Fruits of the Forest Cheesecake

Thank goodness the weather decided to perk up a little bit this week. I was starting to get horribly down in the dumps about the rain, but a little time out in the countryside, some sunshine, and of course, loads of sleep, have worked their magic.

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This cheesecake was one of the desserts I made for the housewarming party. I love unbaked cheesecakes for their simplicity, creamy texture and deliciousness. In fact, I love them so much I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to making the baked kind!

Anyway, at the housewarming party itself I never got round to taking a photo of the cheesecake, but it went down very well, and I still had plenty of ingredients leftover, so I of course, made it again.

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It was quite dark by the time I finished making it, so out came my camera to attempt some artificial light photography. I’m pretty pleased with the results!

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It’s just right for a crowd. I’d probably size it down by half if I was baking it again for just two – A and I managed to manfully eat our way through a large slice every day for a week.

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I’m a bit cheesecaked out at the moment, but as the festive season gets closer and closer I will be excited about thinking up some other variations, including peanut butter, baileys or even a spicy ginger version. Yum.

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Gruyère and Smoked Bacon Straws

Crispy and crunchy, with salty smoky bacony goodness running through the centre, and a generous punch of gruyère cheese. It’s perfect fodder for the party season.

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You can wield them like a wand, have a minature duel, stick them out of your mouth like walrus tusks, or just gobble them down in several bites. If you try not to lick your lips, it’s well nigh impossible!

Make them long or short, or fat or thin…no matter, because they all taste scrummy :). Indeed, the tight button on my jeans can attest to how terrifyingly moreish these are! I was going to add some wholegrain mustard to some of the straws but I didn’t bother in the end. I still think it would be a great addition – for super posh cheese straws!
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If you don’t have any puff pastry lying about handily, I’ve included a recipe for quick rough puff pastry underneath that doesn’t take too long. Of course, you can completely skip this step and just buy it in the supermarket!

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I’m starting to wish I was more organised, and did all my Christmas shopping in November! John Lewis, usually so reliable, failed to deliver and various online parcels are still pending. In-store, everything has flown off the shelves, so I might have, ahem, to throw in some last minute substitutions.

Gruyère and Smoked Bacon Straws 

Makes around 9 straws

  • 110g unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 130g plain flour
  • 50ml water, cold
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • large handful grated gruyère cheese
  • thin strips of streaky dry-cured bacon or pancetta

Cut the butter into small cubes. Tip the flour and salt into a bowl, and rub the butter in roughly until half rubbed in, with plenty of small lumps of butter. Tip the water into the bowl, and bring together with a table knife into a rough looking ball of dough. Wrap this in clingfilm and pop into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Once chilled, take out the pastry ball, and roll out into a long rectangle, three times longer than wide. Fold into three like a letter, and wrap again. Chill for another 30 minutes. Once chilled, take the pastry out, turn it 90˚, roll it out into a rectangle and fold again. Repeat this step until you have done 3-5 folds in total.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Now roll out the puff pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin and baste with beaten egg. Sprinkle over with grated cheese. Gently press this into the pastry to make sure it sticks. Then turn the sheet of pastry over, baste the other side with beaten egg, and sprinkle over a layer of grated cheese on that side too. Cut the pastry into strips. Lay over a slice of bacon and roll the pastry strip up into a straw. Place on a baking tray. Then repeat this with all the other strips of pastry.

Bake the cheese straws for 25-30 minutes until golden and the bacon is crisp at the edges.

Leek and Bacon Tart

I promised a yummy puff pastry tart recipe, and here it is!

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I tweaked this tart, because I wanted the pastry base to cook to a really crisp finish, and for the toppings to retain lots of flavour with getting too salty in combination together.

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Here’s what I did. When baking with shortcrust pastry, you nearly always blind bake the pastry before the toppings go on. So I thought I’d pretty much copy this with puff pastry. I docked the middle well, glazed the whole shebang with beaten egg, and it came out of the oven after 15 minutes looking like a beautifully risen brown pillow.

I then sprinkled on the cooked leeks, bacon lardons, a little cheese, and stuck it back in the oven. It didn’t seem to need that long, only 10-12 minutes, and it came out, the pastry brown and crackly, the lardons even cracklier. I was basically licking my lips as I took the photos!

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I’ve only made one adjustment to the recipe below. I’d fried the bacon lardons to such a crisp finish that I didn’t think they needed the extra oven time. Instead throw them over the pastry once the whole tart is done.

