June 22, 2010

The perfect sour cream cheesecake & fresh raspberry sauce

The title of this blog: “Test for the Best” was voted amongst others by those who know me best…I’m always jotting down dishes that I’ve tried that I’ve really liked or ideas that come to mind about creating others. Then whenever I get time, on my kitchen-lab, I start the testing to try to recreate those memories or ideas. There are many “basics” I keep testing…not that the results of those tests aren’t good (most often they are, others…not so much!!! We learn by trial and error!:) ) but they are not exactly what to me would be perfect! For instance, “the perfect roast chicken” or “the perfect brownie”…it may sound simple, but I never get quite that “oh my, I’m searching no more” with some of these dishes.
Cheesecake, plain cheesecake, has been one of those long, test after test, quests! Not that I have an embedded memory of a fantastic cheesecake I’ve tried before that I want to recreate. Spain is not known for it’s cheesecakes! nor have I tried my heavenly one elsewhere! Most are too thick, or have a bit rubbery feel, or are way too sweet, or they stick on your palate! I’m not a big fan of overly sweet desserts and those who’ve read me before will know that I like creamy, soft, melt in your mouth textures…That’s what I had in mind, a custard-like cheesecake (I learnt from McGee that it is in fact a custard, so it should be handled as such) that would withstand being cut into portions without falling apart. A cheesecake with a fresh, lactic sour cream flavour with the just right touch of sweetness.
The (again, to me) perfect companion sauce, I discovered before I succeeded with the cheesecake recipe. I found on the web a recipe for a strawberry sauce to accompany it (I wish I could tell you the source, but I don’t even have the recipe I scribbled down at the time, I just kept the idea). It was so simple and so good, the idea behind it was to just mash up some fresh strawberries, add sugar to taste (and I always add a drizzle of lemon) and instead of reducing it to a soft jam texture, you add a bit of cornstarch (or flour) to the mixture, so to get the same consistency, you barely need to cook the fruit, so the resulting flavour is extraordinarily fresh! It keeps well for a few weeks, not like jams, but great in case you have extra berries…and I prefer the taste over any jam! Simple and delicious! I’ve tried various berries with great results, but for this cheesecake, I wanted a tad of sourness and…could not resist using fresh raspberries (from our plant!). The flavour matches perfectly, and the slight acid mellowed with enough sugar (depending on how sweet the fruit is) brings out the sour cream flavour even more (or so it seems to me!).
Finally came the cheesecake, after a few months without any further testing, yesterday I made the adjustments I had jotted down from the last test (less eggs, much less cooking time, less sugar) and today I awaited to try the result. I cannot do other than tell you that…HURRAY!!!! I MANAGED TO GET MY PERFECT CHEESECAKE!!! Honestly, I’m soooo happy, one more recipe succeeded, so no need to look any further! It is just what I wanted and with the raspberry topping it’s a little piece of heaven!!!If not ask my dad, diabetic (non-practicant, ehem), who gulped down two filling servings, still expecting a third! It’s a pity photos don’t make it justice, really. You will just have to try it, it’s almost the same texture of the crème brulée, which makes it much lighter to eat than the usual cheesecake…and the flavour: no words!I hope you try it and it becomes your perfect cheesecake too!!! If not, if you prefer the denser type, just let me know and I’ll share that recipe too.

Sour cream cheesecake & fresh raspberry sauce
(for a 20 cm springform pan)
For the cookie crust:

