Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Citrus Cheesecake

Right, well I can't keep starting every post with an apology for tardiness, so I'm just going to dive straight in with this recipe.

Lemons and citrus are, as a whole, my favourite dessert flavours ever. Sure, chocolate and berries and all other things good and nice in the world are great, but there's just something about citrus. Lemon cupcakes over vanilla, always. Lemon biscuits instead of chocolate chip. Tarte aux citron? Heaven. That reminds me that I really do need to make/post up that wonderful Roux brothers tarte aux citron which has been my go-to for years now...but that's for another day, when I have more time to actually have to go through pastry-making (things have been rather busy over here, unfortunately).

So instead, to amend the lack of citrus on this blog so far, let's get into this citrus cheesecake. It's another super-easy set cheesecake, but I promise you that unlike the previous chocolate-based cheesecakes, this is light, tart, and very zingy. We served it up at a dinner party a while back and it was almost palate-cleansing, since I've really cut down on the sugar due to my own preferences and wanting a fresher citrus taste rather than sweetness.

500g cream cheese
200ml double cream
100g sour cream
Zest and juice of 2 limes
Zest and juice of 1 and a half lemons
5 tablespoons of caster sugar
2.5 teaspoons of gelatine, dissolved in 80ml of water
250g Gingernut biscuits
80g melted butter
Lemon curd, gently melted in a pan.

First blitz your gingernut biscuits to a fine crumb in a food processor. Mix together with the melted butter until it reaches the texture of wet sand- it should just hold together when pinched.

Grease a spring-form cake-tin with a little butter, taking care to grease the sides well. If you're worried about sticking, just line the sides with greaseproof paper. Once your tin is prepared, firmly press the biscuit crumb mixture into the base. It should be tightly packed into the base.

Place the tin and biscuit base into the fridge for later.

Next, using an electric hand-whisk or stand mixer, beat your cream cheese until it has softened and is smooth. Beat in the sour cream, followed by the cream, until the mixture is well combined and smooth. Then add the juice and zest of your lemons and limes. If you want a completely smooth texture to your cheesecake, you can omit the zest but I think it adds a little extra fragrance that I like (and I don't mind the bits).

Then beat in your sugar until well combined. Do have a taste- I'll admit that the citrus with the addition of the sour cream really does make quite a tart cheesecake, however I like that it isn't overly sweet. If that isn't quite your thing and you prefer a sweeter cake, then at this point you could add in extra sugar to taste.

Once your desired amount of sugar has been beaten in and is well incorporated into the cream cheese mixture, turn to your lemon curd. Two options here...

Melt down about a quarter of the jar (yes, I'll shamefully admit that I did not make my own lemon curd at this point. But do use homemade if you have it at hand) in a saucepan over a gentle flame. Don't let it melt to a wholly liquid state, but it should be runny enough to work with.

It's at this point that I'll admit that I did not do the following step. I wholly intended to marble some lemon curd through the cheesecake mixture before putting into the fridge to set. I forgot.

However, I did at least remember to use the lemon curd for decoration...

Using a teaspoon or pippette, dollop spots of lemon curd over the top of your cheesecake like so... 

Then, get yourself a chopstick or some other suitable utensil and gently drag it through the outer ring of spots in one fluid movement. Repeat with the inner circle until you get something that looks like this:

Sure, not completely perfect...but still quite pretty, no? 

Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge to set for at least four hours. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving, just to loosen up the sides so that you can pop it out of the tin without any issues. 

Serve up with the remainder of the melted lemon curd as a sauce, or on it's own. Enjoy!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Strawberry Pavlova.

To make up for this update being rather belated, I'm going to share my much-coveted recipe for pavlova (I may be exaggerating slightly when I say 'much-coveted'...but I have been asked for the recipe by several people. So it's basically the same thing, right?)

Not that I can take much credit for the actual recipe. I came across it a few years ago on a recipe card being given out at a Market in Edinburgh. I picked up a couple of these recipe cards and though I haven't actually tried out the other recipes (which include a Redcurrant & Strawberry Cheesecake tart that I'll have to try out one day), this pavlova recipe has been one of my go-to, fool-proof dessert recipes ever since.

It's really very easy once you know what you're looking out for, and you can dress-up/change-up in any way you want. I've made a chocolate version (which I'll include as an option two in the instructions), and you can use almost any combination of fruit you like. I've made it using pomegranates and berries, with melted chocolate drizzled across the top. Mixed berries is a nice, tart combination. Or classic strawberry, as here.

5 egg whites
300g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
425ml double cream
450g strawberries (or other berries/fruit of choice)

And for the chocolate version:
50g grated dark chocolate
1 tablespoon cocoa plus additional for dusting

First, preheat your oven to 140 degrees Celsius/120 degrees Celsius fan oven.

Line a baking tray with greaseproof, non-stick baking  paper. 

I'm just going to take a moment to show off the pavlova plate that we got given by friends a few years ago. It's a great plate, even if it does lie (the recipe stated there is not the Best Pavlova Recipe Ever. This one is- trust me). However, I do like that it takes the time to remind you to read the rest of the recipe before you cover it up with baking paper- very considerate of them...

