Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cheese and Cake

My brother, being 18 years old and well over six feet tall, eats a lot. He also appreciates food of all types (what a change from preschoolers!). He requested a lot of foods I never got around to making (cinnamon rolls, brownies), but I did do a lot of cooking (and eating, as my rotund middle can attest). One thing he did request, above all others, was cheesecake, and because I've never made a cheesecake before (C doesn't like things with a soft texture, like cheesecake, pudding, custard, whipped cream, etc. Weirdo.) and because I have this bee in my bonnet about making cheese, I decided to go for it.

I found a recipe for ricotta cheesecake that intrigued me--I've never had a ricotta cheesecake before (have you?). First, I had to make the ricotta cheese. But because I decided to make it with the buttermilk method, I had to make the buttermilk first first (this I did on a Thursday night, while at the same time making bread and cookies--one of my rare but insane cook-a-thons--I was up till midnight waiting for the milk to cool down to room temp because I had first heated it up since we use raw milk).

Saturday afternoon, I got started on the ricotta. Here are the curds draining:

And this is the cheese after two hours (sorry for the poor lighting--it was pretty late in the evening by now).

All the boys went out to see fireworks (finally) Saturday night in Hallowell, so I was able to work on my writing assignments in between cheesecake-making steps...overall a pleasant and relaxing evening. It turned out I had to make butter for the crust too, because we were out, so it was really and truly a made-from-scratch cake. The one thing I opted to NOT make was candied citrus peel--that's one recipe that seems way more tedious than necessary (and this from a girl who shakes a jar of cream into butter!)--instead I threw in a little lemon zest. I put the cake in the fridge and let it set overnight, and we dug in Sunday night.

The results were less than stellar. The crust was tough (crust is my achilles heel--although it did soften up a bit after a few more days) and the texture was grainy (using fresh whole milk ricotta was supposed to make it less grainy, and using the buttermilk, rather than the vinegar, method was supposed to reduce the grainieness of the ricotta itself). Since I've never had ricotta cheesecake, I don't know how the texture is supposed to feel. The pine nuts the recipe called for were a bit strange (oddly, I really like pine nuts while I'm eating them, but the aftertaste grosses me out a bit). Overall, I'd give it about a 6 or a 7...not bad, but nothing to blog about (ha!)

My brother liked it, though, and so did my kids. And I managed to eat about half of it myself (the last quarted I sliced up and put in the fridge for future sweet-tooth emergencies--made with nearly two gallons of milk, each with about three inches of cream on top, and a cup of butter, it has to have about 800 calories a slice!)

I'm not at all discouraged. Though time-consuming, the cheesemaking was neither difficult nor particularly hands-on (much of the time involves waiting). I used the leftover whey to make rolls, soup and bread. My next cheesemaking plan is mozzarella and, using the whey from the mozzarella, more ricotta, turning it all into a pan of crespelle or a lasagna...mmm, can't wait!

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