September 2, 2013
« cheesecakes » deux façons
(cheesecake two ways)
Knees shaking, arms stiffly at my side, I started: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent…” I was in front of my eighth‑grade class. It was my turn to recite the entire “Gettysburg Address.” Everyone had to do it. There were no exceptions.
About once a month, our teacher, Dr. Kinney, assigned us a short poem or speech to memorize and then recite. I still remember pieces of some of the works:
… a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
That’s the remainder of the first sentence from Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
That’s how Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” starts. The last line, “And miles to go before I sleep,” is also one I remember. The lines in between are a bit hazy.
The following is how John McCrae’s famous poem of the First World War starts.
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place
At the time, it seemed like a chore without a purpose. Even though we would discuss what each work meant and its historical significance, they still seemed quite distant. But in the years that followed, each has come to mind at different times for different reasons.
“In Flanders Fields” came to mind often during the Vietnam War. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” would always pop into my mind when I came home from work late at night during four snowy winters in Rochester, New York. The “Gettysburg Address,” or pieces of it, pops into mind at almost random times.
Even though I can’t remember a single line from it, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is the one poem that seems to be with me the most. In this case, it’s the meaning that rattles around my mind. Unfortunately, so does Yogi Berra’s malaprop, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Recently, I was playing in the kitchen, and I came to a proverbial fork in the road. This was a unique intersection because I could simultaneously take both paths, and not just metaphorically.
A market I frequent recently announced its last week of existence. Unfortunately, I had a gift card for the market with about $170 still on it. I had one day to spend it all. Everything in the market was reduced by 30% so my card was really good for almost $250 worth of groceries. That’s more than I spend in two normal months. I filled my shopping cart while at the same time trying to calculate how much room I had in my freezer, refrigerator, and cupboards. One of the items I purchased was a package of cream cheese. Early that morning I had seen a cheesecake recipe that looked interesting and possibly shrinkable for serving as a mignardise. Of course, the original recipe called for 40 ounces of cream cheese, and I only bought eight.
I had located the recipe for “brown sugar cheesecake”
on the Plate Magazine website. It’s by Heather Terhune, chef at Atwood Café in Chicago, Illinois. I took the printout of the recipe and modified it for both quantity and simplicity. I forwent the Graham‑cracker‑crumb crust and butterscotch sauce. I substituted bitter almond extract for the vanilla extract. I left out the extra egg yolk since after reduction there was only eight grams required.
I decided to mix everything by hand so I would introduce less air into the mixture and hope that the batter wouldn’t soufflé. To make the brown sugar easier to dissolve, I ground it to a powder before adding it to the cheese. Everything was going fine until I filled my only silicone mold, one that would result in fifteen little cubes of cheesecake. I discovered that I still had lots of batter left over. So, I grabbed a bag of blanched almond meal and began loading up the batter to give it more structure. The now thicker batter was piped into the cavities of a silicone financier mold.
After baking both and turning out the results, I had two different mignardises from essentially the same recipe. I had traveled down both proverbial forks in the proverbial road, or at least two tines in the same fork.
The two “cheesecakes” were still not quite ready for prime time. The cubes had too strong of an almond flavor. The financiers were not browned enough and their interiors were too moist. With a few tweaks, all was well in the world, and I had two new mignardises.
The first recipe is for the cubes, which have now morphed into square bars. The brown sugar has been replaced by agave syrup to add a little more liquid to the batter. The bitter almond extract has been eliminated from this version, which makes about 12 pieces. They seem to taste best when chilled and then brought close to room temperature when serving.
90 g (33⁄16 oz)
cream cheese, at room temperature
1. Preheat oven to 160 °C (320 °F). Prepare an 11‑ by 14‑cm (41⁄3‑ by 51⁄2‑in), or similar size, cake pan with a removable bottom by covering the bottom with parchment paper and spraying the sides with baking spray.
2. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until homogenous.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake until the top starts to brown and the custard is firm, about 20 minutes.
4. Right after removing the cake from the oven, sift an even layer of Graham‑cracker crumbs over the warm surface. Chill the cooked cake in the refrigerator until firm.
5. When thoroughly chilled, with the aid of the parchment paper lift the cake from the pan bottom. Place it crumb‑side down on a flat cutting board. Trim the edges, and cut the cake into mignardise‑size pieces.
The second recipe is for the financiers, which have now morphed into little cookies. The brown sugar has been replaced by finely granulated white sugar. The bitter almond extract is still there but reduced in strength. This version made about 50 pieces. The resulting cookies seem to be quite hydroscopic. I found it best to leave them in an unsealed container or to freeze them.
130 g (49⁄16 oz)
cream cheese, at room temperature
40 g (17⁄16 oz)
finely granulated sugar
egg white, beaten
bitter almond extract
105 g (3⁄4 c, lightly packed)
blanch almond meal
1. Preheat oven to 180 °C (355 °F). Fit a pastry bag with a 9‑mm (3⁄8‑in) tip. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone‑rubber liner.
2. Place all the ingredients except for the almond meal into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium‑low speed until the batter is homogenous. Add the almond meal and continue to mix until it is uniform again. Transfer the batter to the pastry bag.
3. Pipe 3‑cm (13⁄16‑in) disks onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the bottoms and edges are brown, about 20 minutes.
4. Store in an open container or freeze.