Thursday, April 26, 2018

Cream Cheese

About a year ago, I moved away from New York to Virginia. Virginia has many things to recommend it, particularly over what New York has become in recent years. However, there is one thing Virginia doesn't have (although it's become damn hard to find in New York too): TempTee Cream Cheese.

If you've never had it, it's a completely different creature from Philadelphia (named for the city in New York, not Pennsylvania, incidentally). Even Philadelphia isn't quite what it used to be, and mostly you find the stuff in the tubs which has kind of a greasy feel and taste to it. I always thought of Philadelphia blocks as good cooking cream cheese, but not eating quality (just as you wouldn't pour a glass of cooking grade wine into a glass to drink).

In any case, I got a delivery of bagels and bialys (at an exhorbident price- going to need to start baking soon, it's just not worth it, and they're already old by the time I get them) and just had it up to here with the garbage cream cheese options. So, hell with it. I would make my own.

This recipe has gone through many rounds and tweaks. As I tasted this last iteration, I found myself thinking it was just a little too rich for my taste, trying to think what else I could do. It was at this point that I realized that I had licked the spatula clean and wanted more. So, while I do think it could use a little bit more tweaking, I think you'll still get a tasty product from it. A little bit of salt, sour, sweet, and creamy all nicely balanced together.

That said, this recipe is one of the rare ones that I would recommend you tweak very carefully- it is highly sensitive to proportion changes and believe me, it doesn't take much to turn something nice into something almost inedible.

You will need:
1. 6 cups whole milk
2. juice of 2 lemons (note: you can use the concentrate stuff if you have to, no shame in it- but be careful in adding it as you will tend to need to use less than the fresh stuff).
3. 1 level tsp kosher salt.
4. 1/4 tsp sugar
5. 3 tbsp heavy cream
6. 1/2 tsp egg yolk
7. 3 tsp whey (you'll make it yourself, don't worry- see below)

You will also need:
1. medium saucepan
2. rubber spatula
3. strainer (preferably the wire kind with the little metal tabs that let it rest atop a bowl)
4. large bowl
5. food processor

Add the milk to the saucepan and put on stove on a medium heat. Stir gently as it comes up to temperature. You want the milk scalded- just below simmering.

Set up your drying/filtering station. Bowl on bottom, strainer above, cheesecloth lining the strainer. I like to separate the layers of cheesecloth and lay one layer in one direction and the other 90 degrees in the strainer. This lets me make sure the whole strainer is covered by the cheesecloth (always a hair too narrow...) and doubles the filtration fineness. The strainer should be a couple of inches off the bottom of the bowl. If it isn't, you'll have a rough time of it.

Add 3/4ths of the lemon juice (you may want to just juice 1 1/2 lemons for now to make this a little easier, up to you, but reserve 1/4th of the lemon juice for much later) in halves- half the amount, stir for a few moments, then the rest of it. The curds will form very rapidly. How do you know when you've added enough? When the whey is clearly a green color and not just clear.

Carefully pour the saucepan into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. You may need to let some of the whey go through before you finish pouring it all. Make sure you get all the bits and blobs in the pot. Let the curds sit and drain for 15-30 minutes. You do not need to press or squeeze the curds, just leave them alone and they'll leave you alone.

Once the curds have drained, dump into the food processor. Add the salt, sugar, heavy cream, egg yolk, remaining lemon juice, and take three teaspoons (1 tbsp) of the green drained whey and add it too. Pulse the food processor and occasionally use your spatula to push everything back down again. Process until smooth. Taste.

If you plan to add chives, this would be the time to add them and process a little bit longer until they are well integrated.

As I said, I think it's a touch rich, but I'm so used to commercial stuff. The egg yolk is added because the fats don't entirely suspend in the mixture otherwise, leading to a grainy cream cheese. Egg yolk contains lecithin, which emulsifies the fats. Do not add the whole egg yolk, it will turn the cream cheese disgustingly eggy and suppress a lot of the delicate flavors you've created and added. If you follow this recipe, you'll have something smooth and tasty to put on your bagel. Enjoy!


Friday, March 30, 2018

Return of the Nieman Marcus Urban Legend Cookie


These are sort of the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. In the US, everyone I ever met knew the legend of the Million Dollar Cookie in one form or another. Here in the UK, no one seems to have ever heard of it. But they do love the cookies when I pass them around. They are easy to make, just follow the recipe step by step. They keep well, just store in ziplock bags.

I originally posted the recipe on this blog in 2009 and it remains unchanged so just pull it up, print up a copy and get baking.