Leek and Bacon Tart

Adapted from BBC Good Food

  • rectangle of puff pastry, cold
  • 90g bacon lardons
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 16g herb and cheese Boursin (1 wrapped portion in a 6 pack)
  • 10g grated gruyère cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Roll out the puff pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin, and lay onto a baking tray. Trim the edges to form a rectangle with a sharp knife, and score a border within the rectangle 1.5cm from the edge. Prick the pastry within the border thoroughly with a fork. Put into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Lightly fry the bacon lardons until crisp. Remove from the pan. Fry the sliced leek in the bacon fat until soft. Mix the leeks with the boursin, and set aside to cool.

Brush the borders and the centre of the puff pastry rectangle well with beaten egg. Be careful to not let it drip over the cut edges, as it stops the pastry rising properly. Bake for 15 minutes until puffed up.

Spread a layer of leek over the pastry, and top with a sprinkling of grated cheese.

Bake the tart in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden, and crisp. Sprinkle the bacon lardons over the top. 

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Browsing the web, I’ve also come across links for all sorts of other amazing-looking puff pastry tarts. Check out these breakfast tarts from Drizzle and Dip, oh I am so definitely making these next!

Parma Ham, Leek and Gruyère Tart

I had a few days off recently, and used them to literally wander around central London, gorging myself on delicious things. Then I would trundle back home and cook up yet more yummy dishes, like this puff pastry tart for example.

I’ve always got a bit of puff pastry hiding in the freezer, and whilst there are loads of great uses for it (cheese straws, sausage rolls, jammy tarts, tarte tatin, a pie)….my favourite remains a savoury open tart.

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It was really scrummy, though I will be making a few alterations (as always) to make it even better! 🙂

I forgot to sautée the leeks, and they were as a result a little crisp, and scorched. I would definitely remember that next time, as well as upping the quantity of ham, and reducing the cheese.

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Beware flimsy baking trays! Mine warped, with one corner leaping a spectacular 3 inches. As a consequence, my tart didn’t emerge from the oven quite as neatly rectangular as I had hoped, and more of a rusticated rhombus.

I’ve got another half block of pastry, so I’ll be sure to try this tart again in the next few weeks, and feedback on how it turns out. I’ve also got a veggie-friendly mushroom version that I made earlier this year.

Summer Berry Cheesecake

I baked a variation of this strawberry cheesecake at the weekend. It’s based on this BBC Good Food cheesecake, plus some extra lemon juice, and a smattering of blueberries for some very patriotic colours (if you live in the UK, USA, France etc).

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At first, I was afraid it was too rich. But it just needed more time in the fridge to set properly, and for the flavours to mingle and settle. It was a little tricky to cut tidily.If you want to cut it into small slices for a crowd, it might be better to add the fresh fruit and coulis onto each slice after cutting. I’m keen on trying more no-bake cheesecake recipes out there, they’re just perfect for a sunny weekend.

Photo credits and Photoshop wizardry for this cheesecake again go to A.

Also a big thank you to all my readers! This week, I finally crossed the 100 followers mark, and am so excited to have such a wonderful following of fellow cake enthusiasts. It means a lot to me. 🙂

Summer Berry Cheesecake

Adapted from BBC Good Food

For the base and filling:

  • 250g digestive biscuits
  • 125g salted butter
  • 600g cream cheese
  • 284ml double cream
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon

For the topping:

  • 400g fresh strawberries
  • sprinkling of blueberries
  • 1 heaped tbsp icing sugar

Make the biscuit base first. Crush the biscuits to crumbs. Melt the butter and mix the two together so the consistency is like wet sand, then press into the base of a 20cm cake tin. Put in the fridge to chill.

Make the cream cheese filling next. Beat together the cream cheese, icing sugar and double cream until thickened and able to hold its own shape. Beat in vanilla extract and lemon juice, adjusting to taste if needed. Spread over the biscuit base, smoothing the top, and return to the fridge to chill overnight.

Chop the strawberries into halves. Take one quarter of the strawberries and blend to a purée then sieve through to remove the seeds. Add a tbsp icing sugar, and set to one side.

Unmould the chilled cheesecake from the tin. Arrange the remaining chopped strawberries and blueberries on top, then drizzle with the strawberry purée and serve. Tada!

Mushroom, Caramelised Onion and Gruyère Tart

I love love love puff pastry.

It’s so rich, and buttery and yummy the way it falls into little flakes. It’s completely impossible to eat without getting a little bit (or a lot) messy and it’s totally rewarding and even more satisfying when you’ve made it yourself.

There are loads of advocates of the shop-bought puff. Chefs who say that making your own isn’t necessary, that it’s too much bother. True, it takes a truly laborious degree of rolling, and turning, and waiting and incorporating a scarily big block of butter. But it’s totally worth it at the end.