Blend your cornflour, vinegar and vanilla into a paste and set aside. I may be wrong, but I don't think it makes too much of a difference what kind of vinegar you use. White vinegar will, of course, leave the colour of your pavlova unaffected but for some reason, we never have any white vinegar in the house. We do, however, always have lots of balsamic vinegar. I'm sure that somewhere out there, an Aussie/pavlova expert is going to read this and faint with shock, but...well, I've always used whatever vinegar I have to hand (so, namely balsamic, sherry or red wine vinegar). And the pavlova has always turned out just fine. I'll admit that, of course, these coloured vinegars do mean that the final effect isn't quite as downy white as one might expect but I'm convinced that the meringue tastes better with balsamic vinegar. I'll leave it to you to experiment and decide.

A good pavlova should have a crisp meringue shell covering a pillowy, marshmallow-like centre. It's for the latter texture that you need the vinegar-cornflour-vanilla paste, as it allows the centre to cook and set, marshmallow-like.

Back to the recipe... Whisk your whites with an electric whisk (or, if you're feeling particularly buff and brave, by hand- your call). Ensure that your beaters are dry and clean before you start. Whisk your whites until they've reached the stiff peak stage, i.e. until the point where when you lift the beaters out of the egg-whites, they'll come away and stand up in peaks on their own (see photo below).

Once the whites are at the stiff peak stage, start whisking in your caster sugar one tablespoon at a time, alternating with teaspoons of your cornflour-vanilla-vinegar paste as you go along. Slowly add in all of the sugar and paste until you  have a thick, heavy, glossy mixture that is firm enough to stand up on it's own.

I'm sure many of you know of the classic test to see if your meringue is fully beaten... Now, as much as I wanted to show you a photo of me with the bowl upside-down over my head, alas there wasn't anyone else around to take the photo for me. So instead, you'll have to make do with this following sample to show that, yes, I was able to hold the bowl upside down without it ending in disaster (note the Jamie book in the background as proof that this is in fact an upside down shot):

At this point, if you're wanting to make a chocolate version, halve the mixture and in one bowl add your grated chocolate and cocoa powder to the meringue mix. Stir it together then gently fold it into the plain meringue mixture- don't fully mix it; leave it marbled.

Spoon your meringue mixture onto your prepared baking tray/pavlova plate.

Stand back and admire it for a moment before shaping it into a circle- try and leave a slight dip in the centre, to allow for the whipped cream topping later. You can be as 'artistic' as you like with it at this stage. If you have a pallet knife, you can very well fashion a smooth-edged round, but I rather like getting in a few swirls and waves in there. I feel it's more reminiscent of the floating ballet-dancer's skirts that the likes of the dish's namesake, Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, would have worn.

Bake in the oven for an hour. Be careful not to let your meringue brown in the oven. Once cooked, turn the oven heat off and leave the pavlova to sit in the oven with the heat off and the door closed for at least an hour or so. It's really important not to skip this stage, since this helps to prevent the inner marshmallow-centre from collapsing and causing too many cracks. I've resigned myself to the fact that my pavlova will always suffer from slight outer-cracking, but a collapsed centre is just upsetting and unacceptable. So please, I beg of you- be patient and leave it in the oven. And don't open the door.

Once you've let your pavlova cool in the oven, top with lots of whipped cream and as much fruit as you can pile onto it.

There- wasn't that easy? One great thing about this dessert is that once you know the proportions, it's very simple to amend the proportions to suit the number of servings required- I think the smallest I've made is a three-egg version for about four people, and the largest was a twelve-egg version that served about fifteen or so. Going by this recipe, your egg-to-sugar ratio is at 1 egg to 60g of caster sugar, so adjust your recipe accordingly.

I'd advise you to make a little bit somehow all disappears before the end of the night anyway. Enjoy! 

Friday, 16 September 2011

Double-layered Malted & Vanilla Chocolate Cheesecake

Right, and we're back to our usual scheduling of sugary dessert goodness. Oh dessert, my love, how I've missed you so...

We kick-start our roll of desserts with a double-layered malted milk chocolate & vanilla white chocolate cheesecake. I know the name's a mouthful but trust me, while you're explaining what it is to your guests, they'll be too busy stuffing their face and rolling on the floor in delight to care. I promise.

I really like cheesecake. Understatement. I love cheesecake. Set cheesecakes are great as they are perfect make-ahead desserts, which suits me just fine as a frequent dinner-party host. And they are super-easy to make too.

Now, when I say 'malted milk chocolate', I actually mean 'Milo'. If you haven't heard of Milo, it's a malted milk chocolate drink which I very much associate with my Malaysian childhood. I'm sure you can substitute the Milo for chocolate Horlicks or some such other malted powder.

250g plain malted biscuits
100g salted butter
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 x 300g tubs of cream cheese
300ml double cream
2 teaspoons of gelatine powder
60ml of water
250g white chocolate, melted
250g milk chocolate, melted
2 tbsp Milo/chocolate Horlicks
2 tbsp vanilla essence
Additional melted milk chocolate to decorate

First, grease the base and sides of a spring-form cake tin with a removable base.

