I feel like one of those bad parents, like a deadbeat dad who says he's going to take you to the circus but never gets around to it and next thing you know, the circus has packed up and left town. Why, because I made a promise that I still haven't delivered on. Perhaps that makes me the perfect politician, I don't know, but I feel guilt-ridden for making everyone wait so long for the surprise I was teasing you all with months ago.
I don't know what the retribution is for undelivered promises, but hopefully this little offering will prove a worthy penance. And no, the offering isn't that injured Bichon Frise I was talking about earlier, but it's actually this little saccharine opus, a vanilla-scented mascarpone cheesecake with spiced redcurrants and pashmak.
Now that's a mouthful in more ways than one.
And, I guess it's safe to make the big reveal and divulge what the secret ingredient I was so excited about is. They are, *virtual drum roll*... red currants! Some of you might be taking a collective gasp of air, thinking, cool. While some of you are thinking, so what?
Well, redcurrants aren't something I usually come across in the shopping aisles in my neck of the woods. I have never seen them sold fresh here in Australia; not in any grocery or farmer's market, so you have to understand the thrill of such an exotic find. They didn't come fresh, rather snap frozen, although this was good enough for me as they still bore the plump juicy redness that made them look as is they were just picked right off the bush. I couldn't resist and bought two punnets worth, which isn't a complete splurge if you ask me, but in saying that, you will definitely be seeing more of these babies in the future.
Redcurrants, a member of the gooseberry family are typically more sour than the gooseberry and blackcurrant varieties, however they are excellent cooked down in sauces, syrups, jellies and preserves. High in potassium, vitamin C and fibre, this fruit may be little but it packs a big punch.
Now it took quite some time to muster up the inspiration to do something that would prove a worth compeer to the unintended hype that it was given. How could any fruit live up to such grandiose expectations. When people were emailing me and leaving comments about how they were waiting with bated breath as to what this surprise was, I found myself pressured to live up to all the ballyhoo it generated.
The only choice I had was to do something spectacular and the only thing I could think of was a mascarpone cheesecake. Now the only thing I needed was a recipe. That's when a visit to West Ryde library became a serendipitous event.
I was waiting for my car to be serviced and needed somewhere to park myself for the next couple of hours, I was already spending a fortune on this car, so a trip to the shopping mall wouldn't have been the wisest move. I needed somewhere where I wouldn't have to spend any money and I could wile away the hours undisturbed. Where else but a library.
So off I went into the magazine section and perused the different options, trashy, fashion, home and garden, architecture, business, but wait there was a food section. So off I go digging through the back issues of Australian Gourmet Traveller and I stumble across the 2006 March issue. And I guess the rest of the story explains itself.
I also found recipes for grapefruit soufflé and Amaretti parfait which you might see later on, but this was the one I was most excited about. The original recipe had spiced blueberries but I figured redcurrants would do just as well.
So just imagine a luscious cheesecake with spiced red currants topped with a little cloud of Persian fairy floss, it's seductive. It's almost sickening to call the dish seductive. Just in the same way you don't want to but can't help calling a fig or a fresh summer salad one of those "sexy" foods, this one was truly up there in its inherent sensuality.
Just look at it, with it's come-hither mien. From it's pretty primrose complexion to it's velvety centre, the splash of blood red syrup oozing down the sides and the billowing tuft of spun sugar, its gastronomic allure at its most persuasive. And forgive me for turning this dish into something that sounds more like a trashy Mills & Boon novel but I just can't help it. I promise I'll stop with the sychophantic prose but I cannot help but be a an adoring fan.
If you are wondering what that white puff is on top of the cheesecakes, it is Pashmak- Persian fairy floss. I guess the thing that sets pashmak apart from the typical fairy floss you find at the carnival is that the recipe uses sesame oil and flour. The texture feels a little like wool and it doesn't dissolve as easily on your tongue as normal fairy floss. The packaging doesn't really tell much about how pashmak is made, although this is the little blurb on the back of the pack:
" pashmak is a persian recipe for candy floss or cotton candy. much effort has gone into making this product by hand. traditionally it is served plain with tea or coffee and makes for an exotic accompaniment to a variety of modern desserts. may be used as a garnish or served on petit fours plates."
So there it is, the secret has been revealed and I can now sleep at night knowing that I didn't let you down. Next time I make a promise I hope it doesn't take this long for me to fulfil it. I guess this is where you can insert the adage better late than never.
Vanilla Scented Mascarpone Cheesecakes with Spiced Redcurrants and Pashmak
Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller March 2006
75g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
150g cream cheese
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp pouring cream
Persian fairy floss
90g unsalted butter, chilled
50g icing sugar
125g plain all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
25ml ice water
125ml fruity red wine
100g granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
5 strips of lemon/orange rind
150g red currants
TO MAKE THE PASTRY
Combine the butter, icing sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for 1 minute or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add the egg yolk and pulse for 30 seconds, then add the ice water and pulse until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
MAKING THE CHEESECAKE
Combine the caster sugar, lemon zest, vanilla beans, mascarpone, cream cheese, egg and egg yolk in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and whisk in the flour and cream.
Whisk until just combined.
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 3mm thickness and live tart tins.
Trim the edges. Line tart cases with parchment paper and fill with pie weights.
Bake for 10 minutes then remove pie weights and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cooled, remove from tins.
Fill tart cases all the way with mascarpone mixture.
Place tarts on a baking tray and bake at 220ºC for 8 minutes then reduce heat to 100ºC and bake for 15-20 minutes.
MAKING THE SPICED REDCURRANTS
While the tarts are baking, make the syrup.
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the wine, sugar, vanilla beans, stick of cinnamon, star anise and orange rind and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved.
Bring to the boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
Remove cinnamon stick, star anise and orange from syrup and discard.
Add the redcurrants and simmer for another 5 minutes.
To serve, place tart on a plate and spoon over some redcurrants and top with a tuft of pashmak (Persian fairy floss).