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I use puff pastry mostly in savoury rather than sweet recipes. So here it’s been turned into a really simple but very delicious tart.  I’m not very good at rolling out my pastry into a perfect rectangle, so always end up with a lot of offcuts. I ended up making a second smaller tart, into which I poured the remaining egg from the eggwash. That worked so well I’ve incorporated it into the recipe below.

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You can also make cheese straws, palmiers, or even jam tarts from the pastry odds-and-ends. All so scrummy, but how could it not be, with homemade puff pastry? 🙂

Mushroom, Caramelised Onion, and Gruyère Tart

  • 400g puff pastry
  • 25g butter
  • 1 red onion, sliced finely
  • 1 dsp brown sugar.
  • 2 large handfuls mixed mushrooms
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic paste
  • salt and pepper
  • 50g Gruyère cheese, finely grated
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • fresh parsley, chopped

Put the porcini mushrooms in a bowl of water to soak. Roll out the puff pastry. Lay out onto a baking tray, and cut into a neat rectangle. Score a border at least 1 cm from the edge. Prick all over the middle with a fork, and put into the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion. Cook until soft. Add the brown sugar, and mix in well until the onions are thoroughly coated. Add the oyster mushrooms, and cook until soft and glossy. Add the garlic paste, salt and pepper, taste and adjust further if needed.

Dry the porcini mushrooms, and cut into small pieces, then mix together with the rest of the mushrooms.

Sprinkle a little cheese over the centre of the puff pastry rectangle, then spread the mushroom mixture up to the edges. Pop into the oven and bake for around 15 minutes until risen and puffy, then gently pour into the tart the remaining egg, and sprinkle over with the remaining cheese. Bake a further 10-15 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown, and the egg is just set and lightly golden. Sprinkle over with a little fresh parsley and serve.

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Scrumptious Strawberry Cheesecake

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If you’ve ever had grief with baked cheesecakes, this little recipe is absolutely perfect. No baking is required at all, no faffing around with leaking tins and cracked tops. And did I mention it is deeeeeelicious? 🙂

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The strawberries weren’t in season, but with the rain sheeting down, and the chilly days outside, it’s rather lovely to have a taste of Summer indoors! All credit for photography and whisk wielding goes to A, who as usual, outdid himself.

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Luscious Lemon Cheesecake

New Year, new resolutions. I didn’t intend to make any, but it turns out I’ve done some without realising. First up was throwing out an enormous pile of accumulated journals, and second was the stultifying task of sorting through my finances. What a grotty process – especially unearthing sneaky direct debits that have been leaching money out of your bank accounts for goodness knows how long. 😦

Anyway, post-Christmas I’m sure a lot of people are suffering a bit of the post-holiday blues. Sadly January isn’t the most giving of months. You get bogged down with the waiting – for lengthening days, warmer times, and sunnier skies. Meanwhile you have to put up with dark mornings, ice, and roads so windy your car gets blown from side to side. Nice.

But…and here is the good bit…. what a great time to say goodbye to stodgy Christmas cake, mincemeat and dried fruit puddings. It’s time to move onto lighter, zingier horizons…and I’m not talking about diet food here!

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To most people outside of the UK, cheesecake is probably most familiar in its baked American-style incarnation. But there’s all that stress with wobbly centres, soggy bottoms, cracked tops, and water baths. Why bother with that when you can make an unbaked version? It’s lighter in texture, almost moussey, and very, very moreish. Not only that, it’s so easy that it only takes minutes to assemble. I’ve kept it as simple as possible here but you can easily dress this cheesecake up on top with fresh fruit, lemon zest curls, curd and whatever else takes your fancy. I’ve also made this with limes, and it was just as lovely.

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Luscious Lemon Cheesecake

Makes a 15cm cheesecake

  • 100g gingernuts, crushed into crumbs
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 200g cream cheese
  • 250g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 large lemon, juice and zest

Mix the biscuit crumbs and melted butter, and pat firmly into the base of a 15cm springform cake tin. Chill for 30 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese and condensed milk together, then add the lemon zest and juice and beat until thickened. Pour this on top of the chilled biscuit base, and tap the cake tin firmly to get rid of any bubbles. Leave the cheesecake to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Then unmould from the cake tin, and cut into slices with a hot, sharp knife.

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Tasty Tart

A savoury tart or quiche, or whatever you want to call it is perfect fodder all year round. I think it is one of the best things you can possibly bring along to a picnic, as well as making a fab lunch with a side of some salad.  I have had a few tart mishaps with soggy bottoms et al, but I think I’ve finally ironed out the recipe and oven issues. The last two tarts were beauties – hurrah for perseverence!

