BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Cheesecake For a Sweet New Year

Even to the seasoned eater approaching new cuisines with an open mind, it can still be difficult to fully embrace something that falls well outside of established norms. Far beyond unexpected flavor combinations or uncommon ingredients, raw “uncooking” essentially turns the entire concept of hot food preparation on its head. Largely due to a lack of exposure, the concept remains abstract at best for most of the world, which I’m quickly learning is a real shame. Working with the incredibly talented Gena Hamshaw on her upcoming cookbook has open my eyes, radically changing the way I view raw foods in general. Rather than the crazy gourmet raw foods we so often see in fine restaurants, the heart and soul of raw edibles is more about ease and straight-forward ingredients that are manipulated as little as possible. Inspired by her revolutionary recipes, I couldn’t stop thinking in the raw when it came time to craft my annual Rosh Hashanah dessert.

Apples and honey, the symbol of a sweet New Year, are almost painfully common flavors for the occasion, but a fresh approach to the presentation makes it taste new and exciting once more. Building the dessert on a crust made of dried apples and nuts, the apple flavor is intense, concentrated down into a small package, and packing a huge punch in even tiny wedges. For the honey component, it may or may not pass the scrutiny of the raw police, but nothing can even touch the floral sweetness of Bee-Free Honee. I had the pleasure of reviewing it for Laika Magazine a million moons ago, or so it feels, and have been hooked ever since. Dark agave can substitute in a pinch, but nothing else comes close to the incredibly accurate flavor that this honee bears, without the input of a single bee. Besides, what could be better for the holiday than a “honey” that is in fact made out of apples? There’s something quite poetic about that synchronicity.

As for the topping, well, that’s a case of “do as I say, not what I do.” Walking in the door of my Nana’s house with cheesecake in hand, everyone who laid eyes on the original presentation feared that I had topped my treat with slivers of raw red onion. Immediately scrapping that concept and grabbing the first green apple I found, thin half-moons were much more visually pleasing, and the different color helped erase that initial unsavory impression. As I’ve now learned, this is an opportunity to leave the fancy garnishes at home- The rich flavors will speak for themselves.

Raw Apples and Honey Cheesecake

Apple-Pecan Crust:

1 Cup Chopped Raw Pecans or Walnuts
1 Cup Dried Apple Rings, Firmly Packed
2 Large Medjool Dates, Pitted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Honee-Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Filling:

1 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
1 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
3 Ounces (6 Tablespoons) 100% Pure, Food-Grade Cocoa Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Bee-Free Honee
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Whole Vanilla Bean

To Finish (Optional):

1 Large Green Apple
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

For the crust, start by tossing the pecans or walnuts into your food processor with the s-blade installed. Pulse thoroughly until the nuts are mostly broken down into a fairly fine but coarse powder. Add in the dried apples, dates, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse again to incorporate. Continue processing until the fruits are blended in, no large chunks remain, and the mixture sticks together when pressed. Transfer to a 9-inch round springform pan and use your hands to press it firmly and evenly across the bottom. If it proves too sticky to easily handle, lightly moisten your hands before proceeding, or use the bottom of a flat measuring cup to help achieve a smoother surface. Stash the pan in the fridge while you move on to the filling.

Thoroughly drain the macadamias and cashews before placing them in either your blender. A high-speed blender is definitely recommended to achieve the smoothest texture, but with a good bit of patience, a standard blender can suffice. Add in the melted cocoa butter, bee-free honee, and lemon juice. Because I’m lazy, I tend to just chop up my vanilla beans into inch-long pieces and add the whole pods in as well. If you’re using a lower-powered machine, you should go the more traditional route of slicing them down the center, scraping out the seeds with the side of your knife, and adding those to the mixture. Save the spend pod for another use, such as vanilla sugar.

Turn on the blender on low to start chopping up the nuts, and slowly increase the speed until you’ve reached the highest setting. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister as needed, until completely silky-smooth. This could take as long as 5 – 10 minutes depending on your machine, so be patient. Pour the resulting filling over your prepared crust, tapping it gently on the counter to knock out any air bubbles. Smooth over the top with your spatula before returning the whole assemblage to the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 3 hours before serving, for the cheesecake to fully set to a slicable consistency.

