The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
I’m not a huge cheesecake fan- it’s not that I dislike it; it just wouldn’t be my first choice for empty calories (just give me the cheese plate instead!)- but I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and use it as my contribution to Easter dinner at Marvin’s mom’s house. Turns out, his family all LOVES cheesecake- so much so that there were at two other cheesecakes at the get-together. At least mine was the only one with lemons!
I had gotten the idea for candied lemons because a few weeks ago there were Meyer lemons all over the grocery stores and I wanted to take advantage of the season (go here and here to see all the citrus goodies I made). Just after the idea had come to mind, coincidentally a fellow blogger whose blog I’ve started reading regularly posted a ricotta cheesecake with candied lemons. I was glad not to have to hunt for a candied lemon recipe, but a tiny bit disappointed that someone had just posted on the same concept. Ahh well, I suppose with the amount of food blogs out there these days, it’s hard to be totally original, unless you’re the Colloquial Cook!
The recipe itself was pretty darn easy, mainly just combining ingredients in a bowl and dumping them in the pan. And fortunately I didn’t have any issues with waterlogged crust or a crack in the top. I thought this was a good albeit very rich recipe. There was no flour (is there usually flour in cheesecake? I have no idea. I thought maybe there was a little), so the consistency was very soft and not at all “cake-y”, and it got kind of melty at room temperature, but was much better chilled. The consistency may have changed a little due to my adaptation as well. To flavor the cheesecake, I substituted 1/4 cup marmalade for 1/4 cup of the sugar, added the Microplaned zest of one lemon, and substituted lemon juice for the liqueur (too bad I didn’t have any Limoncello on hand!). You’d think it would have turned out ultra-lemony, but it was actually pretty subtle. The candied lemons on top were what really gave it some kick; I liked how their slightly bitter bite offset the sweetness and richness.
Incidentally, we had a great time at the family get-together, where we played a spirited game of Cranium with his cousins, and ate WAY too much food. I’m still working through some of the leftovers! In addition to ham AND turkey, there was a delicious pork and bean dish with three kinds of pork, the ubiquitous arroz con gandules (this is the Puerto Rican side of the family), homemade grape leaves (a remnant of his mom’s marriage to his Chaldean father), several other side dishes, and about 15 different desserts including flan (which I polished off for breakfast with some banana and strawberries). One of these days I am going to get together with his mom and learn some of the traditional recipes. Meanwhile, I’m happy to bring my contributions, and was relieved at not having a whole cheesecake sitting around my house. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera to Easter, so I only have the few photos I took before we left. The photo of the cheesecake without the pan and the pics below of me photographing the cheesecake are courtesy of Marvin.
pucker up: moroccan preserved lemons, meyer lemon marmalade, meyer lemon sherbet, and candied lemon slices
The last couple weekends A few weeks ago, I went just a little nuts with the citrus. I wanted to make sure to take advantage of it before the season is over, so I made no less than four different things out of lemons. I’m calling it my “Midwest citrusfest”. It’s finally starting to warm up here, but the lemons were a much-needed burst of sunshine while we wait for the real thing.
There’s a condiment I’d been wanting to make for a couple years now and never got around to, but I have no idea why, because the “recipe” is simplicity itself: just lemons and salt. I’m referring, of course, to Moroccan preserved lemons. I looked at several sets of instructions, and they were virtually identical: cut the lemon in quarters, but don’t cut all the way through; stuff the lemon with as much salt as it will hold (measurements were given, but unnecessarily so, in my opinion); reshape the lemons and stuff them in a jar. Some of the recipes said to add additional lemon juice to cover, but others said it was fine to wait a few days; by then, the lemons should release enough of their own juice. So now I have a big jar of lemons in some liquid that is starting to take on a slightly viscous, mucus-like appearance. I’m hoping this is normal. I have to wait another 2 weeks or so before they’re ready, at which time I plan to make the classic tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and green olives. Hopefully I will not perish due to botulism or some other form of food poisoning. Although I cannot imagine any living thing surviving the amount of salt I used.
My second lemon experiment was Meyer lemon marmalade. Again, I looked at a couple different recipes, mostly following this one. Don’t you love it when a recipe says “reduce to 2 tbs” or “reduce by half”… like, how do I know what that looks like? Am I supposed to eyeball what 4 cups looks like? Or interrupt the cooking process while I take the the hot liquid out of the pan to measure it? For this recipe, I actually did just that, since you’re supposed to add an amount of sugar that is equal to your boiled lemon-water mixture. I followed the cooking instructions but my marmalade never got close to 230º, and after cooking it for 30 minutes, I decided I was done. I think it could have gone even less time, because my yield was a full 2 jars short of what the recipe said it would be, and the marmalade was very thick. But, I thought it wasn’t bad for a first effort. The flavor was a little too sweet for my taste due to being cooked down so much, but I think spread on something like a scone or toast that isn’t sweetened, it’ll be just fine. The marmalade was also incorporated in my April Daring Bakers challenge, which I can’t reveal until the end of the month for a few more days, but I can tell you was delish. [Update: I am now convinced the thermometer I was using was broken, which explains why my marmalade was overcooked even though it "never got to 230º".]
Ever since my sister gave me the Cuisinart ice cream maker for Christmas, I’ve been whipping up lots of frozen treats. Fruit ices and sorbets are the easiest because you don’t have to do a custard base. I still had lemons left, so next up was a batch of Meyer lemon sherbet. I have to pause here and question all the foodie love for Meyer lemons. I honestly was hard-pressed to taste a difference between the sherbet I made with Meyers, and any other standard lemon ice. With the marmalade I get it, because regular lemons would have too thick a skin for marmalade. And the Meyers are pretty juicy, but for the difference in price, I’m just not sold. Perhaps I need to taste them in a lemonade, or a lemon curd, to fully appreciate their superiority… Anyone else with me on this one, or are my taste buds just not that sophisticated? Supposedly they’re sweeter than regular lemons, but if you’re adding a bunch of sugar to a recipe, what’s the difference? In any event, the sherbet tasted like lemons, so I was happy. I used a recipe out of Chez Panisse Fruit and adapted it a bit- see recipe below.
The last thing I made with my remaining lemons was candied lemon slices. These were also utilised in my Daring Bakers challenge. I used the instructions found here; the only variation I made was to strain and save the syrup in which the lemons are cooked, rather than discarding it. You can use this syrup in cocktails where simple syrup is called for (as long as the lemon flavor won’t clash), or to sweeten iced tea, or to make lemonade. Or muddle some mint, add the syrup and some club soda for a nice refreshing bevvie for your teetotaler friends. I’ve already used mine to drizzle over some berries, to sweeten a smoothie, and for a couple other things including the sherbet recipe below.
I enjoyed my midwest citrusfest, but am definitely looking forward to the fruits of summer!
Meyer Lemon Sherbet (adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit)
3 cups lemon syrup from the candied lemons you just made (or 1 1/2 cups each sugar & water, heated gently to dissolve sugar)
1 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1 tbs Microplaned or finely chopped zest
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp gelatin in 2 tbs water*
Directions: Combine syrup, juice, zest and milk. (Don’t worry if milk looks a little curdly; it will be fine once frozen.) Gently heat gelatin mixture until fully dissolved and no longer grainy. Add to other ingredients and refrigerate until cold; then freeze according to the directions of your ice cream maker.
*Note: for those not wanting to use gelatin, you could add a tbs or two of some sort of alcohol (vodka or limoncello, perhaps?) as an anti-freezing agent, or try using half-and-half instead of milk.