Category Archives: Dessert

Valentine’s Honey Ricotta Cheesecake Pie (Dark Days)

Remember how I said that I love cheesecake? Well, the stars aligned this week, and I finally had a good reason to make a cheesecake. For the Dark Days challenge, we were asked to make a local, seasonal Valentine’s day dessert. I’ve also been experimenting with cheesemaking, and had just made a fresh batch of ricotta from local Strauss cream and milk. So I went looking for a cheesecake recipe that I could make with local ingredients. As I searched, I found a great recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for a honey ricotta cheesecake.

However, the crust was made with biscotti, which I definitely could not source within 150 miles. So I decided to make the crust with local almonds and butter. The only challenge I had was that the recipe called for sugar. I decided that I would continue to use the small amount of sugar called for in the recipe, as I didn’t think that honey would work from a textural standpoint completely.

I don’t currently have a springform pan, so I decided to modify the recipe to be made in a 9″ pie pan instead. So it’s technically not a cheesecake, though I used a cheesecake recipe. I’m calling it a cheesecake pie, but the key is that it’s simple–no water bath, and it’s easy to put together. (FYI, you can still do a water bath if you want–I did have some cracking on part of the outside edge, which the water bath likely would have prevented. I’m not that picky, however!)

Another great part of the recipe is that it’s entirely made in the food processor. And for those of you out there without a food processor, unfortunately, this is probably not a recipe that will work for you (you really need it to grind the crust and puree the ricotta). For the crust, I used whole raw almonds, local Strauss butter, and a few tablespoons of sugar. The process is ultra simple–just blend the nuts, salt and sugar till finely chopped, then add the melted butter and pulse until it is incorporated. The mixture will look like breadcrumbs–definitely not like a pie dough–you can see it above.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Dump the mixture into the pie pan, and spread it around evenly with your hands and the bottom of a glass or measuring cup that is flat. Press it into corners and about 1/2 of the way up the sides of the pan, trying to keep it at equal thickness all over. Make sure you compress the crust, as it needs to be firmly in place to keep from crumbling when you pre-bake it. The crust needs to be baked empty for 15-20 minutes, until it is light brown. Take it out to let it cool for at least 30 minutes.

Honey Ricotta Cheesecake with Almond Crust

Serves 8

For the Crust

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 5 tbsp butter (unsalted)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)

For the Filling

  • 1 (12-ounce) container fresh whole milk ricotta, drained (or 10-oz well drained homemade ricotta)
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature, or 16-oz creme fraiche, if that is what is available to be sourced locally
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange blossom or clover honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (or blood orange, lime, etc.)
  • 4 large eggs
Optional–for Topping
  • 1 blood orange
  • lemon or lime curd

While the pie crust is cooling, turn the oven down to 350°, and place the ricotta into the food processor (I didn’t bother to clean it after making the crust–it only had a few bits left in it). Blend until it is completely smooth. This is important, as the texture of the cheesecake is much better without the pronounced graininess of the ricotta. Then add the cream cheese or creme fraiche (I used local Bellwether Farms creme fraiche, which is very thick and similar in texture to cream cheese, because I couldn’t find local cream cheese) and the sugar, and blend until well mixed, stopping once or twice to scrape down the walls of the processor.

Then add the honey and lemon zest, pulsing until incorporated. Finally, add all 4 eggs and blend just until they are mixed in. Pour this filling over the cooled crust. Make sure not to jostle it around very much, as the drips will tend to burn. For the most attractive cheesecake, fill only up to the level of the crust. If you have any extra filling, you can always fill a ramekin or two and bake them separately for a cook’s snack (take out much sooner).

Place the pie pan in the oven, and cook for about 40 minutes. This is much faster than a typical cheesecake, as the filling is thinner in the pie pan. Be sure to take the pie out before the center is firm–it will continue to firm up as it cools, so the ideal creamy cheesecake is jiggling a bit in the middle when you take it out. Let it sit out for about an hour, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving.

As you can see above, I added a simple little valentine’s flourish with some blood orange segments. Just cut out a blood orange into segments, and pick two of similar size. Lay them out on the cutting board paired together, and trim to develop the heart shape. Transfer to the top of each slice, and you have a lovely Valentine’s heart. This cheesecake is also delicious served with lemon or lime curd. You can drizzle some on the bottom of the plate before you put down a slice, then add the blood orange heart on top, or place a dollop of lemon curd on the top, as you see below. This makes for a fun and relatively easy Valentine’s dessert, or really a great base for any seasonal toppings you want throughout the year.

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Sour Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream

I’m kind-of in love with cheesecake. Creamy, decadent, and rich, it’s definitely a special treat. However, it’s not something I can justify making just for a Sunday afternoon.  The challenge with making something like cheesecake is that it’s a little bit too easy to keep eating if you aren’t serving it to a crowd.