120g digestive biscuits (or the cookie you choose, like graham crackers)
5g of powdered sugar
40g of butter (melted)
For the filling:
500g cream cheese (I used philadelphia)
100g powder sugar (I milled granulated with a spice blender)
50g sour cream
3 medium-sized eggs
1 tbsp of lemon juice
pinch of salt
For the raspberry sauce:
200g fresh raspberries
30g water
aprox. 90g sugar
5g cornstarch
drizzle of lemon juice
The cheesecake ideally should be made the day before you want to serve it, as it needs time to cool slowly and set properly, so take that into account when you plan to make it.
It’s really very simple, but for cheesecakes not to crack there are a few rules:
1) all ingredients at room temperature, that is bring out your cream cheese, eggs and sour cream, at least 1 hour ahead of starting to make it….or if you haven’t planned ahead, like me, put each on the microwave over a very low power setting for a few seconds at a time until they get to room temperature
2) when you in incorporate ingredients, in particular the eggs, do it slowly to avoid incorporating air to the mixture, as it’s one of the reasons for cracking.
3) Bake on a low oven (ideally over a bain marie) as this will allow the trapped air and steam to disperse gradually.
4) Don’t overbake, remember it is a custard, so overbaking will dry the filling and cause it to shrink.
5) Finally, allow the cheesecake to cool gradually, either in the oven with the door open ajar, or I prefer, out of the oven still inside the water bath until it cools slightly, as cooling causes the trapped steam to contract and doing so slowly, allows for the surface to be pulled in gently
So, let’s begin!
First, let’s prepare the cookie crumb crust. In the US, most cheesecake cookie crusts are made with graham crackers…I’ve never tried them, so I cannot tell if they are the best to use, or if I’d like them best. Here I’ve always used McVities (now Fontaneda) Digestives biscuits. I think they make an excellent cookie crust, but choose any cookie you like!
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
For the cookies, you could blend them in a food processor until you get the crumbs, but I like the roughness of doing it by hand. So, for this, place them inside a bad a bit broken up and press them with a rolling pin or a bottle until you get crumbs of uneven thickness, they give texture, but still fairly small.
Place the crumbs on a bowl and add the powdered sugar and the melted butter and work it just a bit to coat them all evenly.
Grease a springform pan with a bit of butter and line it with a circle of parchment paper for the bottom and a band running along it’s sides.
Then place some of the crumbs evenly on the bottom and press with a flat bottom of a glass or a bowl scraper. You could use all the mixture, but I make the bottom a bit thinner and use the rest of the crumbs when serving a portion to place on the sides.
Place in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes. While it’s inside, this is the trick that I’ve found works for me so that the crust doesn’t become soggy over the time it sits in the fridge! Beat an egg white until it foams a bit, to make sure it’s broken up and liquidy. So, as the pan comes hot off the oven, you brush the crust softly to coat it and with the residual heat it will set the white and make a protective coating from the filling. If you are unsure it has cooked, just place it 30 second more in the oven. This really works! My first crusts were always soggy, but with this they last for a week with the touch of crispness!
Now, to begin the filling, begin by lowering the oven temperature to 150ºC.
Then, in a bowl large enough to fit all the filling, cream your cheese softly with a wire whip until smooth. Add the powdered sugar (like I said, I just give granulated sugar a whiz with the spice blender) and a pinch of salt and continue mixing slowly until fully incorporated and smooth again.
Then, incorporate your thick sour cream and integrate as well. See how smooth?
Finally start adding the eggs slowly, one at a time (remember, it’s important they are at about the same temperature, so the mix doesn’t separate and they integrate well) until fully incorporated and smooth once more.
Last, adjust the acidity to taste with the lemon juice, if you like it a bit more sour like me.
That’s it for the mix!
I said that my trick for not getting soggy crusts was the egg white coating, well another reason for why they get soggy is when the water from the bain marie slips inside…ruining your crust completely! I used to wrap the spring-form pan with aluminum paper, but it ripped sometimes and did not always work. Until I read in an American forum that a great trick was to place the pan inside a turkey roasting bag! Great idea, but where do I get that!? I haven’t still, but on a trip to turkey last year, in the surpermarket I found smaller chicken size roasting bags (now available here, by the way!!!) so, I just cut it in half and with a rubber band, hold in in place…as if I were wrapping my pan as a present!
Then, pour the filling inside and let rise the pan over your working surface a little bit and let it fall flat to make any bubbles inside rise to the surface. Finally, place the pan inside a high tray that I fill up with boiling water half-way up its sides…and in it goes to the oven!
To me, the perfect timing, at the right temperature (I checked with two oven thermometers since I discovered my thermostat is not so reliable!) is exactly 40 minutes.
After that time, open your oven, give it about 5 minutes and then bring it out still in the water bath. If you shake the pan a bit, you’ll see it’s wobbly in the centre, it’s ok, in fact, it’s a good sign! Just let it cool a bit on the bath and after about half an hour you can take it out to cool down over a rack.
You shouldn’t place it in the fridge until it’s cool, as you want to cover it, so it doesn’t absorb any flavours (from the fridge…maybe I’m just really fuzzy) and if you cover it even if only slightly warm, the heat will condense and make it sweat! So, when cool, cover it well and leave it in the fridge, ideally overnight.
Time for the sauce! Super simple, incredibly tasty! Just important to note that the amount of sugar needed greatly depends on how naturally sweet the raspberries are, I’ve made the sauce a few times, and each time to get the same sweet-sour balance the amount of sugar needed varies…So, I recommend you use less than suggested and add more as needed.
Simply place the raspberries in a pan, with a potato masher or a fork, mash them up, add the bit of water, the sugar, a pinch of salt and the drizzle of lemon juice (it brings out the taste much more!). swirl around a bit to dissolve the sugar, taste, and adjust as needed. Then, add the cornstarch and place it over low heat until you see it thickens up a bit.
Like for custards, test its texture by running your finger across a coated spatula: the mark should stay in place.
That’s it, let cool down, and you’ll have your sauce ready.
Ready to serve your cake? To slice it cleanly, I suggest you warm up a long thin knife (ideally)…usually it’s done by placing it in a pan of warm water, like for scooping out ice-cream. But, I cannot be bothered to prepare it, so since I have a blowtorch, I just lightly warm up the blade (don’t do this with your favourite tempered knife, though!).
You’ll get a clean cut!
Then, if you like place some of the crumbs on the end
And finally serve with the sauce as a topping or on the side!
I wish you could taste it and feel the texture!
I don’t know if from the photos you can tell, but it is soooooo creamy!
Like I said, I hope you try it and like it as much as I do! Bon ap’!
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June 13, 2010