I made a half recipe yesterday because there's only Alan and me and the neighbors to eat them now. It's very easy to halve the recipe; and then I divided that half before I put in the chips, etc. In 2/3 of the cookie dough I put loads of choc chips, pecans, and sultanas. In the other 1/3 I just put in a cup or so of sultanas because Alan had earlier announced to me that he just liked biscuits with sultanas (British for Raisin Cookies). Ok, no Begian dark chocolate chips, no pecans, no craisins. Fine, be that way. So I baked cookies and packed them up separately. In the morning, Alan discovered them before I woke up when he went to make early dawn coffee. So what did he think of the cookies? The Sultana Biscuits were very nice but the other cookies, they were amazing. Arrrrggghhh!!

So, grab the recipe and go forth and bake cookies.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Basic Perfect Gelato

Alan wanted gelato. Any flavor gelato as long as its vanilla. Of course.
So I found a recipe for Sicilian gelato that met most of my basic requirements and then I made some changes to fine tune it to our specific tastes and preferences. The result was pure heaven. Below is the exact final recipe that I used to make gelato last night. I think its perfect and hope you try it and agree.

Ingredients:

2 cups/ 500 ml whole milk*
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup/ 250 ml double/heavy cream
pinch salt
2 T cornstarch (cornflour) dissolved in a few spoonfuls of milk

*Pls note I used full cream, pure Jersey milk (5%) which is quite wonderful and very different from supermarket "whole milk" which is 3.8 - 4% at best. If you are in the UK, my favorite brand is Grahams Gold smooth which I buy at Sainsburys.

Method:

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of the milk almost to a simmer with the sugar - heat it, whisking, until the sugar dissolves.

Add the cornstarch dissolved in a bit of milk and stir till it starts to thicken. Bring just to a simmer when the first bubbles show. Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a bowl. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla (or vanilla seeds, etc) and whisk to start cooling it down. Allow to stand and cool for an hour covered by a disk of parchment or cling wrap to prevent a skin forming.

When the base has cooled down, remove the parchment disk (You'll want to scrape off any custard sticking to the paper back into the bowl. Every drop is precious.) Pour in the rest of the milk, the cream and a pinch of salt. Whisk briefly to combine and pour into ice cream machine.

Freeze in the bowl of an ice cream machine. It took me 55 minutes to get the gelato to soft eating consistency, your machine may vary. The rest I put in a container in the freezer to firm up more for eating later.

This makes 2 plastic storage containers full, about 1 quart total.
---------------------------

This gelato has a wonderfully clean, fresh, delicate taste. It's also a perfect base to add fruit, nuts, flaked chocolate, syrups, endless mix-ins to create the custom flavor of your choice. My next batch I plan to add cinnamon stick to the milk/sugar mix and let that infuse.

Did Alan like it you ask?  Yes, he actually liked the taste and texture fresh made. He had issues with it after it sat in our freezer overnight. He claimed he could taste a few ice crystals. I couldn't but Alan is our "Princess and the Pea" tester. I say just take it out of the freezer 10 - 15 min before serving and it will be perfect.  Or eat it fresh made and enjoy the best of the best.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Peeps!

Asti flew into London tonight for a brief visit. Always lovely to see her again and spend some time together. She handed me a small box of Peeps saying that she wasn't sure if they might be too stale. Too stale? Never, no such thing as too stale Peeps!


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New York Cheesecake

Recently we had some rather nice cheesecake. It was nice but well, just nice and not what Id call a NY cheesecake. It wasn't Turf Cheesecake; but then, nothing is and its a bit much even for me these days. But I did know what I wanted, so because my daughter was flying in for a quick visit, I decided to make a classic NY Cheesecake so she'd have a tasty snack when she arrived tonight. Here's the recipe I used:


Ingredients:
*10 - 12 digestive biscuits 
80g butter
500g mascarpone
400 g Philadelphia cream cheese
2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
*2 lemons
4 tbsp plain flour
*150g caster sugar
20 cm/8 inch springform or loose bottom deep pan.

*Notes:
1. They don't have graham crackers in the UK.You can either just omit the cracker crumb crust or use some really good digestive biscuits. I used Dove Organic Wholemeal Digestive Biscuits. They are the closest thing to Graham crackers I ever tasted, actually tasty. Don't use store brand or the classic McVities, they are bland and awful.
2. Full Fat mascarpone only. In NYC I would have used all Philly cheese but the Philadelphia company here lies. What they sell as Philadelphia cream cheese is close but absolutely not exactly the same as what they sell in the US. Trust me on this. It's a tragedy.
3. Use a microplane and get every scrap of zest off those lemons and into your cake mix. Depending on the lemon variety you're using and your personal taste preferences, you may need an additional lemon.
*In the US this is called superfine sugar. I think you could probably use regular granulated but the superfine/castor sugar will yield a more delicate texture.

