I love cheesecake! It’s so rich that don’t eat it very often, but when I do, I always think I should try making one myself. I prefer the dense New York style cheesecake to lighter airier ones. I was excited when reading the headnote for this week’s Cook the Book Fridays recipe challenge for Dee’s Fantastic Cheesecake to see that Dee originally hailed from New York and created this recipe in Paris to recreate the flavors of home.
The only “unusual” ingredient was fromage blanc, a style of soft and creamy fresh cheese from France. I was unable to find this (in spite of searching the Vermont Creamery website to determine which stores in my area stocked fromage blanc; the search results turned out to be inaccurate). The substitute recommended in the recipe (cottage cheese blitzed until smooth) was untenable as I cannot stand the sight of cottage cheese – the curds completely gross me out. Some googling in the grocery store indicated the quark, which was in stock, made a suitable substitute.
As far as effort goes, this cheesecake couldn’t be easier. The ingredients are combined in a stand mixer until they are smooth and creamy. There is no crust, just creamy filling. The mixture is turned into a buttered springform pan (wrapped on the outside with foil to contain any leaks) and baked, then rested in the oven with the heat turned off. I sampled the batter before it baked, and it had the right flavor profile for a New York cheesecake. The hardest part was waiting for it to cool enough to serve at the optimal temperature.
Once adequately chilled, I cut slices for tasting. Sadly, the texture wasn’t what I’d been anticipating. It wasn’t at all dense. Howard even described the texture as feathery. I’m not sure whether the issue is the recipe or me. Admittedly, I made a half recipe, baking it in a 6-inch pan. I winged it on the cooking time adjustments. For the initial baking step, there weren’t any clues to doneness in the recipe. I reduced the baking time from 70 minutes to 55 minutes. After that, it took an hour-and-a-half for the center to be set but still jiggly. And even though the texture isn’t what I was hoping for, maybe it’s the way the recipe is meant to be. Hard to know.
I want to put in a plug for a new cookbook I discovered while browsing at the bookstore last week. It’s hot off the presses, from someone I’d never heard of. As you probably know, I love figuring out the best way to use as much of an ingredient as possible, saving vegetable scraps and bones for stock, herb stems to infuse vinegar, etc. The Nimble Cook by Ronna Welsh has so many new ideas to aid my quest! I’m so excited for spring vegetables to start a season of trying out some of her suggestions.
We’re all entitled to make mistakes. Even though I helped set the schedule, I went on memory and thought the dessert we were making for French Fridays with Dorie this week was the cheesecake tart. Turns out that it’s Waffles and Cream. Think of this as a preview. I’ll make the waffles when I get chance, but I might wait until the week everyone else is making the cheesecake tart.
We’ve been friends for a while now. So I’m comfortable telling you how it is. I am an adventurous eater, and there is little I won’t eat. There is one food, however, that causes me to have a visceral reaction of revulsion. I only have to think of it, not even actually see this food. Can you guess what it is? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s cottage cheese. I don’t know what it is about it. I think it’s the curds. Ricotta doesn’t bother me, or fresh goat cheese, or farmer’s cheese, but I simply cannot deal with curdy cottage cheese. That’s just the way it is.
This week, I made the cheesecake tart recipe for French Fridays with Dorie. The main ingredient is fromage blanc. Fromage blanc is a fresh low-fat cheese with a soft texture like crumbly cream cheese or farmer’s cheese. It’s not a common grocery item, but knowing that the recommended substitute was cottage cheese, I knew that I had to find the real thing.
I was looking for Vermont Creamery’s version of fromage blanc because I’ve seen it around. Instead, I found one made at Nettle Meadow Farm in the Adirondacks of New York State. (Cher, do you know the farm?) This award-winning fromage blanc is made from goat milk and flavored with honey and lavender. That seemed perfect for a dessert. I love how the package lists the different plants the goats forage on! If you can’t read the label, it says: “This cheese is a sumptuous concentration of the organic grains and wild herbs our goats and sheep eat every day, including wild raspberry leaf, nettle, kelp, comfrey, garlic, barley, goldenrod”.
I minified this one: one third of the recipe to make 2 mini tarts. One with dried fruit for me, and one without for Howard.
The tart starts with Dorie’s Sweet Tart Dough. This pastry is one of my favorite recipes in Around My French Table. I always press it into the pan, no rolling required. And the result is like a shortbread cookie base for whatever delicious filling you choose.
For the cheesecake tart, the creamy filling is made from processing the fromage blanc and the other ingredients until it’s smooth. A slurry of cornstarch and milk helps thicken it up.
First, you sprinkle a spoonful of dried fruit (I had a medley of golden raisins, cranberries, cherries, and blueberries) on the bottom of the tart (or not, for Howard). Then, you pour in the filling and bake it until it puffs up. Once cooled, all it needs is a sprinkle of powdered sugar before serving.
When I said I was making a cheesecake tart, Howard stopped listening after I said “cheesecake”. He was imagining a New York Cheesecake, not a French one. Once he got over the initial disappointment, we agreed that it was good, not too sweet or tart or heavy. We both liked It, though next time I’ll surprise him with that New York Cheesecake.
You’ll have to wait until next month to find out how the other Doristas’ cheesecake tarts came out, but if you’re interested in their Waffles and Cream, check out their links here. The cheesecake tart recipe is in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table.