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Fig, Orange and Mascarpone Cheesecake

Looking for a delicious showstopper dessert to serve this holiday season? The new cookbook “Sweet” by Yotam Ottolenghi  & Helen Goh is filled with possibilities, including this rich cheesecake I made for a party recently. The recipe includes dried puréed figs spread over a graham cracker and walnut base, but doesn’t require the fresh figs shown in the photo. But since my supermarket had some real beauties on the shelf last week, I couldn’t resist adding them as decoration, smeared with a little quince jelly to add some shine.

As if a graham cracker, walnut and butter base isn’t wonderful enough, the recipe calls for you to cook some dried figs in orange juice with spices and smear that over the graham cracker base. You can use American measurements, but whenever possible, I like to use metric measurements, (included in the recipe) which are so much more accurate.

After slicing the figs, they may weigh a teensy bit less (especially if you’re a taste-tester, as I am.)

After they’re cooked, I blitzed them in a food processor to obtain a purée,  something the book’s recipe doesn’t ask you to do.

But the technique avoids having lumps in the purée and provides a smooth spread to smear over the graham cracker crust.The recipe also doesn’t call for baking the cake in a hot water bath. In fact, at the beginning of the cheesecake chapter, the authors say they’re not huge fans of the technique. I am, however, and looking at the photo of this cheesecake is proof that the technique works. See the cheesecake pictured in the book below, included next to the recipe? You’ll see very raised and very rounded outer edges, as well as a very browned (too browned in my opinion) top and side crust.

However, after covering the bottom and outside edges of the pan with aluminum foil, and baking it in a bain marie, the cheesecake I baked came out of the oven with a perfectly even height from the center to the edge. You have to be really careful when putting the pan in the oven and removing it, though, since spilling hot water on yourself can be very hazardous. But it will be worth it once you bite into this beauty.

Fig, Orange and Mascarpone Cheesecake
 
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
 
Ingredients
  • =Base
  • 3½ oz/100 gr. graham crackers (about 6½ sheets), roughly broken
  • ¾ cup/80 g. walnut halves, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbsp/60 gr. unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
  • 9 oz/260 gr. soft dried figs, tough stems removed, sliced into ¼ inch/0.5 cm strips
  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp/250 ml orange juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cloves
  • =Filling
  • 1 lb. 2 oz/500 gr. cream cheese at room temperature (I used 1 lb. only)
  • 1 lb. 2 oz./500 gr. mascarpone (I used 1 lb. only)
  • 1¼ cups/250 gr. granulated sugar
  • finely grated zest of 1 large orange (1 tbsp)
  • 4 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. To make the base, grease the base and sides of a 9-inch/23 cm round springform pan and line with parchment paper, making sure that the paper rises at least 2 inches/5 cm above the rim; the cake rises a lot in the oven. (I lined only the bottom and buttered the sides and it was fine).
  2. Place the graham crackers in a food processor and process to form fine crumbs; the consistency should be that of dried breadcrumbs. Place in a medium bowl and add the walnuts and melted butter.Use your hands or a large spoon to combine; the mixture should be the consistency of wet sand. Spoon the crumbs into the pan, using your hands to press them into the base, then place in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. (At this stage, I baked the base in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes. Next time, I would bake it for 10-12 minutes, since the base still softened after the cheesecake was baked.)
  3. Place the figs, orange juice, cinnamon stick and ground cloves in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated but the mixture is still moist. (At this point, I blended it until smooth in a food processor - removing the cinnamon stick.) Set aside to cool, remove the cinnamon stick, then spread over the base. Return to the fridge.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. To make the filling, place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute, until smooth, before adding the mascarpone, sugar, orange zest, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Continue to beat until all of the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture looks smooth and creamy, scraping down the paddle and sides of the bowl from time to time, if you need to.
  6. Place the egg whites in a separate clean bowl and whisk (either by hand or with an electric mixer) until firm peaks form. Fold a third into the cream cheese mixture, followed by the remaining two-thirds.
  7. Pour the filling over the chilled fig and graham cracker base. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 75-80 minutes, until the cheesecake is a light golden brown at the edges and the center is only just firm. (Before putting in the oven, I wrapped the bottom of the springform pan with aluminum foil, then placed the pan in a bain-marie, or hot water bath. It helps the cheesecake to bake more evenly and avoids formation of raised edges. I baked it for 75 minutes and it was still slightly wobbly in the middle. Don't worry, it firms as it cools.)
  8. Turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake inside for an hour or so, with the door propped open with a wooden spoon. Allow it to come to room temperature before covering in plastic wrap and keeping in the fridge for 4 hours.
  9. When ready to serve, release the springform pan, remove the parchment paper (that is nearly impossible to do without flipping it over, so I left it on) and transfer to a cake platter. (I decorated the top with sliced figs that were brushed with quince jelly.)
  10. The cheesecake is best served chilled, straight from the fridge, and cut with a warm knife (dip the blade in hot water and wipe dry before using.)

Roasted Butternut Squash And Red Onions

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions

 Although Italian food is my food of choice, and my cookbook shelves are lined predominantly with books from authors like Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich and Domenica Marchetti, I am also a big fan of other types of cuisine – including Middle Eastern.