Method:

1. Butter the pan. Line the base with parchment/nonstick baking paper.

2. Blitz the biscuits in a processor (or put them in a plastic baggie and smash with a rolling pin) then dump them into a mixing bowl. Met the butter - 60 seconds in the microwave in a small pyrex bowl.
Pour the butter into the crumbs and stir it through. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the baking pan smoothing and pressing them with the back of a spoon. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm.

3. Heat oven to 160 F.

4. Dump cheeses into the bowl of your mixer (you can make this manually with a large wooden spoon but I wouldn't). Mix on low until the cheeses are smooth, fluffy, and well mixed.

5. Add the eggs and egg yolks. Beat eggs and cheese gently until they are thoroughly mixed.

6. Thoroughly remove the lemon zest with a microplane or zester and add to the cheese mix. Juice the lemons and add to the cheese mix. Lightly blend and taste. Add more lemon juice/zest if you want a stronger lemon taste but I'd suggest the zest more than the juice because you don't want the mix too liquidy. This is the art bit of baking.

7. Add the flour and sugar and then beat gentkly to thoroughly combine all.

8. Spoon the cheesecake mixture into the cake tin. Smooth the top. Slide into the oven and bake for 45-60 mins till the cheesecake is set but with a bit of a wobble when you gently shake the tin. (I turn the oven off at 45 min and just let the cheesecake sit in the hot oven for the remaining 15 min or so. This helps prevent surface cracks.) You can let the cheesecake cool slowly in the closed oven for an additional 30 - 60 minutes as well. This also helps prevent surface cracks.

9. Let the cheesecake cool at room temp. in the tin, and then chill till you're ready to serve - you can make it the day before you want to eat it.

You can serve the cheesecake as-is or spoon a fruit compote over the top like blueberry or strawberry.
You can also swirl in melted chocolate for a marble cheesecake. I wouldn't but some people really like chocolate.

How many does this feed? Ha! What a question. Polite people? Greedy People? Nostalgic people? Late at night with a cup of coffee when no one is watching people? Figure at least 8, possibly 12 or more. Did you really plan to share it?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Seville Orange Marmalade

Early yesterday morning Abel & Cole, our organic fruit & veg box delivery company, dropped off a kilo of the first of the season Seville Oranges along with our regular order of milk, butter, eggs, etc. I promised myself that this year I would finally make the marmalade as soon as I got the oranges and not dump them in the fridge and delay as long as possible. What produced this change? Simple, I finally found a mandolin that I could work with and that produced the fine slices I always wished for. Anyone who has ever tried to shred orange peel for marmalade knows what a miserable and endless task it is, ending with cramped and painful fingers and orange peels sliced a whole lot thicker than you thought you were cutting. My fingers still were aching a bt when I finished but no cuts to report and the orange peel was in gossamer fine shreds.

So I rounded up some jam jars - see, there really is a legitimate reason to save all those empty jars - and put the pot on the stove and started the process.



Ingredients:
1kg Seville oranges - the bitter ones - don't use regular oranges
4 pints water (these are UK Imperial pints) = 2.250 Liters or 5 US pints
Juice of 2 lemons
*2kg golden caster sugar = 4 1/2 LB Sugar (feel free to use white sugar but NOT light brown, etc)
6-8 (340-450g) jam jars
a piece of clean plain muslin - I can never find the stuff and its a pita anyway so I do without it. Directions for both ways will be given.

* Please, please, please try to use classic Cane Sugar for this. In my experience beet sugar is just not the same and just not good enough for fine baking or jam making. Ask me if you need this clarified.

Method:

1. Slice oranges and lemons in half.

2. Put a muslin-lined sieve (or use a smallish, thin, clean cloth) over a bowl. Squeeze the citrus over the muslin to catch the pith and pips. Let the juice drip into the bowl. Keep the lemon peel to use in other dishes. Keep hold of the pips and muslin.

If you can't get muslin or just can't be bothered, use a sturdy sieve and squeeze all the citrus directly into the sieve. Put the lemon peel aside or throw it out since you'd just forget it in the fridge till it was moldy and throw it out anyway.

3.Now it's time to shred the orange peel (oh joy!) Either get out a sharp knife, cut the orange peel halves in half again, flatten them out a bit and start cutting shreds. Remember that the peel will swell a bit in cooking so you probably want to keep the shreds fairly thin. If you like thick cut peel, feel free, that's the joy of making it yourself.

