Lightly Lemony Mascarpone and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

I know it’s Pi Day and everyone is making pies but I don’t care. This post is about cheesecake and I’m not just talking about the dessert. What I’m talking about is the illustrated art of Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren. The cheeky glamour of Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. I’m talking about those black and white photos of me in 1940s swimwear and cork heeled wedges that I let my friend take the last summer we were in high school.

I mention this not only because I’ve made a cheesecake and want to share the recipe with you, but because there is such a cheesecake element when it comes to marketing women and food. Whether its Padma Lakshmi eating ribs in her underthings and licking chocolate off her wrists or Nigella Lawson provocatively putting pasta in her mouth, so many female cooks are presented like pin-ups. Gorgeous hair, makeup, and plunging necklines over pushed up breasts supported by flirty peek-a-boo bras.

I’m not judging this cheesecake aspect, but where’s the beefcake counterpart? Where is the Magic Mike of Mediterranean cooking and why isn’t he sexfully telling me how to make mezze? Men’s cookery books and television programs are not promoted this way.

While the story behind the term cheesecake is probably apocryphal, I choose to believe. In 1912, James Kane, a photographer for The New York Journal, was positioning a model when a breeze blew up her skirt. As more leg than usual went on display, he tried to think of the greatest superlative to express his delight. Being a huge fan of cheesecake, his response was “That’s real cheesecake!”

I wouldn’t necessarily call Dita Von Teese cheesecake even though some of the photos she has taken are very much so. But she has mastered the art of vintage pin-up glamour better than anyone else. So before I give you my recipe, I’m going to leave you with a video of Dita doing what she does. You’re welcome and I hope you enjoy the recipe.

Gil Elvgren

Alberto Vargas

Betty Grable

 

Marilyn Monroe

padma

Padma Lakshmi

padma2

Nigella Lawson

Ingredients for the base:

3/4 c ground almonds

10 Hobnobs

40 g meted unsalted butter

Method: 

Put the Hobnobs and almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are crumbly like meal. Add the butter and pulse the mixture again. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of a 9″ Springform tin. You can use your hand or the back of a spoon to do this. I like to use the bottom of a drinking drink. When it’s all smooth, place it in the refrigerator.

 

Ingredients for the cheesecake mixture:

500 g Mascarpone

100 g cream cheese

100 g caster sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp vanilla bean paste

zest of 1 lemon

4 eggs

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180°C/350°F

Put the cheeses in a medium sized bowl. Use a hand mixer to beat them until they are smooth.

Add the sugar, eggs, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla bean paste.

Put the kettle to boil.

Remove the tin from the refrigerator. Twice cover the outside of the tin with strong foil.

Place the foil wrapped tin in a large roasting dish.

Pour the cheese mixture into the tin.

Pour boiling water around the outside of the tin. Don’t pour it more than halfway up the cake tin.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the center of the cake is set but not rigid.

 

Ingredients for the creme fraiche topping:

175 g creme fraiche

1 tbsp caster sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

 

Method:

Whisk the ingredients together until smooth.

Pour the topping over the cheesecake then put it back in the oven to bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove the roasting tin from the oven.

Carefully remove the Springform. Remove the foil from its outside then stand it on a rack to cool.

When it has cooled completely, put it in the refrigerator to chill.

The Cure (a briny breakfast to chase those roaring butterflies away)

After an evening with an old friend that began with Australian semillon, Aretha Franklin and crab claws and ended with chardonnay, caviar and The Cure (but only after a rioja and ratatouille interlude–okay, and maybe some pie), it was no surprise when I awoke to the roar of the butterflies this morning .

