tofu experiments begin.

I decided to start with a recipe that is equivalent to dipping my toe into the tofu kiddie pool. That is, something that I could expect to neither resemble nor taste like tofu: chocolate pudding! It’s rich but light, high in protein, and stupidly easy to make. I’m hooked.

Chocolate Tofu Pudding

16 ounces silken tofu

8 ounces semisweet chocolate

6 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a blender, whip the tofu until it’s completely smooth. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (or double boiler, if you want to get fancy or if your saucepan is flimsy) stir together the chocolate, water, cocoa, and vanilla. Melt over low heat until smooth.

Pour the melted chocolate into the blender with the tofu and process until well combined. Pour the mixture into six to eight small ramekins and refrigerate until set (at least an hour).

The recipe called for six servings, but the pudding is so rich that I parcel it out into eight smaller portions. I have a set of the tiniest ziploc plastic containers and they’re perfect for making this pudding lunchbox friendly.



Adapted slightly from Moosewood: Cooking for Health. The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar; I made one batch with and one without and couldn’t taste a difference, so now I just skip it.