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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Cheesecake Tart with Candied Walnuts and Pomegranate Honeycomb

This is a little fancier than my normal posts, but I've been doing so many 'homestyle' cooking things at home and on my blog lately that I just had to do something chef-y. Wedding season is coming up which means lots of wedding cakes for me, and it's far too cold for ice cream so I can't sell that at the bakery. This means it's a lot of time for experimentation, which is good for me and the cookbook.

I wanted to talk a little bit about how I decide what to write and when to write it. Like the cookbook, I try to write, cook, and eat seasonally. Each chapter in the book will be about the wheel of the year and how the seasons will turn. This will have some fun history and neat things there in the margins, but it's mostly going to be about cooking sustainable and with the seasons. March is here, and it's my favorite month of the year. The full moon is the Chaste moon, and it carries the time of fertile Pisces, perfect for planting your garden. Another one of the reasons for my love of this month (or, rather, this season of spring) is a little holiday called Purim.

Purim is a sort of Jewish Halloween - and we all know how I love Halloween. There are plenty of religious bits about it but honestly this is the one holiday of the calendar that's easily the most-fun. It's a holiday in which we're encouraged to cross-dress, get drunk, and throw a rocking party. As always, you donate money to charity, or do a mitzvah, a good deed. There's, of course, a ritual food that comes with it, but we're not covering that in this blog. That post will come on March 16th, the weekend before the holiday on the 21st. (Spoiler alert: it's my own version of hamentaschen.) The whole month of March, though, is going to be full of fun foods that you can make for Purim! What's that? You'd like a little backstory as to what this holiday might be? Well...

Disclaimer: this is a super trite version that I'm about to tell you, but I think you'll get the reason it's a celebration.

In the ancient Persian empire there was this King called Ahasuerus who had his wife Vashti executed. Apparently, he asked her to dance naked for him and she was like "um, no???" so of course she was beheaded. He then goes on a search for a new wife in his kingdom and finds this smoking gal called Ester (whose Hebrew name is Haddass), whom he then weds.

Ester slays the game as a royal until she overhears the plan of this really gross and creepy royal adviser, Hamen, who has this plan to kill all the Jews because that's just kind of what seems to happen, historically. Ester's uncle, Mordecai, overhears this plan and goes to see his niece in secret and tells her all about Hamen's plan. She comes up with a really brave and brilliant plan: throw a party!

She throws this massive ball where there's food and drink and lots of fun ancient world shenanigans going on. At some point during the dinner, Ester says to the King: "Hey so Hamen is wanting to exterminate all the Jews and you totally can't do that because I'm a Jew." His mind is blown but instead of having her executed he has Hamen executed instead and the Jews are saved.

Ester saves the Jews! Hooray!

Of course, there's the proper version of this story, but all you need to know is that every spring, Jews have this amazing holiday called Purim where it's encouraged to get drunk, cross-dress, wear costumes, and just have a rocking good time. The idea is to get crazy and have fun with this topsy-turvy holiday, so where you can't tell who's the hero and who's the villain. Purim is a story of bravery and redemption, and that you're more-likely to get what you want if you know how to throw a good party.

What does this have to do with cheesecake?

Everyone loves cheesecake because it's delicious, so it's easy to get people to like it for a party. This cooks exponentially faster than your normal cheesecake would (3-4 hours) and so it'll be perfect for a party if you forget that you have one in the evening. This recipe is easily made pareve, which is known as a neutral food. This means it contains neither meat nor dairy and can be consumed with or after consuming either. As I'm sure some of you are aware, kosher law dictates that meat and milk shouldn't be on the same table.

There's a lot of debate on exactly how long you have to wait between each meal before it's acceptable to eat meat or dairy, but the point is that if you have cheese on the table then it should either be a vegetarian meal or have fish. If you have meat on the table, you should have vegetables but no milk or cheese or butter. If you're going to a party with people that keep kosher or even just are lactose intolerant, it's a nice thing to do to keep it a neutral food. My husband is severely lactose intolerant, so I don't even keep dairy in the house. But that doesn't mean I can't have cheesecake still!

