Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wine and Cheese and Cheese

Well I’m way behind. Apparently I’m a lot better at eating the food and making it than I am at writing about it. This means I have pictures and recipes just waiting for their chance, but I have to get around to posting them before I make another recipe. Two weeks ago I had one of my brilliant ideas: a wine and cheese party. I know, I know, it’s never been done before and I’m the first one to think of it. Regardless of who first put two and two together, I thought an even better, revolutionary change was necessary: have my guests bring the wine and the cheese. I don’t know if they agreed with this ‘innovative’ concept, but I for one loved it. One of the things I appreciate most in life is a fine assortment of cheese, and when you tell your guests to bring their favorites, that’s what you end up with, along with some nice wines. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the beauty of the cheese, but if I do this again (and I have a feeling I will) I’ll capture it on film.

Because my guests were kind enough to bring the cheese (and even some special wine with cowboy boots on it) I thought I’d be decent and provide some dessert. To go along with the cheese theme (I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cheese, and if I were lactose intolerant it would be the end of my life as you and I know it), I thought cheesecake would provide an essential top-off to the night.

Ahhhhh cheesecake. I’ve gotten into a slight habit now of making cheesecake every weekend, and I didn’t make one last night, and I think I’m going to venture into tart-territory tonight and I’m a little lost without my cheesecake (Dan is also lost without his cheesecake breakfast). There’s something magical about cheesecake and the idea that I didn’t like it growing up shames me and seems surreal. At some point though, I underwent a magical transformation (I remember Sundays in high school watching Sex and the City with friends centered around a cheesecake).

Now my daydreams are devoted to what kind of cheesecake I should make next, what flavors I can combine to create a new obsession. I can’t wait to try them out. For my first cheesecake posting though, and to play the part of the finale in the wine and cheese night, I went with a classic, plain cheesecake and it was very well received, alongside a glass of Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry. I was told afterwards it would be hard to live up to that cheesecake, so now, with every new cheesecake I make, it presents a challenge and I get a little nervous. As expected, the cheesecake immediately following this one, unfortunately was not up to par. But that’s for another post though, when I’m feeling stronger.

I’ve made cheesecake before but always following recipes pretty strictly. After looking at many recipes from other blogs and cooking websites, I realized that most plain cheesecake recipes are all basically the same with slight variations in amounts and kind of cheeses, number of eggs, crust ingredients, or inclusion of a top layer, so it gives you a bit of freedom to do what you want as long as you follow the fundamental steps and use the base ingredients (cream cheese, sugar, eggs). I decided to get the ingredients I liked, and throw things into the mix using what I trust the most to test a recipe, my tongue.

My Cheesecake

200 g MariLu cookies (something like that…in Spain they have round, graham-cracker like cookies that they eat at breakfast with Cola Cao or dipped in tea. There are many different brands, but they’re all pretty much the same, and I found I couldn’t tell a difference between them and graham-cracker crusts)
125 g butter

Crush up the cookies any way you can. I put them in two plastic bags, bang on them with various kitchen utensils then put them on the floor and jump up and down a few times. That usually does the trick. Melt the butter and mix it in with the cookies, then press into the bottom of a springform pan (I think mine is 8-inch, and I originally wanted to just do a bottom-only crust, but I had enough to go up the sides and it stuck very well…I’m always worried about it falling, but there was a good cookie to butter ratio). Put in an oven at 170 Celsius and bake for 10 minutes, until you can see the cookies have darkened a bit. Let it cool while you mix the cheesecake batter.

600 g cream cheese
150 g mascarpone
75 g butter
150 g sugar
zest from one whole lemon and juice from half
3 eggs, separated
pinch of salt

After buying the ingredients, I leave the cream cheese, mascarpone, and butter out on the counter to get nice and soft room-temperature. In a big bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, mascarpone, and butter until they’re creamy and well incorporated. If you really like mascarpone, feel free to put in some more. Add or subtract ingredients as you see (taste) necessary. Now add the sugar, whisk again, then grate the lemon zest directly into the bowl and squeeze half the lemon, and whisk again. I think this helps the creaminess, whisking after each addition instead of adding everything at once and giving one big stir. Now whisk in the egg yolks and a pinch of salt. Lastly, I beat the egg whites until they were past soft peaks, but not yet stiff peaks (I got this idea from Tartelette. I don’t know if this really made a difference in the fluffiness of the cheesecake or not, although it was extremely creamy, it might have been so anyways. I’ll have to experiment). Fold the egg whites in. Put in a 180 Celsius oven for 30-35 minutes until it’s still very wobbly but a toothpick comes out almost clean and the top is browning. Cool and then refrigerate until you can't wait any longer, best if overnight.

I admit after I took mine out I thought it was underdone and I’d have to put it back in the oven, but I didn’t and I’m glad for it. The next morning the breakfast of cheesecake was perfectly smooth and creamy, melt in your mouth goodness, having been taken out not a minute too early.

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