Refreshing strawberry "gazpacho"


I'm never really sure how to name this dish: strawberry "gazpacho" or "salmorejo". Both, as chef Dani García once really well defined it, are "aromatised" cold tomato soups. The "gazpacho andaluz" is a very thin (liquidy) tomato soup flavoured with other vegetables: cucumber, pepper and onion (sometimes garlic) finished with white wine vinegar and olive oil...and though it is not traditional to use in the South of Spain, to me it always tastes best with a sprinkle of powdered cumin!(maybe because that's how my mom used to make it!). On the other hand, the "salmorejo cordobés" is a much thicker tomato soup made with stale bread and just flavoured with garlic and vinegar (some people use a sherry one, but I prefer the neutral acidity of the white wine vinegar) and emulsified with a mildly flavoured olive oil into a incredibly creamy consistency.

I really like the refreshing ice cold gazpacho for a hot summer day, but if I were to choose, I prefer the creamy velvety texture and milder flavour of the salmorejo...served with chopped "jamón ibérico" though! :) This is the reason why I wasn't sure how to name this recipe: gazpacho or salmorejo, as it is made with other vegetables and no garlic as the gazpacho, but I like to make it a bit thicker, though not as much as a true salmorejo, so if I named it gazpacho, it may deceive some people! That's why I've included a range of bread weights in order to make it thinner (thus, more refreshing, and easier to drink off a glass) or creamier (to me, more comforting! but can only be eaten with a spoon...this is significant if you serve it as cocktail dish). Also, I often like to drizzle it with a Modena vinegar reduction, but this only stands neatly over the thicker version.


The idea of making gazpacho with strawberry has been around for a few years now. We were making it in one of the restaurants I worked at, at least 5 years ago, and I doubt it was a novel idea. Then, two years later at another fantastic restaurant we were making a beetroot version and a incredibly delicious cherry one!(The difficult part was choosing the right cherries to give a beautiful colour...most would oxidise quickly into a less appealing brownish hue!)

