Ok, so besides being the heart felt job search, resume writing, and job application soulless machine, I love to play in the kitchen. By play, I mean cook, mix, knead, fold, and bake. There is a general mind of making a mess. I am to the point that I will take an actual recipe and go what can I tweak.
I am also trying to maintain my socialization skills. This prevents my slow descent into crazy cat lady land. My other half and some friends are planning a gathering around the theme of the Arabian Nights. I volunteer to bring the snacks. On the drive home from a planning session, Math (my other half) and I start discussing Middle Eastern foods. What the hell do they eat for a dessert?
Math: You could do baklava.
Me: Yeah, but that is so done. Middle Eastern equals baklava.
Math: Okay ….
Me: Let’s see what flavors or tastes come to mind.
Me: Honey, pistachios, ummmm … I am hungry for cheesecake. I have not made one of those in a while.
Me: Babe, you have baklava on the brain. I use to have a recipe for phylo dough crusted cheesecake.
Math: Ok, I like your cheesecake. Make that.
Me: Yeah, but it needs to be more. Ooo, apricots, nutmeg, and cardamom.
Math: Ok, what can you do with honey pistachios, apricots, honey, and cheesecake and all the other stuff?
Me: Would all of it be too much?
Math: No … Yummy!
By this time, we are home and get on with the night. The next morning I start mulling over cheesecake possibilities. Do I bake the crust first or assemble then bake? Ack, I really like the idea of “baklava” crust. I just do not want to end up with “soggy bottoms” or raw crust. That is just wrong. I start picking over my recipes. Sweeten with sugar is first choice for all of them. Agh! Substituting sugar is a recipe for disaster. Crystal white sugar is very different the syrupy honey. Straight substitute will throw the hydration way off.
OK, back to the crust, baklava is crisp. It needs to be crisp and sticky. Idea is layering butter, honey, and ground pistachios. Easy right, but for the life of me I keep seeing burnt crispiness. I want to layer phylo so the “leaves” stand up around the edges. Oh, so pretty – at least in my brain. I consult my friend Google. Yep, I got to par-bake that puppy. Phylo is delicate. It will burn. Consult my sister and her idea is to bake the layers separately and assemble. That sounds like a pain. “How about bake ‘upside-down’?” Umm, cheesecake is custard. How are you going to tell if is done? Yeah, crispy and overcooked custard, that sounds just tasty … Not.
Mull, mull, and mull some more. That is not coming together. Apricots, I will start there. Ideally, I want my baklava crust with a nice smear of apricot paste topped with honey cheesecake. I have some not so set peach jelly. I can take dried apricots chopped up and add to jelly. I can warm that gently to tighten up things. Blitz with the stick blender, I will have apricot paste. Ooh, I can season it with pinch of nutmeg and cardamom that would finish that. If it does not tighten up, I can swirl into the custard. Ta-dah, I have one flavor layering done.
Back to that damn crust, I am still having visions of burnt loveliness. OK, how is that cheesecake custard going? Middle East, Mediterranean, and oh, Greek, that might be a direction to look. I keep finding sugar sweetened cakes. OK, people, I know sugar is reliable, but can we please try something different? I really want something with honey. It has to be a vetted recipe because I am planning to mess with it. I finally stumble on Giada De Laurentiis’ Honey Ricotta Cheesecake. This has major possibilities. I know her recipes are tested. Hot damn, I have great custard.
Everyone says to bake or par-bake baklava crust. I am down to the bones to make things. Ok, I will bake but I am going to watch it like a hawk. Enough process, here is the recipe.
9-in spring-form pan
Large roaster for water bath (if you have it)
½ pkg phylo dough, thawed
6 oz butter, melted
6 oz pistachios, chopped
3 oz honey
Set dough out to thaw in the fridge. Melt your butter. Finely chop nuts in a food processor. Preheat oven to 350.
Wrap exterior of pan in two layers of foil for the water bath baking cheesecake. Butter pan bottom and sides. Make sure all prep complete before opening phylo. Unroll your dough. If you want, you can separate off ½ of the package. If you can be neat, just work off the top. Brush butter on the top layer then fold the first leaf in half. (I found this to make phylo more stable when moving it to the pan.) Take this folded layer and place in the pan. Brush with butter. Repeat this step four or five times while rotating placement. I worked to keep the points standing. The first layer or two fell or broke. Do Not Panic.
This creates the base. Sprinkle with nuts and drizzle with honey. Place a leaf of buttered phylo. Repeat six times. Remember to rotate placement. If your phylo is fragile and breaks up, place two layers of dough and then sprinkle/drizzle. I did not specifically measure honey. You might need more or less. As you place the leaves, keep folding the points up the sides.
Carefully, place pan in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes. This is a par-bake. When you remove it from the oven, there will be no color. My crust slumped to the bottom. Do Not Panic. I will try to make a foil ring to “hold the points up” from the inside. I used it as is. Let cool.
6 oz dried apricots, snipped
8 oz water
8 oz apricot or peach jam/jelly
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t cardamom
Snipping dried apricots with scissors is easier than chopping. They tend to be sticky. Put apricot, jelly and 4 oz water in a small pan. Bring to a boil and drop temperature to simmer for a 5(?) minutes. Stir consistently; you have very hot sugar filling bubbling. Once, the apricots “hydrate” and filling thickens add spices. Blitz with tool of choice – stick blender, food processor, etc. Handle with care. Return to pan and let cool for a few minutes. If needed, return to a simmer if not thick. At this point, it needs to be a thick fruit paste. Think the consistency of peanut butter.
Gently smear base of crust with filling. Do not panic if phylo flakes. Use approximately, 1/3 -1/2 filling for the smear.
Stir in remaining 4 oz water into filling. Bring to a boil and drop to a simmer. Thicken to “unset jelly”, it needs body, but not runny or pasty.
3 oz unsalted butter, melted
12 oz fresh whole milk ricotta, drained
16 oz cream cheese, room temperature
5 ¼ oz sugar
3 oz honey
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t cardamom
4 large eggs
Beat ricotta and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, honey, and spices scraping down the sides of the work bowl. Add the eggs one at a time.
Pour the custard mixture over the crust in the pan. Spoon remaining apricots over custard. Take a knife and draw through custard and apricots ONLY to marble filling together.
Place the spring-form pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the spring-form pan. Bake at 350 until the cheesecake is golden. Cheesecake done when center third still jiggles like jello when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold).
Transfer the cake to a rack and cool 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. Cut the cake into wedges and serve.
Notes: I just throw my bowl or pot on the scale and tare out to zero for all measurements. If you have questions, please ask. At this point, this is an evolving recipe. I will make this again and verify the amounts. I am also thinking of substituting a portion of cream cheese with chevre (goat cheese). I did not have a roasting pan big enough for my 10-inch pan. I grabbed the wrong pan and was crust in the oven when I figured that out. I dry baked the cheesecake for 1 hour and it was done. Also, phylo dough is stronger than it looks. Just remember Do Not Panic and any breakage adds to its flaky, rustic charm.
Looking for my fork,