Friday, January 18, 2008

Almond Mascarpone Crusted Cheesecake

I am back from holiday and thrilled to share this delicious cheesecake that I created for Christmas dinner. Less heavy than Christmas pudding or mince pies, this Italian-inspired dessert is light but satisfying.

The primary ingredient is mascarpone, a soft, thick, rich (fat content between 40-75%) ‘cream cheese’ that most of us know as a key ingredient of tiramisu. It originated in the 17th century in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, where it is made from cow’s milk cream. Technically, mascarpone is not a cheese at all, but the product of cream treated with acid, much like clotted cream. It has a slightly sweet and fresh taste, and is commonly used in desserts such as cheesecakes, cakes and as an accompaniment to fresh or cooked fruit. In Italy it is often used in savory dishes – as a base for spread or dip, thickener for soup or risotto, and enrichment for pasta or roasted vegetables. I’ve featured mascarpone in a summer zucchini soup; I also enjoy it on French toast.

There has been much controversy about the origin of the word ‘mascarpone’. It may derive from mascarpia, the word for ricotta cheese in the local dialect or from mascarpa, a milk product made from the whey of stracchino. Others describe it as a derivation of mas que bueno (Spanish for “better than good”) which may have taken hold during Spanish occupation of Lombardy between the 16th and 18th centuries. Others maintain that the name come from Cascina Mascherpa, a family farmhouse located halfway between Milan and Pavia. Whatever the origin, the word is often mispronounced as maRscapone.

I’m a huge fan of thick crusts, but you can certainly use 1/2 to 2/3 of the recipe if you prefer something more delicate. You can use any kind of preserve, but something with visible fruit chunks works best. I used a jar of cinnamon melon jam that I’d purchased in France two summers ago, at a small shop that I mentioned in a previous post (featuring hamantaschen cookies).

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons granulated sugar
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk
up to 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)

10-ounces cream cheese (reduced fat acceptable), room temperature
1 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
1 cup jam or preserve, homemade or chunky preferred

2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
confectioner’s sugar (optional)

1. To make crust mix flour, almond meal, salt and sugar. Add butter and blend in a food processor, with a pastry blender, between two knives or with your hands. Work quickly so the butter does not get warm.
2. Add an egg yolk and mix well. Gather dough into a ball. You may need to add some water to bring the dough together.
3. Press crust into the bottom and along sides of a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. If crust is too soft to work with, chill for 15-30 minutes.
4. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight.
5. Preheat oven to 400F.
6. Pierce crust all over with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is light brown. If it bakes too long it will become hard and brittle. If the crust begins to bubble, press with the back of a fork. Cool to room temperature. [see photo below]

7. To make the filling, beat together cream cheese, mascarpone, sugar, honey, almond extract and cardamom and pour into cooled tart shell. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
8. Spread jam evenly over filling. Chill until ready to serve. Top with almonds and dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving.


Mansi Desai said...

That's a winning combination!:) and I must say you have nailed the crust very well:) I usually tend to rely on the ready-made ones...

great job and a great recipe:)

DEEPA said...

Awesome combination ....yummy yummy one!!!

Rachel said...

mascarpone and almonds...yummm! I prefer a thick crust as well..and your crust is well done

Anonymous said...

Still hanging on to that cinnamon melon jam?!?!?!? Impressive! Didn't I leave a couple of jars of other varieties, from the same lady, for you in NY? Discovered another good jam maker here. Will bring you samples next time -- pear caramel and orange whiskey, to die for!

-- P

stinabina said...

pumpo brought a dish reminiscent of this week's recipe to GLUTTONY once. i've been making my version of it ever since (i hope i'm true to the original).

step one:
slice fresh dates 1/2 way though (lengthwise) to create a little cup

step two:
scoop a dollop of mascarpone into the center of the date

step three:
press a whole almond (with skin without shell) into the center

fiber, protein and calcium, all wrapped up into an easy-to-carry package.

Definitely not as tasty as your cheesecake looks...ah, to have time to bake....

Divya Kamath and Chaya Kamath said...

Hm, We love Cheesecake that too Amond mascarpone! A double treat!!!