Cheesecake. It seems to be almost everybody’s favourite dessert (or snack or breakfast treat) yet there was a time when neither myself or Paul could eat it. Mine was simple; super tasters taste things much more prominently when they are younger (before the taste buds get numbed by alcohol and other adult pursuits) and I could not bear that tangy flavour. Luckily, I grew out of that particular affliction by my late teens and I adore cheesecake now.
As for Paul, he used to get violently sick when he ate cream cheese (and that included all soft cheeses except for Ricotta). I remember once serving him Tiramisu and the ensuing sickness was not a pretty sight. Fortunately for both of us, that affliction passed too. Now, if I can just get him to overcome his garlic sickness...
In the past, I have made a number of variants on the cheesecake, using both ricotta cheese and Philadelphia (cheesecake is ALWAYS a hit at dinner parties). However, I prefer to use Philadelphia as it gives that desirable tang that so nauseated me in my youth. I have made simple New York cheesecakes, cheesecakes that don’t require baking, cheesecakes that do, cheesecakes with chocolate in them, cheesecakes with limes juice in them and fruity cheesecakes. I have also made savoury cheesecakes which are unusually delicious, using Parmesan mixed with Ricotta and Spinach or Asparagus.
However, for this months Hay Hay It’s Donna Day, hosted Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, (theme: surprisingly, Cheesecake), I thought I would eschew the typical cheese fillings in favour of an old fashioned tart that requires you to make your own cheese. Or at least cheese curds.
Yorkshire Curd Tart is a regional dish which sadly doesn’t seem to have ever migrated down to the South of the country. I first learnt about it on an episode of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes where he attempted to replicate the dish after tasting a traditionally made version. He uses sieved cottage cheese but the actual recipe he gives in the book details how to make your own curds. It is a very simple process, bring full fat milk up to blood temperature and curdle it with a couple of tablespoons of rennet (and I’ve been waiting to use that bottle of rennet that’s been sitting on my shelf for some years now for something other than a junket), then strain the curds from the whey overnight. The resulting product is something that strongly resembles shop bought Ricotta although much firmer, and with virtually no taste whatsoever. The rennet doesn’t curdle the milk in the same way that leaving it out on a radiator would, there is no sour smell to either the curds or the whey and it is just a pure, dazzlingly white product that you are left with in your muslin (or tea towel).
The Tart is made with good English ingredients from puddings past: raisins (although traditionally currants), breadcrumbs, nutmeg, allspice and a lard shortcrust. This delicate spicing of the bland curds is a joy, the smell reminds one of homemade Hot Cross Buns but the taste is redolent of Custard Tarts crossed with Mince Pies. When baked, the white curds and the bronze raisins speckle the otherwise golden tart (from a whipped up mixture of sugar, butter and eggs) and it looks as different to a normal cheesecake as a hamburger and a hot dog.
I served the cooled tart in thin slices, lightly dusted with icing sugar, as our dessert last night where it was declared unusually good. Pauls’ work colleague Eileen is also a fan. She and the office ‘enjoyed’ the leftovers today!
YORKSHIRE CURD TART – Serves 8
(Taken from Rick Steins' More Food Heroes)
25g Butter, cold and diced
25g Lard, cold and diced
2 Tablespoons very cold water
1.2 Litres Full Fat Milk (and it must be full fat)
2 Tablespoons Rennet (and a vegetarian version is available now. You could use Cottage Cheese instead if you rinsed in thoroughly and left it to drain overnight).
1 Tablespoon Soft White Breadcrumbs
¼ Teaspoon Allspice
Good Grind of Fresh Nutmeg
Pinch of Salt
2 Eggs, beaten
100g Softened Butter
50g Caster Sugar
To make the curds, heat the full fat milk up to blood temperature (37c). Remove from the heat and pour into a large bowl. Stir in the rennet and leave to cool.
Once cooled, the milk will have partially solidified. Break the solids up with a wooden spoon.
Line a large sieve with muslin or, as I used, a clean tea towel and place over another bowl. Gently pour the now curds and whey into the sieve and leave to strain for 8 hours or overnight, in a cool place.
The next day, remove the curds from the sieve and place in a bowl. Keep refrigerated for a day or so (mine were fine after two days) until you are ready to make the tart.
For directions to make the pastry click here.
Once the pastry has chilled sufficiently, roll it out and line an 8” Pie Tin with it (I used my 9” one by mistake, hence the filling looks quite thin). Blind bake it for 15 minutes at 200c, and then for five more minutes without the baking beans, until crisp. I sprinkled some cornmeal on the bottom of the pie crust, which ensures a crisp bottom.
To make the filling, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, breadcrumbs, allspice, salt and nutmeg.
Break the curds up with a fork until the size of small peas and then beat this into the mixture.
Finally, fold the raisins into the mixture and pour into your pie crust. This mixture will look quite split but don’t worry. This is normal.
Bake at 200c for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and set.
Leave to cool entirely then serve in small slices, dusted with icing sugar.Enjoy!