Cookbooks from Yotam Ottenlenghi and Sami Tamimi also feature predominantly on my shelves for their flavor combinations that are so distant, yet so wonderful, from what I grew up eating.
Someone brought this dish to a dinner party I attended a few months ago, and I found myself going back for seconds (I would have gone back for thirds, but didn’t want to appear greedy!)
When I asked for the recipe, I was told it was from Ottolenghi’s book, Jerusalem, one of my favorite cookbooks, and one that was sitting on my bookshelf all along.
I’ve since made it several times, with a slight variation. Instead of using the pine nuts called for in the original recipe, I used hazelnuts – a less expensive alternative to the costly pine nuts from the Mediterranean (for those of us who won’t buy Chinese pine nuts for various reasons – see here). Gustiamo.com sells wonderful pine nuts from Tuscany, but fair warning – they don’t come cheap.
The sweetness of the onions and squash is hard to resist after they’ve emerged from the oven, but wait until you drizzle the sauce, the nuts and herbs all over it to get the full effect. Zatar, a middle Eastern herb blend, features predominately at the end. I can find it locally at a shop in my town called Savory Spice, or at Williams Sonoma, but they’ll also sell by mail order.
The first time I made this dish, the tahini in the sauce was overwhelming to my palate, so I toned it down by adding some yogurt. In fact, I made it subsequently using only Greek yogurt and lemon juice, giving the sauce a nice tang.
It may well become your go-to vegetable dish for holidays or dinner parties.

 

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions
from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
1 large butternut squash (around 1.1kg), cut into 2cm x 6cm wedges 
2 red onions, cut into 3cm wedges 
50ml olive oil
Maldon sea salt and black pepper (don’t worry if you don’t have Maldon sea salt – use kosher salt instead)

3½ tbsp tahini paste (or 1/2 cup Greek yogurt)
1½ tbsp lemon juice 
3 tbsp water 
1 small garlic clove, crushed 
30g pine nuts (I used about 1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped)
1 tbsp za’atar
1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
Heat the oven to to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put the squash and onions in a large bowl, add three tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and toss well. Spread, skin down, on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes until the vegetables have taken on some colour and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions: they may cook faster than the squash, so may need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Put the tahini in a small bowl with the lemon juice, water, garlic and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Whisk to the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini as necessary. (I prefer a smaller amount of tahini, or sometimes eliminate it, adding about 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt to the mix)

Pour the remaining oil into a small frying pan on a medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and half a teaspoon of salt, cook for two minutes, stirring, until the nuts are golden brown, then tip the nuts and oil into a small bowl.

To serve, spread the vegetables on a platter and drizzle over the sauce. Scatter the pine nuts and oil on top, followed by the za’atar and parsley.
Clementine Almond Cake

Clementine Almond Cake

This cake, from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “Jerusalem” cookbook, is a showstopper, but quite honestly, it looks better than it tastes. I’ve made it a couple of times now and it’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it could benefit from a few changes. 

First of all, that luscious-looking chocolate glaze is not the one that accompanied the Ottolenghi recipe. That one was fine, but a little too thin.
Ever since I discovered David Lebovitz’ easy chocolate sauce, (no cream, no butter) I’ve been sold on that one. The viscosity is just perfect for drizzling on cakes, on ice cream, and whatever else you can dream of. Plus the taste is terrific.
Another thing I’ll change when I make this again is to use almonds without “skins.” Sorry I don’t have an interior shot for you, but the color comes out a little too tan when I used almonds that had skins on them. The texture was a little coarse too. I might even try using almond flour instead of grinding the almonds myself, to perhaps obtain a softer crumb.
Lastly, next time I make this (and there will be a next time), I’ll add more peel and juice from the clementines. The cake needs a little more citrus flavor to give it more “zing.”
Even so, there were no complaints when I served this at a recent dinner. Maybe the guests were just being polite, but I don’t think so. Only a small sliver was left by the end of the night. Could you resist sinking a fork into this?

 

Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Icing
 
Adapted from Jerusalem
by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
Serves 8 to 10
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
scant 2 cups sugar
grated zest and juice of 4 clementines (I would add juice and zest from at least five or six clementines)
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
5 eggs, beaten
 2-1/2 cups ground almonds (preferably without skins)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt
long strips of orange zest to garnish (optional)
Chocolate Icing: (I prefer the chocolate sauce recipe below from David Lebovitz)
6 tablespoons butter, diced
5 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, broken up
2-1/2 teaspoons honey
1-1/2 teaspoon Cognac
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 9-1/2 inch springform pan with butter and line the sides and bottom with parchment paper.
Place the butter, 1-1/2 cups of the sugar, and both zests in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment and beat on low speed to combine everything well.  Do not work the mixture too much or incorporate too much air.  Add half the ground almonds and continue mixing until combined.
With the machine running, gradually add the eggs, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl a couple of times as you go.  Add the remaining ground almonds, the flour, and the salt and beat until completely smooth.
Pour the cake batter into the pan and level it with an offset spatula.
Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes.  Check to see if it is ready by inserting a skewer into the center.  It should come out a little bit moist.
When the cake is almost done, place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the citrus juices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil (the juices should total about 1/2 cup; remove some juice if needed).  When the syrup boils, remove it from the heat.
As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush it with the boiling syrup, making sure all the syrup soaks in.  Leave the cake to cool down completely in the pan before you remove it.  You can then serve it as it is, garnished with orange zest strips, or store it for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
If you wish to ice the cake, we recommend doing it on the day you want to serve it so the icing is fresh and shiny.  Put the butter, chocolate, and honey in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water).  Stir until everything is melted, then immediately remove from the heat and fold in the Cognac.  Pour the icing over the cooled cake, allowing it to dribble naturally down the sides without covering the cake completely.  Let the icing set and then garnish the center of the cake with the orange zest strips.
David Lebovitz’ chocolate sauce
(Note – you’ll have more than you need to decorate the cake, so store remainder in the fridge.)
The Best Chocolate Sauce
About 2 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup, agave nectar, or glucose
  • 3/4 cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
  • 2 ounces (55 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup (or agave or glucose), and cocoa powder.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it’s just begun to simmer and boil, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.
Serving: You should let the Chocolate Sauce stand for a few hours before serving, which will give it time to thicken a bit.
Storage: Store the chocolate sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Rewarm before serving.