Whip out your trusty food processor and blitz those biscuits to a fine crumb. Melt your butter and stir into the crushed biscuit crumbs with 1 tbsp of sugar until it starts to come together with a texture like wet sand. Press the crumb mixture into the base until tightly packed, then place the tins into the fridge to chill.

Divide the cream cheese evenly between two bowls. In one bowl, add your vanilla essence and melted white chocolate then add the melted milk chocolate, malted milk chocolate and 2 tbsp of caster sugar into the other.

Dissolve your gelatine into warm water and set aside. 

Separately beat each cream cheese mix with an electric mixer until well combined. Into each bowl, add 30ml of the water dissolved with gelatine and beat well using your electric mix, until the mixture is smooth.

Onto your biscuit base, pour in the white chocolate vanilla mix and clean down the sides to leave a smooth edge. Carefully spoon the milk chocolate mixture onto the top and gently smooth the top.

Place into the fridge and chill for at least 5 hours. Before serving and once the cheesecake has set, melt some milk chocolate until it is runny. Dip a chopstick into the melted chocolate and drizzle/flick it over the top of the cheesecake until a 'net' has been created on the surface. Cover with clingfilm and place back in the refrigerator to chill until ready to serve.

Once again, these photos are thanks to Jason Kang!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Salmon En Croute

Today's post is one final detour from the sugar-highs that usually grace the pages of this blog and also a way for me to have another moment of laziness, since this is a sort of guest post from my lovely 'baby' brother. Sure, he's 21 now and about a foot taller than me but he's still my baby brother. Hence why I'm always suitably surprised and impressed when he's able to use sharp knives without supervision and is able to produce something as impressive as this salmon en croute. You'd think I'd be used to it by now. I managed to embarrass my (baby) sister this summer when I basically freaked out at her wandering a mall with her friends without parental supervision. She just gave me 'that look' and reminded me that she's now 15, not 10. 

Anyway, enough rambling and making myself feel old. As I mentioned, this post comes from my brother, who has kindly provided the recipe/instructions and did the actual cooking, while I took a handful of photos (that don't do the dish justice). Perhaps if I can get the sister to stop frying her cupcakes, then maybe I could get her to guest post too and we'll have a full set (she's going to love that jibe...) Let's give it a couple of years and see. 

And now, on to the recipe. I have been assured (and having read over the instructions) that this is one of those wonderful recipes that look really impressive, but are actually very simple. My favourite kind. Also, excitingly, this is the last post with photos of questionable quality/resolution, as everything from now on has been captured on the new camera. And now, handing you over to my brother... 

One side of salmon, skinless.
One tub of cream cheese (about 200g).
One large bag of spinach, fresh or frozen (about 400g).
Puff pastry - the number of sheets required depends entirely on the size of the salmon you have.
One egg, beaten. 

I recommend making the filling first:
1. Take a large pan/saucepan and fill it with half an inch of boiling water. 
2. Add the spinach and a knob of butter, and quickly sauté it until soft.
3. Once the spinach has cooled down, push it firmly against a sieve to release as much moisture as possible; this is VERY important as it ensures the pastry won't be soggy at all. 
4. In a bowl, mix the spinach with the cream cheese and season well. 

Now to prepare the salmon:
1. It is vital to skin the salmon if it hasn't already been skinned. If you don't know how to skin a salmon,  I recommend you watch this video.
2. Pin bone the salmon.

Assembling the salmon en croute:
1. Line a baking tray large enough to fit the side of salmon with baking paper that has been well greased.
2. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry large enough to fit the side of salmon. The pastry should be about 5mm thick. More than one block/sheet might have to be combined; if that's the case then join them with some egg wash.
3. Lay the salmon on the pastry. Make sure there is a space of about 1cm around the side of salmon.
4. Season the salmon and carefully spoon on the filling across the salmon evenly.
5. Brush the edges of the first sheet of pastry around the salmon with egg wash.
6. Roll out another sheet of puff pastry as per (2.) and carefully place it on top of the salmon, taking care not to stretch it or to trap in too much air. Tuck the pastry in well around the salmon, press the edges together to seal and trim away the excess to leave a 2.5cm/1in band all the way around. 
7. Ideally, you would rest the salmon for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 190c fan oven. 
8. Brush the salmon parcel well with egg wash all over. 
9. The artistically inclined can now decorate the parcel in whatever way they wish with any excess pastry and by scoring any patterns onto the surface. 
10. Add another glaze of the eggwash to ensure the pastry will be crisp and bake the parcel for around 30 mins or until the pastry is a golden brown.
11. Remove the parcel from the oven and let it rest for 5 mins before serving. 

Salmon en croute is equally delicious warm as it is cold and so any leftovers can be kept in the fridge. 

This really is quite a simple dish to make but it just requires a lot of preparation. In fact, all of the steps can be done in advance. 

...And there we have it, folks! Thanks to my brother for his post. I'm sure I'll be able to convince him to do another post when I'm in for another savoury fix here. Next week we're back to our sugary ways, with a cheesecake experiment...