Thursday, June 30, 2005

Orange Caramel, Marsala & Vanilla Cheesecake

I had brought back some lovely scorzetta d'arancia candita (candied orange peel) and a bottle of Cantine Florio's delicious Targa Riserva 1840 (a Vendemmia 1997 Vino Marsala Superiore Riserva) from Sicily with the vague intent of using the former to flavour either cannoli or cassata and to drink the latter with said dessert. The gem-like succulent wedges of candied peel are entirely different from the often waxen and tasteless travesty in plastic tubs available at the Baking Needs aisle of your friendly neighbourhood supermarket. For starters, these actually taste of oranges, rather than chemical preservatives and colouring agents. As for the semisecco ambra wine, it's an elegant dessert wine crafted from selected Grillo grapes picked at peak maturity from vineyards along the coastal strip of Petrosino in Triglia. A fortified wine aged for 6 years in oak casks then matured for at least 6 months in bottle, the Targa Riserva 1840 is beautifully amber in hue. Profusely aromatic like a Christmassy spiced dried fruit compote, the flavour is full, warm and mellow. While scrumptious sipped on its own or paired with a fine pastry, the baker in me simply couldn't resist flavouring a dessert with it. Homework on which cannoli or cassata recipe to follow (currently, the recipes in Nick Malgieri's Great Italian Desserts, Victoria Granof's Sweet Sicily, and Mary Taylor Simeti's Bitter Almonds look the most enticing) not having been completed, I decided I would incorporate both the candied orange peel and marsala in some other dessert, namely cheesecake, the logic being that both flavours tasted great in ricotta-based pastry creams so why not some other mild creamy cheese?


For the cheesecake component, I used my favourite recipe thus far - a fabulously creamy number that's baked for 8 hours (yup, 8, this is not a typo error) in a water bath at the very gentle temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It's based on a recipe from Maida Heatter's Cakes, a wonderful little volume. First, a caveat: If you're a fan of the dense and firm New York-style cheesecake, this - being the very antithesis of dense and firm - is not the recipe for you. It is, however, the ultimate recipe (thus far) for fans of the lushly creamy cheesecake style. Before coming across Heatter's method, I used to follow the "Rich and Creamy Cheesecake" recipe found in the 1999 edition of The Best Recipe cookbook by Cook's Illustrated, from whence I learnt the importance of using a water bath in order to achieve a perfectly flat and uncracked top. While indeed "Rich" and "Creamy" as promised in the recipe's name, it is significantly different from that of the 8-hour cake in texture. Baked at an extremely low temperature and coddled from direct heat in a bain-marie, the ingredients have the luxury of melding together at an unhurried pace, thus setting to a delicately tender and creamily custard-like velvet. The only departure from Heatter's recipe I've made is the choice of flavouring - I've used the tiny seeds scraped from a split vanilla pod and a splash of marsala instead of vanilla extract and cognac, in addition to the Myer's Dark Rum the author specifies. I then cut out columns using a deep round cutter for an individual presentation, jiggling them into place atop crumbly, cookie-like discs of separately baked buttery pate sablee. The mirror-like finish comes from a caramel-based glaze flavoured with orange juice and more vanilla - being a clear liquid topaz, the glaze prettily holds the specks of vanilla seeds in suspension. And finally, the cakes are topped with chocolate dipped candied orange peel (made by dipping strips of peel, which have had their sugar crystal coating scraped off, in tempered Valrhona Guanaja 70.5%).

27 Comments:

Anonymous Catherine said...

Very nice! May I ask, what molds did you use? They look so perfect...

2:36 pm, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

That top photo is gorgeous. Looks like it should be on the cover on some food magazine. And as one of your food tasters, thanks for sharing. By the way, we just took delivery of a big box of Pierre Herme macarons. We'll bring up a sampling.

9:20 pm, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Santos said...

lovely! i am not a fan of cheesecakes, but i like the sound of this--like a bold italian flan, a stroppy diva who knows she's worth it.

9:53 pm, June 30, 2005  
Blogger McAuliflower said...

Oh my goodness- 8 hours! I like the idea of cutting them out into individual sizes... well, heck I actually like all the ideas associated with this recipe!

8:33 am, July 01, 2005  
Blogger eatzycath said...

The texture of the creamy cheese layer looks absolutely yummy.. and that says a lot from a non-cheesecake fan!

11:20 am, July 01, 2005  
Blogger the baker said...

i'm sure that little gem was worth the 8 slow hours! and it does look pristine. your detailed description of the lovely candied peel was an imaginary treat for my tastebuds. and yes as chubby hubby has said, if someone else showed me that photo, i would have thought it came from a gourmet magazine. your photography skills are really something. kudos to you my friend~ keep up with the feast for both eyes and more.

4:45 pm, July 01, 2005  
Blogger Clare Eats said...

That is the cutest little cheesecake! I love the sound of the texture... hmm I wonder if I can convince my boyf to like cheesecake with this beautiful baby...

12:09 am, July 02, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi catherine, i used 1-inch high stainless steel rings with a 3-inch diameter

hi chubbyhubby, coming from the super shutterbug himself, that is high praise ;)btw, love your new masthead picture

hi santos, thanks! i think on a subconscious level i was thinking about your fabulous flan all week and just had to make something flan-like...

hi mcauliflower, thanks...i very nearly forgot to take it out of the oven...

hi eatzycath, thanks for your kind words, as always

hi the baker, thanks! coming from someone who bakes as much as you do, that's very kind...

hi clare, w, who's not very big on cheesecake himself, ate the whole thing by himself....

9:45 pm, July 02, 2005  
Blogger Lex Culinaria said...

J

Your photo has won the highest score in "originality" in this month's DMBLGIT - come on over for a look! http://gorgeoustown.typepad.com/lex_culinaria/2005/07/dmblgit_we_have.html

12:08 pm, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Hi J - congrats on your DMBLGIT award!!! Well deserved, I'd say.

6:44 pm, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Ruth said...

I know it's been said before (and even by me), but you DO take the most wonderful photos. On top of which I love the way you walk us through the creative process.

Thanks for sharing.

5:25 am, August 08, 2005  
Anonymous Celine said...

Hi J

I'm just stumped by your cheesecake.Could you very kindly share the recipe?

Many thx
Celine
weng_tse@yahoo.com

4:35 am, August 23, 2005  
Blogger baobei said...

i'm looking for a cheesecake recipe that would yield results similar to the coffee bean & tea leaf kind of chicago cheesecake, is this similar? would you mind sharing?

thanks!
baobei @ tanwli@yahoo.com

2:57 am, September 22, 2005  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gorgeous!!!
can I have the recipe?
thanks (I am italian...)

3:51 pm, November 08, 2007  

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