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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dessert, The Lazy Way: Individual Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecakes

I read a wonderful post today from the blog of Chef Laurent Gras, formerly of Fifth Floor, now head chef/co-owner of his latest culinary venture in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago, L.20 (as in el-two-oh), an upscale seafood restaurant along the lines of Le Bernardin (much as I hate classifying Le Bernardin as a "seafood" restaurant; making it sound like a glorified Red Lobster when it is, in fact, an experience in the sublime).

It was about inspiration in it's various forms (click on the title of this post to read Chef Gras' very brief exposition on this subject & others as well as an update on the new restaurant's construction). It's an interesting glimpse into the creative and practical side of culinary achievements; without one view of bad haircuts or one expletive emanating from a sad hack with Tourette's Syndrome.

(Can you tell I watched the first Top Chef Season 4 episode last night?)

After reading the L.2O blog, I was inspired. It wasn't necessarily by the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas or the fluid lines of a Galliano gown but by the idea that great beauty whether it is in architecture, nature, art or literature can give one such great aspirations. Such a desire to live & breathe & find in ourselves some spark of the divine, however small.

It made me want to look at the mundane, everyday objects we see around us in a new light. A golden light. It made me want to transform disparate things into a unified, glorious whole that would be better than the sum of its parts.

In short, it made me want to bake.

BAKE???? WHAT???

Yes, bake.

I took a look at the few items in my refrigerator & pantry that have languished for so long; unused and underappreciated. A hunk of chocolate, a brown egg, a block of cream cheese, a tub of mascarpone and some leftover dregs of french pressed Major Dickason's blend.

"From this", I thought as Laurent Gras inspirational images whirred in my head, "I will create!"

And so I have..... recipe to follow, in the meantime here are some images of the process and the finished product:

The main ingredients

The texture of the cream cheese after the initial whipping & before adding the other ingredients

The first rough chop

The texture of the chocolate after incorporating the first 1/2 cup of the batter

The ramekins filled with batter in their bain marie just before baking

Individual Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecakes

Note: Cheesecakes like banana bread, fruit crumbles, biscotti, muffins and the like are great things for the pastry challenged like me to undertake. This recipe is much easier than it looks at first sight. I guess when you give this recipe a first glance and then see 14 instructions; you'll think I'm crazy for calling it "Lazy".
What makes these little cheesecakes "lazy" are that they have no crust. Instead, I finely chop some toasted almonds & sprinkle them on the center of the plate and around the perimeter of the little cake. It acts as a de facto crust, saves you some calories & is much cleaner tasting then the tired nut or cookie crumb crusts that usually afflict the bottom of a cheesecake. This cheesecake resembles the N.Y. style more than any other. That means dense, slightly chalky & tongue-coating in texture. I didn't use sour cream which is an essential for good N.Y. style cheesecake, but you can add it if you like; just be sure to subtract an equal amount of the mascarpone from the mix.

I use ramekins that are well-greased with baking spray and lined with little circles of parchment paper; but, you can use plain vegetable oil or butter instead. This recipe makes 4 little cheesecakes in 4.5 oz. ramekins but the recipe can easily be tripled and poured into a 9" springform pan just be sure to increase the the baking time to 55 or 60 minutes, if you go that route.

I've said this before but I'll say it again: It's really important that you have an oven thermometer always hanging in the center of your oven so you know the actual oven temperature. They are cheap & easy to find. The timing and finished results of all your baking & roasting is dependent upon the correct temperature. The only way you'll know if your oven is the correct temperature is to measure it. The only way to measure it is with an oven thermometer. Enough said.

I beat everything by hand because I love whisking things but it requires that you set all of your ingredients out at room temperature for a minimum of one hour before beating; longer if like me your refrigerator is set at 38 degrees F & your kitchen is cool (I left my stuff out for almost two hours before the cream cheese was soft enough). You can use a large food processor or standing mixer, if you prefer.