I hate slicing a mountain of orange peel so this year I used a mandolin set on the thinnest setting mine had. It was still a bit of effort but much, much less than a knife and I ended up with a mountain of delicate fairy think peel. Bliss! (Just be careful and watch the fingers, mandolins can be lethal!

4. Tie the muslin up to secure the pips inside and toss into  your large preserving pan or stock pot, whatever you use for jam making. Pour in the citrus juice, the shredded orange peel, and the water. Cover and allow to soak for 24 hours.

If you are not using muslin, dump all the pips and pith from the sieve into a small saucepan. Cover with 2 cups of water and cover the pan and allow this pan to soak for 24 hours as well.

5. The next day: Place the pot over medium-high heat and cook at a gentle boil till the peel is soft, about 30 to 60 minutes. If the pips are in a separate pan, bring that to a gentle boil and allow to simmer 30 minutes.

6. Take the small pan off the heat. Dump the contents into a clean sieve hung above a mixing bowl and start pressing it with the back of a wooden spoon. You want to press out all the pectin which looks like a thick cloudy jell as it drips from the sieve. Get out all the pectin you can - the more the better because this is what sets the preserves. Similarly, if you are using muslin, remove that bag from the preserving pot and allow it to cool. Then squeeze and press the muslin bag till the pectin flows into a mixing bowl. When no more pectin flows out, throw away the squeezed out pips and pour the pectin into the orange mix in the preserving pot.

7. Add the sugar to the preserving pot. Stir till completely dissolved. Return pan to the heat and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly till setting point is reached, 30 mins to 2hrs. (It ran 1 hour and 15 min for me this time.) The amount of time really depends on the pan you use and the amount of pectin in the pips - use your instincts, keep an eye on it and when it looks thick and sticky, do the set test, below. Once it passes, it's done!

8. Set test: Setting point is when a little marmalade, spooned on to a cold plate (chill in freezer) and allowed to cool, has a "set" surface and "wrinkles" when pushed with the finger.

9 Pour or ladle into warm sterilized jars. Seal immediately. Store and enjoy


Note: How to sterilise your jars It’s absolutely fine to reuse old jam jars. Wash in boiling hot water. Dry thoroughly. When the marmalade's nearly done, place the jars and lids in a cold oven. Turn to 100C/Gas ¼. Let them warm for 10 mins.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Blackberry Jam - super easy, perfect for first time preserving.


Blackberry Jam

It doesn't get much easier than this if you want to have a go at making homemade preserves. And please do have a go because you will be astonished at the taste difference from the usual supermarket jarred stuff.


450 grams blackberries
450 grams granulated white sugar
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lemon
2 glass jars with tops - washed, rinsed well with hot water, then pour boiling water into them for final rinse. (Or run thru the dishwasher.) Set them out upside down on a clean dishtowel.

1. Wash the berries then place in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice. Give everything a good stir with a wooden spoon to release the juices from the berries.
2. Begin to cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly until boiling.
3. Now turn the heat down slightly and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every now and again to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom.
4. After 10 minutes, remove the spoon then turn the heat up to a boil and let the jam cook for a further 5-10 minutes without stirring. Towards the end you will see a change in the size and appearance of the boil/bubbles.
5. The jam is ready when it has reached 105°C. Traditionally, if you haven't got a temperature probe, you can test if the jam is set up by dropping a small blob onto a plate that' has been in the freezer. If the jam forms a skin and ripples after 10 seconds when poked, the jam is ready.
6. Pour into the prepared jars, screw on the lid or clamp down however they work. As they cool, a vacuum forms and you may hear the lid make a pinging sound. The jars should be allowed to fully cool on the counter. The jam will keep for quite a few weeks unopened. We Americans tend to store opened jam jars in the fridge, the Brits and Germans don't. Your mileage may vary.
7. As the jam cools it should firm up. You can use it to slather on toast or bread or waffles or pancakes. You can spread it between cake layers or dollop on your oatmeal.


Notes:
Select your own choice of sweet or tart blackberries (yes it comes in both varieties). You can buy them fresh at the supermarket or pick them yourself from brambles - they grow almost everywhere! Don't worry about the pectin content, they are fine and the lemon will help them jell beautifully. Please don't try to cut back on the sugar because that will unbalance the ratio and you will probably end up with syrup - tasty but not jam. I save old jars like from mustard or jam and reuse them - no need to buy fancy canning jars. I find the smaller table size jars that hold about 10 oz or so most useful.