So I decided the safest route would be to make ice cream, and get my cheesecake in a more easily rationed frozen format. So I got out the  ice cream maker, and started brainstorming. I thought of the sour cherries I canned in a light syrup last spring, and ended up trying to recreate New York cherry cheesecake in an ice cream. This ice cream turned out to be exactly what I wanted–rich and decadent enough have a small scoop satisfy, and with the creamy and tangy combination that I was going for.

The base was pretty simple. Sour cream, cream and eggs get cooked together with the sugar, then cooled overnight (while the ice cream maker gets chilled in the freezer). The next day, throw in a bit if maraschino liqueur of you have it (or vanilla if you don’t), and some cold milk. Since the milk never gets cooked, I ended up using raw milk. I like drinking raw milk, but use pasteurized milk for cooking. I always like to use raw milk in recipes when I can, as it is much easier to digest (and better for you) than pasteurized.

While the ice cream was churning in the ice cream maker, I drained the canned cherries, reserving the liquid. I chopped the preserved sour cherries in half, then added them after the ice cream was frozen. The ice cream comes out looking like soft serve, and needs at least a couple of hours in the freezer to harden. The liqueur in the ice cream helps to keep it from freezing too hard. If you want to create a syrup for your ice cream, you can cook down the syrup from the cherries to make a sauce.

Sour Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream

1 pint heavy cream

2 cups whole milk (I used raw milk, as this part is never heated)

16 oz cream cheese, softened

2 cups raw / organic sugar

3 beaten eggs

2 tsp maraschino or kirsch liqueur (or vanilla, if you prefer)

1 cup preserved sour cherries, drained and cut in half (reserve syrup to reduce for topping)

In a large saucepan, whisk together the cream, sugar, and eggs. Cook and stir over medium heat until it begins to thicken. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, then gradually beat in hot mixture. Cover and chill completely.

Stir in the milk and vanilla. Freeze in a 4-quart ice-cream maker according to directions (or two rounds in a small , then scoop into a freezer-safe container to store. Stir in the cherries. Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.

If you are interested in making a syrup to drizzle on top, here is how I made mine. In a small saucepan, heat the syrup from the sour cherries with 1/2 cup sugar (if your cherries were canned in a light syrup, like mine) until the mixture comes to a boil. Let it cook until it reduces by 25% and begins to thicken. Chill completely, then drizzle on top of your ice cream when serving.

You could definitely adapt this to a variety of berries–I think it would be fantastic with blueberries or strawberries. You could even swirl in a ribbon of jam in place of  the cherries. In fact, I may try that next time!

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Cream Cheese + Cookies = Magic

We now interrupt this local food challenge with an word from our sponsor. Cookies.

With the Dark Days Challenge in full swing, I have been working hard to cook local and seasonal meals. However, it is the holiday season, and I hate arriving at a party without a sweet treat to add to the mix. Not to mention the fact that I have to keep up my blogger cred by plying my colleagues with tasty experiments.

And there was this cookie recipe that I’d been eyeing. Super simple. Everyone raves. So I gave it a test run–made one batch of dough, and cooked a couple of cookies to test it out, refrigerating the rest. Wow. Those anonymous internet commenter folks weren’t kidding. This was about 2 weeks ago, and I’ve literally made this recipe or a variation of it at least 5 times, once in a double-batch. It’s that good (and I might have made an impulse purchase at Costco of a 3lb block of cream cheese before I even tried the recipe. But let’s not talk about that).

I am not a “pretty” cookie baker. You wont find royal icing and cookie cutters being used in my kitchen very often. I don’t have the patience for that, and I find that I tend to like the lumpy-bumpy cookies the best, anyway! My favorite cookie is one that is moist and chewy, with a satisfying crunch around the edges. This is my new favorite cookie. To begin, I’m going to send you to Food52, where Merrill Stubbs shares her mom’s recipe for Cream Cheese Cookies. I didn’t do much to the recipe, so I’d recommend starting there. It’s super simple–just 5 ingredients. (Don’t tell my friends at work who think I’m a baking god after tasting these).

I only really changed two minor things in Merrill’s recipe, both of which contributed to the texture in a really positive way. First, I refrigerated the dough prior to baking (I try not to have an entire batch of cookies in my kitchen with no dedicated purpose. These are the kind of cookies where you could eat the entire batch in a day or two with no help. Really). Second, I made the cookies about 50% bigger than the recipe recommends. This combination made the center stay really soft and chewy, and the outside was crunchy, almost like shortbread. I highly recommend that approach, which also leads to a bit longer baking time (more like 16-18 minutes in my oven).

But I can’t just sit here and send you to another person’s recipe. I was inspired to find ways to incorporate the magical ingredient of cream cheese into other types of cookies I love.

I have a secret for you. One of the best parts of these recipes is that the cream cheese replaces the usual addition of egg, so lick the spoon (and the beater, and the spatula, and the bowl…) to your heart’s content–no salmonella!

