Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Season of Stone Fruits Part II: The Need for Cheese

The markets are full of this incredible sweetness--the smell of sweet sticky gold, piled high in pyramids of fuzzy sunset-colored globes. I've already talked about my love for peaches in P'cahns (Pecans) and the Season of Stone Fruits, so I won't bore you with what you already know (and probably already knew). A friend of mine has recently returned to the sweet land of Texas (where all of my family lives, so I have a great love of the Texan cuisine as well) and she was telling me a pretty funny story about a peach cobbler gone bad. Now, I know that it seems impossible, at least in my world, to have a bad peach cobbler, but a peach-butter swimming pool coming out of the oven with a dumpling-like bottom and some dough-y floaters doesn't sound like a winner. Good news, you could spoon out the peaches and put that happiness over ice cream; also, with the liquid, I suggested frying it up with some pork chops--right? Problem solved!

Today is full of problem solving, and our next one has to do with the fact that I don't have an oven here in Bella Barcelona. I believe I've already been on a tirade about the basic rights of owning an oven and preparing baked, roasted, broiled goodness as an everyday ritual. There are different realities all over the place, and I actually kind of like the challenge of living well in this new, albeit limited, world. As a result, I am tackling the world of no-bake desserts!!!! First task: No-bake cheesecake. I'll call it Cheesecake Fresquito, or cool, refreshing cheesecake with a delicious peach-mint topping. We're going all out today!

I wanted to find a cheesecake that doesn't taste like a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese, and is fluffy and can still hold up as a shape and go with whatever topping I put on it. To meet these parameters, I used a mixture of cream cheese, whipped queso fresco (ricotta, if you can find it), sugar, and vanilla. The crust is the basic graham cracker crust made with crushed crackers and melted butter, also with a little sugar. Let me know what you think in the comments section--my cake turned out really nice and we're still enjoying it, even after sending a few pieces up to our neighbors!

Let's get rockin'!

Cheesecake Fresquito (No-bake Cheesecake) with Peach-Mint Sauce

Cream cheese
Ricotta cheese
(you can use powdered sugar for the filling if you want to be fancy/a correct baker)
Pure vanilla extract
Graham Crackers, crushed -OR- Digestive crackers, crushed and cinnamon added
A stick of butter
4 Beautiful, just ripe peaches

Let's get started with the crust. It is really basic, and my favorite pie crust. If you have graham crackers, crush those babies up--I think that one sleeve will do, maybe two. If you are using digestive crackers, one sleeve will do and I like to add a little cinnamon and sugar to try and get closer to grahams. Melt enough butter (I used about 3/4 stick) and add to the crushed crackers in order to moisten them. Depending on how big your crust is, you can play with the measurements. You want the consistency to be crumbly, but when you press it into your pan, it should make a solid crust. Press the mixture into your pan, making sure that the bottom is even and the sides are an even height. Because the crust has plenty of butter in it, I have never had a problem with it sticking--but if you're into it, you can grease the pan beforehand. Cover the crust with plastic wrap or foil and put it in the refrigerator to rest until you're finished making the filling.

For the filling, take some softened cream cheese (I used a big tub, which is probably like 98 oz in the States now...but here the big tub is more like 12 oz. or 300g) and whip it up with a whisk in a bowl--but really whip it, don't wimp out on it. Add the same amount of ricotta and whip the cheeses together. The 1:1 ratio worked out for me. Add about a half cup of sugar and a two teaspoons of vanilla and whisk well. That's your filling! Taste and make sure you like it, adjust to your gusto. You can also add lemon juice instead of vanilla if it makes you feel good. Fill the pie crust and replace the plastic wrap or foil lid and return to the fridge (2-3 hours).

Moving on to the magical peach-mint sauce I came up with. I cut up those lovely peaches and I had been thinking the whole day about what herb I could use to accompany peaches, all while singing Shake Your Groove Thing (you're a jive turkey if you get that reference). I came up with peach-mint, peach-basil, and peach-lavender. I am sure I'll try them all eventually, but today we went for peach-mint. 

In order to avoid having little specks of mint cramping the style of the soft peaches, I made a mint syrup by infusing the mint leaves into 1/2 cup of water and dissolving 1/2 cup of sugar after the mint was finished infusing (3 minutes). Bring the syrup to a boil and take off the heat. Set aside. Now wash, peel, and dice the peaches. Add the last 1/4 stick of butter to a pan and heat until melted but not clarified, add the peaches, and cook that down a little bit. It will be creamy and full of joy. Add the mint syrup and cook down for about 10 more minutes. Cool to room temperature or throw into the refrigerator until you're ready to top the cake.

After about 2-3 hours of chilling the cheesecake should be set and ready to cut and serve. I topped it with the peach-mint sauce and sprinkled some crust crumble on top. I actually dove into this slice before I took a picture! Haha, I hope you enjoy it just as much. The peach-mint sauce is smooth and refreshing and the cheesecake is a cool contender with it's baked relative, especially with that great crunch on the bottom. It is a great, light dessert for these hot summer days.

Listening to the Stuff You Should Know Podcast on Geysers: Nature's Innuendo.

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