About the idea, if you think about it, using strawberry instead of tomato in this soup makes perfect sense as, colour aside, and not only because it is also a fruit, it provides with acidity as the tomato does. So, the balance of the taste in the soup is very similar. I think that opposed to what we may initially think, that the strawberry version will be sweeter, it actually has more acidity, so needs much less vinegar to balance the dish. For this reason I have, for some time now, chosen to use modena vinegar as it is sweeter that the white wine one, and furthermore the flavour matches perfectly with the strawberries...I've seen various italian recipes of strawberries, as a dessert, served with modena reduction and parmesan. If you try it, you'll see how it's a perfect marriage! So no more chatting, I leave you with the recipe, I hope that you try it and enjoy it in a warm spring day when flavourful strawberries are available and at their best!!!


Strawberry "gazpacho"

(enough for 8 first dishes)

500g ripe strawberries*

500g ripe tomatoes stale bread** (60-100g)

1/2 a cucumber (half-peeled as it aids in digestion)~70g

1/4 red pepper ~40g

1/4 green pepper***

1/4 small onion (white or red) ~30g

~40g modena vinegar or reduction (to taste)

~100g mild flavour olive oil

salt & freshly milled pepper

(optional: pinch of ground cumin)

*I often use a bit higher proportion of strawberry to tomato (2:1 or even 3:1). But I recommmend you first try this ratio (1:1) to decide whether you like    the "strawberry" taste. Though, honestly I still haven't found one person not to like it!

** Ideally for salmorejo, which uses a high proportion of bread (usually 200g, or more, for 1kg of tomato) the best bread to use is "candeal", a type of bread with a dense crumb, and it is left to dry over a day, so that it absorbs more of the tomato juices. But to be honest, in this case, you can use fresh or old bread, I just think that this is an excellent way to use up left over bread!!!Just consider that if it's fresh you may need a bit more to obtain the same consistency.

*** You can use only red pepper in this "gazpacho", which has a sweeter flavour and goes better to intensify the colour. But I personally like to use a bit of green, as I like the fresh taste it adds.

This preparation is super easy! Just a warning note before you prepare it, I’ve found that this strawberry gazpacho ferments much faster than a tomato gazpacho would. It must be something in the strawberries (?) but while a tomato gazpacho will last in good condition in the fridge for over a week, this one probably won’t last more than 4 days. I just want to tell you in case you are planning to make it and go away, don’t be surprised if it’s spoiled! So, try to make it for the days to follow to enjoy it then!

First, slice or break up into smallish pieces your stale bread and place them in the bottom of a bowl that will fit the rest of ingredients. This way it will soak up the juices from everything you’ll place on top!


Then, wash and cut into pieces the rest of vegetables (& fruit: tomatoes and strawberries). About the cucumbers, I was taught that if you half-peel them, they are more easily digested…It may be one of those things that are passed on from generation to generation with no scientific foundation! I should write to Hervé This or Harold McGee to find an explanation to this or to hear that it is nonsense…but it may be own suggestion, but I think it works!:) So, up to you!

Many people soak up the bread with water…To me, to get the fullest flavour with texture it makes no sense, as all you do is dilute the soup as you’ll need more bread for the same consistency! It was great for bad times, to fill up bellies, but I wouldn’t suggest it, not even to go quicker! If you want to soak the bread faster, blend the tomatoes first and pour them over the bread so in no time it will soak up the juice!

Once you have all the veg on top, what I like to do is to season the whole as if it were a salad I were about to eat. That is, add some salt and freshly milled pepper, the pinch of cumin (if you like cumin), a little bit of balsamic vinegar or it’s reduction, it will obviously be sweeter, but since the strawberries are fairly sour, even if ripe, I prefer it. Finally, a drizzle of olive oil… Mix the whole with your clean hands, trying to keep the bread underneath and taste. Though, you will adjust the seasonings after blending, it’s best to already get a taste you like in terms of saltiness, sourness and other flavours, like the amount of onion, for instance.