With a tart, there's quite a bit of surface area that you can decorate it in any way you like. Purim requires lots of sparkles and decorations, so feel free to use bright colors. I'll be showing a couple of great little garnishes you can make, not just for this but for any item you want to add a little pizzaz to.

Cheesecake Tart with Candied Walnuts and Pomegranate Honeycomb
yield 1 11" tart

Pie crust
  • 8 oz butter (or vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance)
  • 14 oz flour
  • 1 oz powdered sugar
  • Spiced rum as needed
Cheesecake Filling
  • 8 oz cream cheese ( or tofu cream cheese)
  • 4 oz sour cream (or tofu sour cream)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 fat pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
Pomegranate Honeycomb candy
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 3/4 c water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
Candied walnuts(recipe follows)
Gilded raspberries

For the crust, make a pie crust as usual. Cube the butter into very small pieces and rub it into your flour mixture. Once the pieces are about the size of peas, add in some spiced rum, a spoonful at a time, until the dough resembles a sort of damp sand that stays together when clumped. Turn out onto a marble surface and gently knead together. You don't have to worry about gluten forming because you've used alcohol, not water, so bring it all together into one nice disc. Wrap it in plastic and let chill for at least 30 minutes in the freezer. 

In the meantime, you may preheat your oven to 325 degrees F and make your custard mix. 

Using a large bowl and a whisk, whip together your cream cheese and sour cream. You want it to be very smooth indeed with absolutely no lumps. Add in both sugars and the vanilla, stirring quite well. Don't worry about whipping air into this mixture, otherwise the texture won't be quite right. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, and being sure to not move on until each egg is 100% fully incorporated. This is very important with a cheesecake mixture that you don't rush and curdle your batter, so please don't rush it. After all, you have a crust that's cooling and that's something you don't want to rush. 

Once all the eggs are absolutely without a doubt mixed in, you may add in the remaining ingredients and whisk gently. You're not looking to incorporate air, but to create a very smooth custard. Set aside.

Between two sheets of parchment that have been liberally sprayed with pan spray, roll out your tart dough disc. You'll want to beat it up a little bit, just to soften it, using your favorite rolling pin. I like these French-style rolling pins because the less moving parts you have, the less you might have to repair later. Plus, it makes me feel like Julia Child when I whack stuff, and these are the kinds that she used.

You want to roll out your dough between parchment sheets because:
  • It's just about the quickest and easiest cleanup in the world
  • You already have enough flour in the dough, so why add more
  • Because you have less flour in there, the risk of overworking anything is far less

I personally like to use these round fluted tart pans from Sur la Table, but this 11" fluted tart pan on Amazon will do you just fine if you don't have a Sur La Table anywhere near you. For the record, I do encourage you to shop at businesses that actually pay their taxes and don't exploit their workers the way another company might. The best part about these tart pans is that they have a removeable bottom, so you can take it out and flip the dough over onto it and then lower it inside the fluted edge with a great deal of ease. Please note that the dough will be rolled quite thin, almost a quarter of an inch thin. You want this!

Once your tart pan is lined with your ultra-thin dough, fill it with your cheesecake custard. Open up your oven and place it on the bottom rack. (Remember, we always put pies on the bottom rack of the oven.) On the top/middle rack, place another pie dish full of ice and then lower the temperature to 300 degrees. This will help to create some steam and keep from forming too much of a skin, as well as having this lovely stuff bake evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the center is wobbly while still being a touch firm. If the filling puffed up a little, that's absolutely okay. Evacuate the tart from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature for about 20 minutes before refrigerating. It's now the time for you to make your garnishes!

Add the sugar meant for the pomegranate honeycomb with the water and honey to a pot fitted with a candy thermometer. Start it on high and then bring it down to a rather low boil until it comes to 300 degrees F. Turn off the flame. Meanwhile, take some whole walnut kernels on wooden skewers and stick gently, yet not all the way through so you won't break the nut. Dip each nut in the molten sugar, being very careful, and lay the skewer atop the rim of a glass, which is atop a silpat mat or a parchment sheet. You want the hot sugar to sort of drip down and form a point.

