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Friday, June 25, 2010

Cheesecake baked in little jars with roasted nectarines


Here's an easy, delicious and totally adorable dessert to do this weekend, fromage blanc cheesecake, baked into cute little jars.  You can make it even more lovely by topping with roasted fruits, in this case I use tangy sweet nectarines scented with lemon verbena.  Nothing stops you from making this your own by using a combination of fruits, herbs, and even nuts of your choice.  What makes this cheesecake truly special, besides its oh-my-god-this-is-adorableness quality, is the luscious texture, like caressing you with satin, and the fact that you can make it by pretty much dumping all the ingredients in your food processor.

This is also a recipe that exemplifies my thieving ways as a cook.  I lift ideas, recipes, presentation tricks and others from cook books, kind friends, talented chefs I know, and restaurants I love, to mix, match, and generally muck with them until I come up with something I can roughly call my own.  I'm a polite thief, mind you, I always give credit to those I borrow from.  For this one, the fromage blanc cheesecake recipe is adapted from the one given to me by my friend Mark Denham, whose new restaurant Bishop cannot open fast enough for me.  (Later this year he said.)  The idea to serve it in a jar is shamelessly cribbed from another friend, the Manresa pastry chef Deanie Hickox.  Deanie has been doing a cheesecake-in-a-jar dessert for ages.  I adore the idea, but her recipe requires things that are not widely available for home cooks, so I adapted Mark's instead. 

So there, that's how this recipe came to be.  It might just be the summer dessert for me this year.  It can be made well in advance, and used as a blank canvas to play up a variety of poached/roasted/stewed fruits.  You can even top with store-bought preserves directly from the jar.  Fresh berries, perhaps macerated briefly with a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and/or liquor would do very well too.  Also good with this, my strawberries in hibiscus and vanilla syrup.

Fromage Blanc Cheesecakes baked in little jars, with lemon-verbena roasted nectarines
makes 8 servings in little 200 ml or 7 oz jars

Preheat the oven to 350F | 175C.

First you make the crumbs
1 stick | 120 g butter
7 oz | 200 g Graham crackers (about 12 pieces)
1/4 cup | 70 g brown sugar
a pinch of salt

Melt the butter in the microwave.  Roughly crumble the Graham crackers into the bowl of your food processor, add the sugar and the salt, process until they become fine crumbs.  Transfer the crumbs into a medium bowl, pour the melted butter over the crumbs, stir with a fork until the butter is evenly distributed.  

Use about 2 tablespoons of crumbs per jar, press down the loose crumbs until you have a somewhat packed crust on the bottom of the jars.  Wipe the side of the jars down if you've made a bit of a mess.  Set aside for the cheesecake batter. 

Spread the rest of the crumbs evenly on a pie plate or a small baking sheet.  Set aside for now. 

For the fromage blanc cheesecake batter
consistency1 lbs cream cheese
8 oz | 225 ml fromage blanc (I use Cowgirl Creamery)
4 oz | 110 ml crème fraîche or sour cream (The only difference I can tell is about $5.  Be sure to use natural sour cream with no stabilizer or stuff you can't spell.)
1 cup | 200 g sugar 
juice from 1/2 lemon (reserve the other half for the fruits)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup | 30 g AP flour

Put all the ingredients except the flour in the bowl of your food processor.  (Just rinse and wipe it down after you've made the crumbs, no need to really wash it.)  Process until fully incorporated, wipe down the sides a couple times to make sure all the ingredients are completely blended.  Then, sprinkle the flour over the batter and process again until fully incorporated.  Depending on the brand and consistency of your ingredients, this batter may be loose enough to pour, or something more like the consistency of mayonnaise.  

If you don't have a food processor, or you got them guns like FLOTUS, go ahead and do it with a whisk and a mixing bowl.  I salute you.

Pour or spoon the batter into each jar, making sure to leave enough room  (1/2 inch or 1.25 cm) on the top so you can fill with the topping later.  Tap the jars on the counter (line it first with a tea towel so you don't chip your pretty jars or, worse yet, your expensive counter top), this will let out the air bubbles so your cheesecakes don't end up looking like the surface of the moon later.  Note: If you're using canning jars with an attached top, you might want to remove the top first so they're not so unwieldy in the oven.  A pair of pliers and a little dexterity should do the job just fine.

ready for oven

Place the filled jars in a deep roasting pan, carefully fill it with hot tap water until 2/3 way up the side of the shortest jar.  Set the oven racks to have one in the middle of the oven, and another just below it (with enough room to put your glass or ceramic baking dish.)  Lower the oven to 325F |160C.  Place the cheesecake pan on the top rack and bake for 40 minutes.  Place the pan with the excess crumbs on the lower rack and bake for 10 minutes to crisp up, meanwhile you can deal with the nectarines. 

Now the roasted nectarines
6-8 medium nectarines | about 800g
1/4 cup | 50 g sugar
1 tablespoon flour
juice from the other half of the lemon
7 leaves of lemon verbena (optional)

Cut up the nectarines into small wedges (about 8-10 pieces per fruit), put them on a pyrex glass or ceramic baking dish.  Add the sugar, flour, lemon juice, and crumple up the lemon verbena leaves over the fruit wedges.  Toss with your two hands until the fruit wedges are evenly coated.


After the crumb pan has been in the oven for 10 minutes, remove it from the oven, stir with a fork to loosen the crumbs, and set aside to cool.  Now place the fruit pan on the lower rack and bake until the cheesecakes are done.  

The cheesecakes should be ready right at the 40-minute mark.  Check about 5 minutes earlier if you're using smaller or thinner jars than you see in the picture here.  You'll know they're done when they look set on the outer edge, but the middle still jiggles and wobbles a bit.  Remove the roasting pan from the oven, then transfer the cheesecake jars to the counter to cool.  Let them cool completely to room temperature before serving.  They are also nice after they've chilled out a bit in the fridge (after first coming to room temperature on the counter.)  For the summer I think they're more refreshing when they're cold.  You can make the cheesecakes the day before and serve them the next day, they'll still be perfect.

Also remove the fruit pan from the oven.  You can tell it's ready when the fruits are cooked through and softened, but not completely mushy.  Stir gently with a wooden spoon, and let sit on the counter until cool completely.  Depending on how ripe your fruits, you might want to leave them in the oven for 5-10 minutes longer after the cheesecakes are done.  Remember to remove the lemon verbena leaves before serving.

To serve, divide the roasted fruits evenly among the jars.  If you're crumb-crazy like I am, then spoon a generous mound of crumbs on the side of each jar as well.  If not, you can sprinkle them lightly, then put the rest of the crumbs in a bowl and serve it along side the cheesecakes.  Your guests can top their own with as much crumbs as they'd like.

A note on the tools: you will need
8 jars, each about 7oz or 200ml.  Don't worry if you have a mish-mash of sizes, it won't make much of a difference.  These and these are similar to what I use, but any old jars or jam jars you have around should do fine.
1 deep roasting pan, big enough to fit all the little jars 
1 large glass or ceramic baking dish
1 pyrex pie dish or a small baking sheet

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