So here’s the thing. I love ginger cookies. Specifically Heidi Swanson’s Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies. Now that you mention it, I guess they were last year’s cookie obsession. And I did a little mingling. And the magic works! The ginger flavor feels like Christmas to me. The molasses adds a bit of depth and darker color, as does the brown sugar. I tried using whole wheat pastry flour, as Heidi does, and was happy with the result (and felt a bit more virtuous), but if course it will work with regular all-purpose flour. They retain that crispy-chewy combination, and give you another variation on the cream cheese cookie if you want a bit more depth of flavor.

Ginger Cream Cheese Cookies

Makes about 24 small or 16 large cookies

½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tbsp molasses

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 heaping cup whole wheat pastry flour (or you can use all purpose)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tbsp turbinado sugar (to sprinkle on top)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a standing mixer or hand beaters, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the molasses, salt and ginger, and mix to incorporate. Add in the flour, and mix just until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and give it a quick stir with a spoon or spatula to make sure everything is evenly mixed.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each cookie (they will spread a little). Don’t use a silpat for these—they will run into each other—I’d put them directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

After about 10 minutes, pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle the cookies with turbinado (or raw) sugar. This gives them a bit of sparkle and crunch.  Pop them back in, and let them finish the rest of the baking time. Do not over-bake, or the cookies won’t be chewy! Cool slightly on the cookie sheet, and then remove the cookies with a spatula and let them finish cooling on a rack.

If you really like chewy cookies, I recommend chilling the batter before you bake it, and making the cookies a bit bigger than usual. This will make the inside cook less quickly while allowing the outside rim to get crisp, as explained above. Cook more like 16-18 minutes.

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The Food52 Potluck

This particular potluck was a gathering to celebrate the Food52 cookbook’s launch, and it included an amazing cast of characters. There was Amanda Hesser, the former food editor of the New York Times, and author of the Essential New York Times cookbook. Merril Stubbs, the co-founder with Amanda of Food52, who is an amazing recipe tester and food writer, was the other guest of honor.

We gathered to congratulate the many local cooks who were included in the recipe collection, and to share food that was lovingly prepared by these fantastic Bay Area cooks. The day was such a joy–I always love spending time with people who are as crazy about experimenting in the kitchen as I am.

I mean, take a look at this charcuterie and cheese basket–this was contributed by our hostess for the day, Lynda of the blog Taste Food. She made pork rillettes, candied bacon, pate, and more. Wow! The day was fantastic, and I took tons of photos. This will be a picture-heavy post, as I’ve not got much time, but I wanted to make sure I could share some of these lovely food photos with you. Here goes!

Pickles, pickles, pickles!

Salad with pomegranate seeds, persimmons, and hazelnuts. Wow. That was one good salad!

This was a sausage and kale dinner tart–so delicious–it was a great combination of salty sausage and healthy kale. Here’s the recipe!

This was a fantastic pot roast served with acorn squash.

Desserts were lined up and ready to be put out for round two. Here are the recipes for the Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze and the Tangerine and Almond Shortbread Tart. The tangerine almond tart (on the left) was amazing–crispy and chewy, and the tangerine flavor really marries well with the almonds.

One of the other fantastic cooks being celebrated, Susan of the blog The Wimpy Vegetarian, slices her lovely apple tart.

Susan also brought her Pear & Rosemary Pate de Fruit, which was delicious with cheese!

Tiffany of the blog Still Simmering (shown in the top photo with her camera) brought incredible Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary, which was actively in a competition on the Food52 website. She later won as the “Best Holiday Confection”, and I understand why. Yum!

We had a great time chatting with Amanda, who is in the center in grey–for someone who is a well-respected author, journalist and food entrepreneur, she is incredibly humble and genuine.

Merrill was also so sweet–she is very pregnant, and was still flitting about and meeting everyone.

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Quick Apple Galette

This was just way too easy. I ran across a frozen sheet of pie dough in the freezer. I don’t usually buy pre-made dough, but for some reason, I had caved and bought a two-pack, then froze the other one. I decided it was time to use it up. I must say, this recipe is one I’ll keep in my back pocket for anytime I need a last-minute dessert.

I didn’t bother with a recipe. I just laid out the crust, peeled a large gala apple and sliced it, then spread the apple slices around the interior of the crust, leaving about a 2″ margin. I then sprinkled the apples with brown sugar (2 tbsp) and cinnamon (1 tsp), and dotted the surface with bits of butter (2 tbsp). I folded the sides up over the apples, then brushed the edges with an egg white. I finished by sprinkling the whole thing with raw sugar. The entire process took about 5 minutes. I didn’t even think to take pictures, as it didn’t seem like anything special.

I baked the galette in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. When it came out, I was amazed at how good it looked, after so little effort. And it was delicious! I must say, this is something I’ll need to explore more, especially with homemade crust. I have a few pears from my farmshare that would be perfect. I’ll post the pear version with more photos as soon as I get it made!

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