If desired, cut in half, core, and thinly slice a green apple and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. Arrange the slices artfully across the top right before serving. Slice into thin wedges with a sharp, and keep chilled for the best texture and flavor.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Failing at Preparedness

Blame it on an intoxicating emotional cocktail of stress, fear, and hunger, but there are no two ways around it: I deserve a big fat “F” in storm readiness. Like most people in the tri-state area, my time before Super Storm Sandy hit was spent frantically stocking up on food, gasoline, and low-tech entertainment like library books (remember those archaic things?) in case the hurricane truly was as bad as threatened. Furiously running at full capacity to not lose my shit in the middle of a swamped grocery store, my overloaded brain failed to consider each purchase in a truly rational light. Canned goods were fantastic, soups and dried meals could be heated over the gas range, but the double dip on washed, bagged greens? The attractively priced frozen puff pastry? The full case of almond milk Greek yogurt? Hate to ruin the suspense, but those hasty acquisitions proved poor purchases in short time.

Even without power, I held out hope that it would be a quick recovery. Wires came down right at the end of our sparsely populated dead end street and the damage was extensive, but we had been relatively lucky in past disasters. Keeping fridge and freezer doors tightly shut, it should have been easy to wait it out and return to normal life in no time. Days turned into the darkest nights imaginable, back into overcast days, rinse and repeat. The kitchen remained silent, without the comforting hum of appliances or crackling radiators. All that was left was the awful wind, whipping more gently now, but just as cruelly as ever.

Like a sick magic trick, those delicate, frilly salad greens transformed into a murky sludge pooling at the bottom of the bag. Many of the other well-meaning but badly executed purchases met similar fates; never before had I seen such a kaleidoscope of mold on a single cut lemon. With nothing left to cook, little that anyone cared to eat, and the days growing increasingly frigid, it was time to abandon ship.

Near the end of the nightmare, as temperatures dipped below freezing, we sought shelter with our incredibly generous, hospitable extended family a few towns away. Easily the best outcome of a bad situation, things certainly felt far less desperate when wrapped in a cloak of warm air, bright light, and wifi. There aren’t words enough to express just how grateful I am that they would unhesitatingly take in all four of us girls (myself, my sister, my mom, and my Isis.) Instead of fumbling through awkward and insufficient “thank you’s,” it was best to manifest that sentiment into something edible, of course.

Dangerously ripe bananas sitting on the counter were the catalyst, further fleshed out by available ingredients and the need for low-impact prep work in an unfamiliar kitchen. Fully enmeshed in all things pie thanks to the upcoming cookbook, that shallow glass pan was the first thing that made sense in so many painful days.

Bananas and chocolate, uncomplicated and unfussy, there would have been no recipe nor record if not for the rave reviews. Silky ganache lightened by the fruity accents and brightened with a light sprinkle of sea salt to finish, it seemed unremarkable at first, but now will never be forgotten. In fact, considering how the whole experience has forced us all to reevaluate the meaning of being thankful, I have a feeling that this may become our family’s new Thanksgiving pie for many years to come.

Frankenstorm Pie (AKA Banana Ganache Pie)

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs (About 12 Full Rectangle Sheets)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Banana Ganache Filling:

4 Medium-Sized Ripe Bananas
3 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2 Cups (12 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Vanilla or Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Coarse Sea Salt

To make the crust, break up the graham crackers into smaller pieces before pulsing in a food processor until very finely ground. The resulting crumbs should be about the consistency of coarse almond meal. Pick out any larger pieces and re-process as needed.

Drizzle the melted margarine into the crumbs, and stir thoroughly to moisten the ground cookies. The mixture should be capable of sticking together when pressed.

Transfer the mix to a 9-inch round pie pan, and use lightly moistened fingers to firmly press it down on the bottom and along the sides. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup or drinking glass for smoother edges.

For the filling, toss the peeled bananas into the food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree along with the agave and vanilla. Meanwhile, place the margarine, chocolate chips, and non-dairy milk in a microwave-safe dish and heat for about 1 minute. Stir well to smooth out the mixture and allow any remaining chips to fully melt. Reheat at intervals of 20 seconds if necessary, stirring well after each one.

Transfer the melted chocolate into the blender or food processor, and puree once more to fully integrate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary to ensure that everything is incorporated. Once completely smooth, pour the filling into your prepared crust, smooth out the top, and sprinkle very lightly with a pinch of coarse sea salt.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving, or until set.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

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