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.

Sweet Potato Pie with Pecans and Molasses

This is the James Brown of pies, y’all.  Which is to say it’s got soul and will make you feel good.  It’s a conflux of flavors that combines two of my favorite pies–sweet potato and sticky pecan.  Never let it be said in my presence that less is more.

Ingredients:   

For the sweet potato part:

1/2 recipe of only the best brisée ever

approximately 1 lb. of sweet potatoes

1/4 cup softened unsalted butter

the zest of an orange

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1 teaspoon ceylon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 large eggs

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

 

For the sticky pecan topping:

1 large egg

3 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses

2 teaspoons of light brown sugar

1 tablespoon of melted unsalted butter

a pinch of salt

1 cup of chopped pecans

 

Method:

While your paté brisée is chilling in the refrigerator, bake your sweet potatoes.  Scrub them, pierce them with a fork, and place them on a baking tray covered with foil.  I bake mine for about an hour at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas4.

pre-baked potatoes

Allow them to cool while you blind bake your pie crust for about 15 minutes at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas4..  When it’s close to finished, brush it with egg white and place it back in the oven for another minute or so.

Next, spoon out the soft caramelized center of the sweet potatoes and add them to a large mixing bowl.

caramelized baked sweet potato

 

Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Use a whisk to smooth out lumps.

mix

Pour the mixture into your partially baked shell.  Bake for 30 minutes.

During this time, mix together the ingredients for your sticky pecan topping.

After half an hour, remove the pie from the oven.  Evenly spoon the topping over the pie and place it back in the oven.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes.

When the pie is finished, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.  Serve with a whipped cream of your choice.  For this recipe, mine is cinnamon whipped cream.  I highly recommend it.

baked pie with topping sticky pecans cross section slice

 

 

Masala Chai for Afternoon Ennui

When life is too colorless to continue and like Dorothy you’ve clicked the shit out your ruby-bottomed Louboutins to no avail, forget Starbucks.  Make your own chai instead.  With one sip you will be transported to the shores of French Colonial Pondicherry where life smells of jasmine, desserts taste like roses, and sounds from the Bay of Bengal lull chubby princesses like myself to sleep.

Ingredients:

2 cups water

1/4-1/2 cup milk, depending on your preference

2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

1/2 vanilla bean sliced down the center or a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

the contents of 6 cardamom pods

2 twists of a pepper mill

2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

3 black teabags without bergamot (a strong English breakfast would do nicely)

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar ( more if you prefer it quite sweet)

Method:

Bring the water to a boil.  When it does, add all ingredients EXCEPT for the sugar and milk.  Let bubble for three minutes then simmer for two.

boiling up close boil

Next, turn the heat down to low and add the milk.  Stir often to avoid scalding and also to prevent the milk from forming a skin.  After a couple more minutes of stewing, take off the heat and stir in the sugar.  Now strain your tea into a small pot (my favorite strainer is the top hat model from Fortnum & Mason) and pretend you never tasted the “chai” at your local coffee bar.

straining pouring chai

Post scriptum: The word chai means tea in Hindi so when coffee shops have “chai tea” on the menu they’re being redundant.  Now you know two things they don’t.  1.  How to make proper chai.  2.  The definition of said word.

Blackberry Cobbler

We all know the idiom “When life gives you lemons. . .”  That said, this summer has given us an abundance of blackberries.  Which is why I’m making cobbler.  Well that and because my friend, Miss Danielle Bell of de Porres, told me I should.  When I told her of the surfeit we had and asked whether I should make preserves or pies, she answered with a resounding “COBBLER!”  As her sentiment was strongly supported and echoed on my Facebook wall, I thought I better listen.  Below is the recipe I used this evening based on her instructions.  Let me tell you she is a lady whose word is to be heeded.

Ingredients:

1/2 recipe of Only the Best Brisée Ever

4 cups of blackberries

the zest of 2 small lemons and part of your knuckles if you’re not careful like me (Here’s my public service announcement:  Do not drink and zest.)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

1/2 cup Demerara sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

freshly grated nutmeg (I only went the length of the grater 4 times.  Just enough for a little exotic dust.)

egg wash

Method:

Preheat your oven to 450F/230C/Gas 8.

In a large bowl, mix all your ingredients together except for the berries.  Those you will gently stir in and coat once everything else has combined.  Otherwise, you’ll beat your berries to a pulp.  You don’t want that.

nutmeg

berry mixture

Set the bowl aside.

Divide your dough into three sections.  Two of equal size and small one for rolling cut outs you’ll put on top.

Roll the first piece so it’s large enough to line the bottom of your dish.

1st layer

Spoon a layer of fruit on top of that.

2nd layer

Now do another layer of dough followed by another layer of fruit.  After that, place your cut outs on top and brush with the egg wash.

cut outs with egg wash

Bake for 20 minutes then turn down the heat to 375F/190C/Gas 5.  Continue baking for another 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling.

finished cobbler

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or Greek yogurt.