It’s not even well-cut, but to me, all those colours, that smell…is already appealing! Actually, cut in nice pieces, with cherry tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes and with ripped pieces of chargrilled sourdough bread, it makes a wholesome tasty salad…a “deconstruction” of strawberry “gazpacho” (in the line of Ferrán Adrià!;) )…Actually, it’s a pre-construction!!! Just missing some bufala mozzarella or crumbled goat’s cheese to me!

I forgot to mention, that the best tomatoes to use, apart from ripe ones and ideally flavourful varieties, are those with less vegetative water and seeds and more pulp, as they make for a tastier gazpacho and require less bread (another thing to take into account).

I like to leave the preparation from one day to the next before blending, or at least a few hours, but it can be done in less time, like I said if you blend the tomato and place it over the bread so it hydrates.

Then, just blend all together in batches and when completely blended incorporate the rest of the olive oil slowly so it emulsifies with the soup instead of separating. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and vinegar if needed. It should be creamy and shiny (the thicker version) or simply smooth and shiny (the thinner one).


Finally, a must it to pass it through a fine chinois or sieve, so there are no bits and it has a smooth feel in the mouth.


This is how the thick version should look like once strained through the fine mesh:


I think it makes a great cocktail appetiser, with a bit of finely chopped chives…


and it just occurred to me, some grated goat cheese. Since it is often served in restaurants with goat cheese ice-cream as it combines really well, with the microplane, we can obtain very fine shavings that provide a discrete flavour.


They will hold on their place even in the thinner version


Here are the finished glasses


Hope you enjoy it!

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June 6, 2010

Confit artichokes in rosemary & garlic infused olive oil


I’d like to dedicate this post to my brother, as he really loves artichokes and where he lives he cannot get hold of them…No, this is not to make him crave them but a “taste” of what he’ll get when he comes to visit soon!!!(it’s about time!;) )

Anyway, artichokes are one of those vegetables that I can either love or hate. Often, to avoid oxidation, discoloration or browning (however you want to call it) they are cooked in acidulated water. This, to my taste, makes them too sour and hinders their delicate flavour. To find other “ways” to overcome this, like with anything, we must start asking ourselves “Why?” “Why does this happen?”…and here’s where my always reliable McGee Bible comes to play (or any other source from those scientists devoted to molecular gastronomy like Hervé This).

Artichokes brown when cut as we tan when exposed to the sun (well, those of us who have a skin type that tans!). It is basically a protective system, which is based on the interaction of two elements: 1) phenolic compounds present in the cells of the vegetable, in this case, the artichoke and 2) enzymes that oxidise these compounds also present separate to the former in the undamaged cells. When the cells are damaged, the enzymes oxidise the phenolics in the presence of oxygen, turning them into the brown surfaces we see, whose true mission is to attack invader’s (insects or microbes) own enzymes and membranes.


I hope this isn’t too much of a geeky bore to you, but I think it’s interesting to understand that if we know how to act on the enzyme to avoid this reaction, we’ll prevent discoloration. So, a few of the ways are: 1)acidic conditions (that’s why we use the lemony water) as the enzyme slows down. 2)Anything that reduces the availability of oxygen like a) immersing in cold water or b) coating the surface with an oil or fat. Finally, 3) using another element with antioxidant properties, like ascorbic acid (vitamin c) or I’ve learned crushed parsley also does the trick.

So, if cooking in water, use cold water, a tbsp of flour blended in helps prevent oxidation too. But instead of the usual lemon juice, I prefer to add some shredded parsley and a drizzle of olive oil that will form a layer over the water. But, in this case, since as we cut each artichoke it goes directly into an oil bath, it doesn’t need anything else to prevent browning and the taste and the mellow texture…are fantastic!!


This method, slow-cooks the artichokes, bringing out their subtle flavour and making their astringency milder. Furthermore, if confit in a lightly infused oil, they integrate the flavours. I think rosemary and garlic are an excellent match, but if you’d like to try any other aromatic herb, go ahead…lemon thyme, thyme, lemon rind, peppercorns…up to you! To finish it off it needs little more to round the dish, a bit of shaved or grated parmesan, freshly grated pepper and salt flakes like maldon. Just that, to me is perfect…nothing more but to enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth artichokes and make sure you have a good bread at hand to dip in the flavoured oil!!!!


