Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Raspberry Cheesecake Tart

My aunt was diagnosed six years ago with stage II breast cancer, and after surgery and radiation, she has been clear since. Rather than sign-up for a remaining lifetime of aggressive and chronic drugs to keep the cancer at bay (which apparently only have little over 50% success rate) she opted instead to loose weight and try to follow a low-fat diet which has shown to have the same success and preventing recurrence of cancer.

I'm really proud of her and the work she has done to improve her health (though I would probably choose the pills!) So, while I am by no means offering this dessert as low fat, I do try and respect her efforts to eat less and eat healthier. When her birthday rolled around at the beginning of June, rather than load up layers of dense cake with creamy sweet buttercream, I chose this fresh fruit tart instead.

Again, I certainly don't mean to try and pass this off as healthy food, but I do think there is a lot to be said for incorporating some ingredients that do have some nutritional value, even when they are high fat. For example, this crust uses almonds, and the filling uses reduced fat cream cheese (some protein to counter the sugar-buzz), and frankly there's nothing to argue about fresh whole raspberries and apricots. So even though there is plenty of butter and refined sugar, this dessert as a whole still offers some nutritional benefits through fresh fruits and nuts as well as a satisfying mouthfeel that really does allow you to "just have a taste" and feel like you've really enjoyed a delightful dessert without having to over-indulge. Happy 69th Birthday Patty!

For Crust
from Joy of Cooking "Pat-in-Pan Shortbread Dough"
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces toasted almonds, cooled and finely ground
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled
1 large egg yolk

Pulse together first four ingredients in food processor. Cut butter into 1/2" pieces, and sprinkle over flour mixture, then pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add egg yolk and pulse just until dough comes together, then pat into 9" tart pan, pressing up sides. Freeze tart shell while oven preheats.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake tart shell 18-22 minutes, until golden. Lower oven temperature to 350 and prepare filling.

For Filling
from Gourmet magazine, August 1995
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (I used neufchatel, 1/3 less fat)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Blend together all ingredients until smooth. Pour into par-baked tart shell. Bake about 20 minutes at 350 degrees until set.

Cool to room temperature, then chill until fully set - at least four hours or overnight. Top with fresh raspberries. I wash mine, but if you wash them, they can spoil within 24 hours. I also used 1 sliced apricot. Glaze with jam or sugar syrup. I happened to have some leftover rhubarb simple syrup in the freezer which made an excellent glaze for this purpose - not only are rhubarb and raspberry complimentary flavors, but the bright red rhubarb syrup brought out the lovely color in the berries. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the fruit with the syrup - this will help hold them in place, keep them fresh, and also make them shine like jewels.

This is now a go-to recipe for me. It adapts endlessly well to different nuts, different fillings, and different fruits. Exchange the almonds in the crust for walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, or even pine nuts. Swap the raspberries and apricots for blueberries, strawberries, plums, peaches, or nectarines. Flavor the cream cheese with lemon or orange zest, coconut extract, rum, or even replace with chocolate ganache.

For Father's Day, I used a walnut crust (which I preferred to the almond, as it's slightly more tender and shortbread cookie-like) filled with lemon cream cheese and topped with blueberries. I replaced the sugar in the cream cheese filling with Splenda for Baking, and while it looked a little plastic-y coming out of the oven, the taste and texture were fine. And for friends the following weekend, I repeated the walnut crust but filled with chocolate ganache and topped with strawberries. Use any complementary jam melted with a teaspoon or two of water or spirits... if you don't have a jam that is the same flavor as the fruit, apricot jam is the traditional stand-in, because it's color is mostly clear and the flavor is just a bit of sweet-tart that doesn't impart too much to confuse the palate.

Frustratingly, I can not find the photo of making the walnut crust with a chocolate ganache filling and topped with strawberries. Probably because it was so delicious that we ate it all before we got a photo.

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