You can do this the really lazy way & just add 2 oz. of dark chocolate syrup or Nutella to the cheesecake batter instead of melted chocolate. These prepared foods have emulsifiers & tons of sugar so you'll have to adjust the sugar & egg content to compensate. That might be less rewarding than just melting semisweet chocolate chips which I recommend doing if you'd like to save some time & effort.
Otherwise, use a good block of dark chocolate from Valrhona, Caillebaut or Sharffenberger. Use a serrated knife to shave the chocolate easily and evenly into small, meltable shards. I chose to chop the chocolate but I am notorious for doing things the hard way (just ask my husband, the poor guy). I can't help it. Insanity runs in my family.

  • an 8oz. block of cream cheese (do not substitute whipped cream cheese)
  • 4 oz. of mascarpone (1/2 tub) plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup plus one tablespoon of granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of strong French press coffee or espresso
  • 2-1/2 to 3 ounces of dark chocolate, shaved then melted & warm (you can melt chocolate chips instead of block chocolate)
  • 1 ounce of roasted almonds, chopped finely (for garnish)
  • 6 fresh strawberries, hulled & sliced (for garnish)
  • ground cinnamon (for garnish)
  • agave nectar (to drizzle over garnish of mascarpone & strawberries)
  1. Set rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Prepare ramekins according to the note.
  4. Whisk softened cream cheese in a large stainless steel bowl until light & fluffy. (See image above recipe.)
  5. Slowly add the sugar, a little at a time, whisking it in well to fully incorporate. Now add the mascarpone, whisk it in until mixture is homogeneous; followed by the flour; adding only a little of the flour at a time & whisking well then add the egg, beat into mixture well & finally the vanilla.
  6. Next we temper the chocolate.
  7. Set aside about 1/2 oz of the shaved chocolate. Then melt the remainder of the chocolate in a medium-sized moisture-free microwaveable bowl by using short 30 second bursts of the microwave until the chocolate just begins to soften. (About 2-1/2 to 3 rounds in the microwave but times can vary from machine to machine)
  8. As soon as the chocolate begins to soften, stir it slowly with a rubber spatula until the residual heat melts the chocolate then add the remaining shards of chocolate to the melted chocolate; stirring them in well to melt them in. The chocolate should be warm, silken & glossy. (If it has cooled too much, and begins to harden throw it in the microwave for another 20 seconds & stir well).
  9. Add 1/2 cup of the cheesecake batter to the melted chocolate, folding it in & stirring it well to fully incorporate (see my photo of the chocolate texture above the recipe). Then add the coffee to the chocolate mixture. Stir well. Add the chocolate mixture to the rest of the cheesecake batter & fold it in until the mixture is completely homogeneous.
  10. Spoon mixture, dividing it evenly, into the four prepared ramekins. Place ramekins in a roasting pan, allowing ample space between ramekins. Give the roasting pan a couple of quick small drops on the work surface to remove any air bubbles that may have formed in the ramekins while spooning the batter in. Fill roasting pan with hot water until the water level reaches the center of the ramekins (see photo above).
  11. Bake for 25 minutes until sides are puffy & center is firm but slightly jiggly. Remove the ramekins from the oven. Carefully, run a paring knife dipped into hot water around the perimeter of each cheesecake to facilitate removal from the ramekin later, and place in a draft-free area on a wire rack to cool for an hour. When room temperature, wrap them well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
  12. When you're ready to plate them, sprinkle a tablespoon or so of finely chopped almonds in the center of each serving plate, carefully run a paring knife dipped in hot water again around the perimeter of the ramekin, invert the ramekin on your open palm or onto another plate (not the serving plate), give the ramekin a gentle tap all around its bottom with the knife, & carefully unmold.
  13. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake & carefully place the cheesecake over the center of the chopped almonds.
  14. Add a dollop of mascarpone (that you've given a quick whisk to) over half of the cheesecake, top with strawberries & additional chopped almonds, add a few slices of strawberries to the plate, drizzle the strawberries and the mascarpone with a little dark agave nectar & a dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful blog. The photos have a lovely real feel and are not too precious. Makes all the difference. Plus I've found a wonderful dessert recipe with mascarpone.