You can do this as many times as you like to make as many candied nuts as you like, so long as the syrup is warm. You can also make candy floss with this by using two forks and whipping them over a mat to create threads. Don't do this, though, if you don't feel like a mess to clean up. When you're satisfied with the amount of candied nuts you've made, turn the heat back on and add in the pomegranate molasses.

Bring your sugar syrup up to a nice boil and add in the baking soda. Stir it with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula and pour out onto a silpat mat. Work fast and work carefully!

I cannot stress this enough: Work fast and work carefully! Sugar syrup, when cooked to 300 degrees, is quite dangerous, so please don't attempt it with small children, who like to stick their fingers in everything. If you do get some hot sugar syrup on your hand, here's what you must do:

  1. Put everything down and turn everything off immediately
  2. Get safely to the sink and turn on the hot water
  3. Cuss a lot, because it hurts
  4. Let the sugar dissolve and then go to cool water, not cold
  5. Let the cool water run and then dab, not wipe, with a paper towel.
  6. Apply mustard to the burn
  7. Apply a bandaid.
  8. Cry a little, if needed.
  9. Continue working.

So honeycomb candy is known by that name because of the gorgeous texture it creates. You can snack on it on its own or dip it in chocolate when cool and dry. You may have even heard of candy bars using honeycomb!

Please be mindful that the aeration will make everything grow, especially considering the acid in the pomegranate molasses will react with the baking soda, so do be sure that you've got plenty of room on your silpat mat. Allow to cool entirely before breaking off into pieces. We'll talk about later storage in a few minutes.

For the rest of the decorations, you can use fresh berries, gold leaf...you can even roll some fresh raspberries in luster dust of any color of your choosing and decorate. You want a lot of different textures, of course, but you want it all to be cohesive. Every component in any composed dessert must be harmonious, even if it looks a little crazy. The idea, though, is to create interesting textures that will elevate a dish to the best it can be. I chose lots of crunchy things for this because the cheesecake itself is rather soft.

I love these color combinations of red and gold on a white background. You can add anything you like to dress this up for a party. You'll only need a few pieces of the honeycomb, so store the rest in an airtight container, ideally with a silica gel packet in the bottom to keep it from melting. You won't let the candied walnuts last, I assure you - they're too tasty of a snack. You can do this technique of candying with any soft nut!

Now, you can talk about assembly. If you aren't travelling far for the party, I highly suggest traveling with the components separate. If you're hosting, feel free to assemble up to 20 minutes before the guests arrive, after you've showered and made sure you're done cleaning, but before you've set out the chips and dip. Gather all of your components together and take a look as to what you'd like to do. I chose honeycomb, candied nuts, and fresh raspberries. You ultimately can choose whatever you like, but I chose these for color, for texture, and for flavor in mind. If you do go with something else, please post it on instagram and tag me! Just remember to stay organized and you'll do great!

Invest in some tweezers and a small offset spatula that's dedicated to helping you garnish cakes, pastries, and more. 
One tip I can't stress enough is that restraint is often a little better to exercise than excess. Even though you might make this for Purim, it'll look far more elegant and composed if you make use of negative space. This just means that you can always add, but you can't always take away. I think it's far more beautiful to have clusters of garnishes here and there instead of having it all over, because it's going to have a little more of an impact. Pay attention to height, especially, when thinking about your presentation. To serve, have more garnishes available if your guests really like them!

I hope you've enjoyed this post! For the month of march I'll be posting a lot of topsy-turvy fun things. March really is the best month, as it often contains some of my favorite holidays. Purim, the first day of Spring (or Ostara), St. Patrick's Day, and - of course - International Women's Day, which happens to be my birthday. Of course, there will have to be a great birthday cake post. I'll be 31!

Happy March! Happy cooking! And, as always: Happy Eating!

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