Saturday, September 03, 2005

Mini Blackberry Caramel Cheesecakes

I've been wanting to make these for a long time. Their picture in Alice Medrich's A Year in Chocolate looked soo inviting. When I found blackberries for sale in the supermarket stand, I knew it was time. Let me say outright that the taste was outstanding. Very creamy and complex, with one taste closely following the next ... Of course, this did not come as a surprise as I expect nothing less from an Alice Medrich recipe. However, they were also very rich and we ended up sharing portions since nobody in my house was able to eat one mini cheesecake in one sitting. But if you love cheesecakes, this may be the ultimate dessert for you.

I encountered two difficulties with this dessert. The first was more of an observation. Part of my caramel hardened and got stuck at the bottom of the molds. It is not the first time this is happening to me, either. If any of you have an idea why, please let me know. (I think in this case it was just as well, because the dessert was still quite sweet. I will definitely reduce the amount of sugar the next time I make it.) The second difficulty was to gracefully unmold the cheesecakes. I used a sharp knife as she suggested and even supplemented by heating the bottoms of the molds with my hand torch, but the results were not always pleasing. Maybe this also has to do with the hardened caramel, I do not know. Suffice it to say that some of my cheesecakes did not look good enough for company. After trying with several different kinds of molds, it seemed to me that pyrex cups worked better than porcelain ones. It looks like Alice used them, too. Her pictures are always so perfect that it makes you think there is some magic involved in the preparation!

All in all, I am happy to have tried this recipe. The caramel--or what little I had of it--mixed with the juices of blackberries and the sweetness of white chocolate tamed by the tartness of the blackberries ... Imagine all this happening in the backdrop of the creamiest of cheesecakes, and you'll know how great that first bite was.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Le Turinois

When my dreams of making a fancy chestnut layer cake did not materialize last weekend, I had to come up with an easy way to use my defrosted homemade chestnut puree. This Internet recipe fit the bill with a couple of modifications. I omitted the powdered sugar since my chestnut puree was already sweetened and did not use the Kirsch. Half of the recipe was enough to fill two mini tartlet pans. I lined the pans with a double layer of cheesecloth which worked well. Also, instead of the icing recipe given in the link, I made my regular chocolate sauce recipe. Thanks to the can't-go-wrong combination of chocolate and chestnuts, the result was delicious!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Fig and Caramelized-Walnut Tart

Two weeks ago, our friend Shehnaz invited us for dinner on August 28th, and I insisted on providing dessert for the occasion. I was thinking a spectacular chocolate and chestnut layer cake with 2 different buttercreams and 2 different kinds of cake layers. But come the morning of August 28th, common sense prevailed, and I decided to use the apples and figs at home. I turned to a tried-and-true recipe for the apples: Normandy Apple Pie. As for the figs, I gave the Fig and Caramelized Walnut Tart recipe from Simple Tarts (by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen) a first try.

I had to make some minor modifications during preparation. I will incorporate the ones by choice--such as the reduction of butter in the crust and sugar in the caramel--in the recipe below, and I will mention the ones made by necessity--such as the brief poaching of my tasteless figs in a sugar syrup and substitution of pecans for walnuts--only here. Although I am not a fig-lover, I thought that this tart is a nice-looking and light dessert. We had it plain, but sour cream or Greek yogurt are suggested as accompaniments in Simple Tarts and I am sure that they would go very nicely with it.

  • Easy Nut Crust (recipe below)
  • 8-10 fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1-2 tbs lemon juice
Line a 9" removable-bottom tart pan with Easy Nut Crust and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F. partially blind-bake the crust. Arrange the quartered figs on the crust, put back in the ovan and bake just until the figs start to soften (about 10 minutes).

While it cools, prepare the caramelized walnuts. Mix the butter and brown sugar, and cook stirring until the sugar melts and a bubbly caramel forms. Now add the walnuts and stir them so that they are uniformly coated with caramel. With my reduced sugar amount, there was no caramel left to drizzle on the tart, but the amount of sugar in the original recipe is 1/4 c, so if you want, you can use increase the sugar and do so. Tuck the walnuts between the fig quarters.

Heat the lemon juice and honey together. Either drizzle on the tart or wait until it thickens a little, and brush the mixture on the figs.

Easy Nut Crust

This yielded a little more pastry that I needed for my 9" tart pan. I guess it would be just right for a 10" pan. The book says that there is no need to use weights before blind-baking, but my crust rose and I had to deflate it with the back of a spoon.
  • 1 1/2 sticks (already reduced from 2!) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 c finely chopped nuts
With an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat to blend. Now add the rest of the ingredients and beat until dough forms. Gather with floured hands and press into the tart pan. Refrigerate and prick with a fork before baking.