Funny how Robert Smith’s voice was the last thing I remember as I was now in dire need of a cure.  Once downstairs, I saw the glass of water and paracetmol I left out for myself in anticipation of whatever this morning would hold.  Always think ahead and always see the glass half full.

paracetamol

Still, I needed more than a water soluble analgesic to help me start the day.  I turned to the fridge for inspiration.  There it was in the form of streaky bacon, fish eggs, crème fraîche, and Araucana eggs.  Bacon, as you know, is essential to every breakfast of champions.

bacon

But so too is a rich briny egg dish.  Here’s what I did: crack 3 large eggs into a bowl, whisk in a tablespoon of crème fraîche, stir in some fish eggs and a bit of salt.  Once cooked, I topped the eggs with more crème fraîche and caviar.  I’m American.  I like too much.  And the next time you’re feeling hungover (or decadent ) I hope you remember this and enjoy it too.

fish eggs egg mixture cooking eggs eggs

Crab Cakes for Lenny Bruce

Recently, I walked through the aisles of my local supermarket and was horrified when I stumbled upon the American section.  Imagine a few shelves packed with every manner of preservative and artificial color.  Everything from Fruity Pebbles to Nerds and Cheetos to Pop Tarts and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Basically, food for children.  Or stoned people.  I was so embarrassed I had to walk away.  I didn’t want other shoppers to think I was contemplating putting any of these items into my basket.  Then I saw the Boylan’s Black Cherry Soda and I couldn’t resist.  I also couldn’t help thinking about Lenny Bruce.

In the 1960s, Bruce neologized Jewish and Goyish as part of his act.  In it, he included many foods.  Black cherry soda being one of them and to me the most memorable.  Probably because as a kid it was my favorite drink to order when eating Reuben sandwiches at Greenblatt’s.

Kool-Aid is goyish. All Drake’s cakes are goyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish, and, as you know, white bread is very goyish. Instant potatoes–goyish. Black cherry soda’s very Jewish. Macaroons are very Jewish–very Jewish cake. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime jello is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.”  This is what played out in my head as I stood mouth agape looking at the black cherry soda of my youth.  I started to feel self-conscious with all the passersby witnessing my struggle.   

Eventually I put the indecision to an end and put the bottle of Boylan’s in my basket.  I headed for the check out and drank my soda with relish on the way home.  When it was finished, I hid the evidence of my crime against acceptable cuisine in some random recycling bin on the street.  I wanted no evidence to shame my English family.

Then the snob in me surfaced.  Sure I might have been purchasing crap from the American section of the grocery store but I was buying Jewish crap, not Goyish. Not that any English person would necessarily know the difference.  Nor any Goy.  But I knew and this made me feel superior.

When I came home, I had Lenny Bruce on the brain and that night his spirit found its way into my cooking.  Throughout his career, Bruce was frequently arrested under charges of obscenity.  And as obscene as he was charged for being, I topped that in the kitchen by making the most unkosher thing imaginable(not that I’m kosher).  Crab cakes with creme fraiche on top.

Lenny, I dedicate this obscenely good crab cake recipe to you and if you were around, I’d invite over for dinner so you wouldn’t have to be all alone.

Ingredients:  

1/2 a pound of cooked crab meat

2 medium potatoes, peeled, diced, boiled and steam dried

a bunch of dill, chopped

a bunch of chives, chopped

2 tablespoons of capers, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sumac

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

the zest and juice of a lemon

3 tablespoons creme fraiche

1/4 cup mayonnaise

vegetable oil for frying

salt & pepper

a plate of flour for dredging

a plate of one whisked egg

a plate of bread crumbs (I find 2 pieces of toast is all I need)

 

Method: 

In a large bowl, mash the potatoes with half the herbs, spices, zest, and juice.  Then mix in the crab and incorporate well.

crab mixture

Form the mixture into cakes and refrigerate them about half an hour.  While they are chilling, combine the creme fraiche, mayonnaise, remaining herbs/spices/juice/zest for your sauce.  Set this aside.

crab cakes

Dredge the cakes in flour, then egg, then coat with breadcrumbs.

pre-frying

Place some oil in a large skillet.  Over medium heat, fry the cakes until golden on both sides.

frying

Serve immediately topped with sauce.

crab cakes with sauce