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There are a lot of different pastry recipes out there, and I have experimented with loads, including herb-enriched versions and those lower in fat or made with vegetable oil. However, I still think plain old shortcrust is the best foil for the rich filling, and I’ve outlined how I like to make mine underneath.

I prefer making this sort of shortcrust pastry by hand as it’s easy to overmix it in the food processor, and that makes the pastry turn out tough. I might compare the difference between handmade/food processor pâté sucrèe at some point too, but I suspect that it makes less of a difference there.

You can mix and match the filling to contain whatever ingredients you like, although I have a few stock favourites. It’s also a fab way of clearing out the fridge of any leftovers or odds-and-ends.

This tart can be easily adapted to make a lighter version. You can do this by changing the pastry to a lighter version that has a lower proportion of fat, and replacing the double cream with single cream or milk.

Savoury Tart

For a 23cm tart

For the pastry

  • 75g salted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 egg, loosely beaten

For the filling:

  • bite-size pieces of cooked meat or fish
  • a handful of green leafy veg, such as sprouting broccoli or spinach
  • 1/2 leek or 1 onion, washed and sliced into rings
  • 2 spoonfuls of plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml double cream
  • 100g grated hard cheese
  • ground black pepper

Make the pastry first. Rub the butter into the flour until it is breadcrumby, then add the egg little by little and mix together with a knife until it clumps. In a few swift movements, press together into a dough. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200˚C. Make your filling. Sautee the leeks in a little oil until they are soft, then add the ham and stir in the flour. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool, then mix in the eggs thoroughly. Then add the cream and mix in, followed by half the cheese. Season well with pepper.

Roll out the pastry and line the tart case. Trim the pastry with a sharp knife, and reserve the scraps. Chill again in the fridge for 15 minutes, or the freezer for 5 so the pastry is firm.

Stab the base of the pastry case well with a fork. Sprinkle the base liberally with grated cheese so it forms a waterproof seal between the filling and the pastry.

Put the tart into the oven and lower the oven temperature to 180˚C. Bake the pastry case for 15-20 minutes until it is very lightly coloured and pulls away from the sides of the tin. Spoon in the filling. Return to the oven and bake for another 30-40 minutes at 180˚C until the top is golden-brown. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before unmoulding and cutting. It is excellent cold.

Comté and Caraway Straws

I’m a goal-orientated person with a short attention span. So once I’ve worked out how to bake something, I move on, and set myself a new challenge. Most recently, it was macarons driving me nuts, but I got there in the end.

Lately, it’s been bread, but I’d run out of yeast in the kitchen, and my fingers were craving something really really hard. 

That’s in the mental sense, not physically.

So what do I think of?

Puff pastry.

Gives home cooks palpitations. Even the professionals say they buy it in from the supermarket. Food bloggers? They say –  I make all my puff pastry from scratch all the time – what are you waiting for?

So today I took the leap, and made it.

Well….sort of made it. Rough puff pastry is a bit of a cheat, but I was assured that it was a doddle to make in comparison to the traditional, and I wasn’t quite that willing to devote tears and tantrums to a slab of dough.

I followed the recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, intending to halve the ingredients, until I realised I’d  dumped in too much butter and water. After a little bit of backtracking with a knife and some water, a bit of folding, and rolling, and resting, and the pastry was good to go.

After all the sweet baking of late, I had an insatiable craving for something savoury. So to the rescue came Ottolenghi again with his recipe for cheese straws, adapted mildly to incorporate the thing I’m currently having for Comté.

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I’d never had caraway seeds before, and they smelt very pungent in the spice jar, so I only put the merest sprinkling onto half the cheese straws before they went into the oven. I think they add a nice subtle kick as a foil to the cheese-fest. 

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I made two batches, and you can see that in my first batch, I rolled the dough out too thinly because it was difficult to roll up properly, and I made very long, spindly cheese straws as a result. The second batch turned out better.

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Needless to say, both were incredibly moreish, and the texture was meltingly good. Another favourite.

But back to the original challenge. Did I feel that it had been worth it? Would I make rough puff again?

Well, honestly, not really.

The straws were delicious, and well worth the smiles on faces, the stuffed tummies, and the glowing feeling of being a domestic goddess. However, I don’t really use puff pastry in my usual cooking at all. And thus, it makes more sense to me to buy it rather than dedicating a whole day to making it from scratch. The whole process is simple, but you have to be organised, alert, and the kitchen becomes very messy too!

Shop puff pastry? Satisfaction, and minimal distraction. Possibly a dangerous combination where buttery goodness is concerned! 🙂