Wednesday, November 16, 2011

UnRecipe: Yes, Virginia, There Can Be Too Much of a Good Thing

You know you have these mental pictures rolling around in the ol' noggin, culinary creations that combine ingredients and flavors that in theory should work really well? Let's just say those good intentions often lead towards the Dark Side of indulgent culinary desires.

My stomach said yes, but my diastolic BP said hell no - Photo by Wasabi Prime

It was a simple enough notion: let's make a savory cheesecake. Cheese is one of those super-flexible ingredients that can transition from sweet to savory relatively easily, you just have to know which types of cheese works best and ideally, which cheese can play both sides. Cream cheese is most certainly one of them. You use it in the dessert variety of cheesecake, but the flavor is neutral enough to be used in savory applications. By taking a standard cheesecake recipe, omitting the sugar and adding some extra "oomph" of flavor with herbs and crispy pancetta, this notion of a savory cheesecake doesn't sound so bad... right?

To be clear, there wasn't anything wrong with the final product. My main concern was whether or not the cheesecake would set up properly -- technically it's more like a custard, not a cake, given its eggy-creamy batter which doesn't have much flour in it. The final baked good set up just fine. I made a savory crust, using some coarse breadcrumbs, a mix of panko, rye and regular toasted white bread. The crumbles were tossed with melted butter and pressed into a springform pan and baked for a few minutes to set up. The batter was a variation on a basic cheesecake recipe, sans sugar of course, using a mix of cream cheese and softened goat cheese. I mixed in a handful of chopped fresh herbs, mostly parsley, basil and some thyme from the garden. The last item I mixed in was a crumbling of pan-crisped pancetta for a meaty bite. The batter was poured over the crust in the springform pan and placed into the oven set to a low heat. I could have done the water bath, but it was fine, as the crust didn't crack during the bake time. All good in the 'hood so far, right...?

My biggest conundrum was how to serve. I love the ooey-gooey flavor of warm, melty cheese, but the problem with serving a slice of the cheesecake too soon is the fact that the center hasn't set yet, so the slice starts to resemble Jabba the Hut. Waiting for it to cool and set up for perfect slicing means you have chilled cheese -- not a terrible thing, but I wanted warm melty cheese goodness. I Benjamin Button-ed this thing and had it meet in the middle. I let the cake cool in the fridge, but then made a spicy tomato and kalamata olive relish, served hot, poured over the slice. The first bite was like a million flavor explosions went off in my brain. Incredibly rich, velvety-creamy cheesecake, super-savory hits of pancetta, kalamata olives, and the crisp crunch of the crust. It was like staring into the sun. You went blind from the sensory overload. And that's when it kind of hit me -- holy crap, I have the rest of this slice to eat and a whole rest of a cheesecake to finish. Of course, I wouldn't finish it in a single sitting, but knowing that much richness was in my immediate future, it's no wonder my vitals are off the charts. When I die, I won't be buried, I'll be a new fuel source for future generations.

Weapons of mass destruction - Photos by Wasabi Prime

So, what was the end lesson in this UnRecipe? It wasn't a failure, just a misadventure in too much of your favorite stuff is way too much of a good thing, especially if you love fatty cured meats and gooey cheese. I think I would make this again, but in small, bite-sized tart sizes. They would allow for fresh-from-the-oven eating, since as a bite-sized mini tart, you don't have to worry about slice integrity. And I could top with a little shard of pancetta, which would look prettier than the little bits that just got mixed and essentially lost into the batter. So, I consider this a dish something that's still a work in progress -- stay tuned, I'm sure it'll get revisited soon enough!


  1. Wow Denise. What a brave and adventurous endeavor! This sounds AMAZING! I like the mini idea... keep us posted on attempts.

  2. If you're still trying to get through that cheesecake, it would probably be great spread on crackers.

  3. I have often experienced that same exact problem of making something so savory and rich that it IS too much of a good thing. But, that's part of the joy of cooking and experimenting. When that happens, I "accidently"drop it on the floor. Whatever the dog doesn't eat, I toss without guilt.

  4. HA -- whoops! Looks like Indy gets an extra treat today!


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