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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reformatting a cake

This past holiday season, I've had two admonitions about my cooking: that I should write out a recipe for huilatcoche cheesecake, and that I should write a book about baking. The latter comment came from Twitter, in response to tasting this goat cheese, date, and molasses quick bread that I concocted to use up leftovers.

Lots of people terrified of baking, largely from the idea that, unlike stovetop cooking, you can't really adjust an item while it is already baking, so you need to follow recipes precisely, leaving little room for improvisation.


Given a few basic principles, whipping together a cake is actually quite open to interpretation. I rarely even measure things out anymore, as I imagine other people's grandmothers did (my own grandmothers never used an oven). A cheesecake, for example, is basically a crusted baked custard fortified with cream cheese. So, the fundamental aspects are building a basic crumb crust, mixing eggs, dairy and cheese together, pouring it over the crust, and baking in a water bath until set, and then letting it rest before service.

For the huitlacoche cheesecake, since it is a savory application, I built the crumb crust from saltines and a bit of cheese instead of graham crackers. And then we cooked the savory ingredients in the cream before incorporation into the eggs and cheese. Easy. The hardest part is convincing people that the slate gray liquid is not dirty dishwater so they don't discard it.

Savory Huitlacoche cheesecake


Huitlacoche (I used canned stuff)
Cream cheese
Heavy cream
Saltines or soda crackers or any variety of savory crackers
Grated Parmesan cheese
Bay leaf
Scallions for garnish

1. Make the crust by crushing the saltines, stirring in some parmesan, and mixing with enough melted butter until it looks like wet sand. Press the crust into the bottom of ramekins. A good thick crust is desirable; leftover crust can be used to top casseroles. Bake in a 180C (350F) oven until set, about 15 minutes. Take out, and allow to cool.

2. For the cream cheese filling, allow the cream cheese and eggs to come to room temperature.

3. Chop the onion, and sweat it in a little butter until soft. Add the huitlacoche, cook a little longer on medium heat, and pour in the heavy cream. Put in the bay leaf, bring to a boil, simmer, allowing the huitlacoche and onions to break down. Season with ground cumin and salt, and strain. Allow to cool.

4. Beat the softened cream cheese with two eggs until smooth. Stir in the cooled huitlacoche cream mixture until smooth, and pour into the ramekins.

5. Cook in a bain marie at 150C until set. Cool, and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld.

6. To serve, warm the cheesecakes in a 80C oven, run a thin knife around the border of ramekins, and invert onto the serving plate. Garnish with chopped scallions, or cilantro.

Appendix: huitlacoche is the product of the fungus Ustilago maydis infecting corn. In Mexico, it is a delicacy, on the order of being called the corn truffle. In the US, it's a major pest and work is being done to eradicate it. Ah, the wonders of interpretation.

1 comment:

  1. somehow you have managed to make huitlacoche (and the word even reminded me of phlem for some reason...???) seem delicious - a true miracle!!!! even bourdain, whom i like, couldn't convince me to want to try it. but after reading this cheesecake recipe, i am ready! now, ideally this recipe would be prepared already in advance and my only role would be as Taster, but a gal can dream.... can't she? bon appetite!