Confit artichokes in rosemary & garlic infused oil

(enough for 4 people as a starter)

1,5 kg artichokes ( I had 10 large ones)

~4 garlic cloves

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary

maldon salt (or any other flaked salt)

freshly milled black pepper

parmesan (to shave over)

olive oil to cover, mild flavour (I used about 400g)

Place some of the oil in the pan you’ll be using to confit the artichokes so when you start cutting them, you have enough oil to cover them to avoid oxidation. It’s best if the pan is thick bottomed, as though it will be cooked over low heat, there will be no hot spots to colour the artichokes directly above.


Before you start peeling the artichokes, I strongly advice you to get some latex gloves on! Otherwise you’ll have a hard time getting it off your hands, and most likely will go to work with brown fingers! Also, just place on your board a shopping size plastic bag…as most of the artichoke is waste! That way, you’ll avoid ending up with artichoke pieces all over your kitchen!

Now, start peeling the artichokes outer leaves until you get to the light inner ones. There’s no way to tell you exactly when to stop exactly, as it depends on each artichoke, for some you need to remove more leaves than for others. (Take a look at the photos below).

Then, make an incision halfway across the end of the stem, so you don’t cut it completely off, and you can pull toward the flower. I find this is the best way to determine exactly how much to remove, how much is the “fibrous” bit, without wasting or leaving any annoying hard bits behind. Do this along the entire stem.

Next, with a small paring knife cut from the stem toward the flower to make a smooth link between the two (some people manage better the other way around, from flower to stem, try which works best for you). Repeat around the entire artichoke.


Finally cut the greener outer half of the artichoke flower (also determine how far in to cut depending on how green it is in contrast to the lighter less fibrous bit). Then cut this in half lengthwise.

Some artichokes have a tough bit, “the choke”,  in the centre, which is really hard and not nice to find as you eat. This only happens in mature specimens, so young ones barely have any florets in that area, or like in this case, they are soft enough to be left in. Still, here’s a photo of what to remove.


Place the artichokes as you go inside the oil. It doesn’t have to cover them completely but almost. Still, as you go, immerse them to coat them with oil all around, so they don’t brown.

When all the artichokes are done, add the mashed whole garlic cloves and the rosemary sprigs (you can add these to the oil right at the beginning) and season with some maldon sea salt. It may seem like it makes no sense to season as it is cooked in oil, but the artichokes do absorb it, so don’t forget it!.

Just before placing over the heat make a parchment paper cover to cook them. Cut a square piece, with at least, the diameter of your pan. Fold it in half, then in half again and again until it’s a very acute triangle.

Place the tip, the inner part, over your pan, in the center to measure how long it should be and cut the excess paper. Also, cut a small piece in the tip, to make a whole in the center of the circle once it’s opened


Place it over the artichokes and start heating the oil over low heat. Once it simmers, bring it to the minimum so it cooks very slowly (in my induction from 1-11, 3 was more than enough)…some people even do this in the oven, but it takes longer.


They will take at least 10 minutes to cook (if they are small and tender)..Mine took 20 minutes to be soft enough to be pierced with a skewer with a bit of resistance and I then let them cool in the oil to finish off cooking them. You could finish them until very soft, but then, it’s very likely that they’ll disintegrate when you lift them off. So I advice you cook them until almost ready and let them continue cooking off the hob with the residual heat from the oil.

They keep best immersed in the oil in the fridge, but you could strain them a bit and of course, keep the extra flavourful oil for other confits, for using in other recipes, like for sautéing mushrooms, or for ratatouille or even salads.

To use, strain them a bit first…


Then, simply place them on a dish, season with maldon salt and freshly milled pepper and shred or shave parmesan or other similar cured cheese over them. I like to drizzle a tiny bit of lemon juice and grate a pinch of lemon rind over…but without the latter it’s delicious as it is!


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