Anatomy of a Dish: Frozen Citron Cheesecake

This being the tail end of the winter season in Chicago and before any new fruit begins to ripen locally, I have always found April prime time for citrus desserts. This past citrus season, we had a great opportunity to pick up some organic Buddha’s Hand from Goodness Greenness, and I jumped at the chance. Also known as citron, it is a citrus fruit that is grown only for its supremely aromatic rind and pith; there is hardly any pulp at all. Its aroma is a heady mixture of lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit, with a deep, resinous quality all of the other citrus peels lack. In all my reading of colonial and antebellum era cookbooks, citron is not an uncommon ingredient, and was clearly in the rotation of ingredients in most sophisticated kitchens of the era. Once again the cookbooks serve as a reminder that even under the limited transportation and communication resources of the day, Americans once ate a much more varied diet than our current mass-production food system, where citron is clearly a rarity. If only it weren’t so. It’s wonderful stuff.

We preserved our citron in syrup so it would last beyond the season, and it’s also available for the bar to use. The recipes below will call for citron zest. Fresh citron is available online through the Exotic Fruit Club. The only approximation of it would include lemon, orange, lime, and yuzu zest, though the recipe will certainly work with any citrus fruit you like. In case you are well-read in the culinary arts, I will go ahead and admit now that this is not a cheesecake, it’s actually a semifreddo flavored with cheese.

Basil is one of my favorite pairings with citrus, and given a bunch of basil in the summer you can freeze it in syrup to be used over winter for a burst of summer whenever you like. At Big Jones we use a Pacojet to whip our sorbets, so we actually freeze the syrup and then put it on the machine, which literally cuts it up into the smoothest, dreamiest consistency imaginable. You can freeze the syrup in your regular ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions. A not about our sorbet recipe though – we use a little xanthan gum to help prevent recrystallization but in lieu of other chemical stabilizers, it only maintains a great consistency for a very few days, so only batch freeze what you know you’ll use. Basil sorbet syrup base may be frozen and rethawed before spinning in your ice cream maker.

Why blueberry preserves? Well, honestly, that’s what we still have around from last summer’s growing season! They also go swimmingly well with both citrus and basil. We may wind up using the last of our raspberry preserves on this dish before rhubarb starts coming in. You can use frozen berries, or start with this summers harvest and use this recipe next winter. Same goes with the basil.

Finally, a note on deconstructing the cheesecake. Lots of people, myself included, continue to make fun of the epidemic of deconstructed dishes on restaurant menus, sometimes to the point of absurdity. So why deconstruct the cheesecake? The answer is really simple – it separates the crust from the rest of the dish so it can be tailored to folks with gluten allergies. Additionally, it allows you to recombine the flavors in ways that interest you, rather than giving you a slab of everything with a sauce dumped on it. If you prefer to make a more traditional cheesecake shape, you can press the oat scone shortbread into your springform pan and brown it in the oven for twenty minutes under a pie weight. Cool completely before layering the filling over the crust and freezing.

So, we have a frozen citron cheesecake, blueberry preserves, candied coconut, basil sorbet, oat scone shortbread, sansyo pepper. We’ll start with the cheesecake and finish with a few pantry recipes.

Frozen citron cheesecake

  • 3 leaves 160 bloom gelatin
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon grated citron zest, with a little pith
  • 3 eggs separated
  • 12 ounces Creole cream cheese (see pantry recipes)
  • juice of one lemon

Soak the gelatin leaves in cold water for thirty minutes before using. Place once cup cream, 1/3 cup sugar, the salt, cayenne, and citron into a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring often. At the boil, drain the water off the bloomed gelatin and add the gelatine leaves to the cream mixture and return to a boil. Whisk well, remove from heat, and cool a few minutes. Place egg yolks in a stainless bowl and liaison with the hot cream mixture, pouring the cream in a thin steady stream while whisking vigorously. Place mixture over simmering water in a double boiler and cook custard, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a spoon heavily. Stir in lemon juice and Creole cream cheese and continue cooking until the mixture registers 165 fahrenheit on a kitchen thermometer. Remove from heat, pres through a fine mesh sieve, and cool to tepid, about 100-110 degrees before folding in the egg whites and whipped cream. Once custard has cooled, whip egg whites until soft peak form, sprinkle the other 1/3 cup sugar over, and continue whipping until stiff but not dry. Gently fold into custard mixture. Whip the remaining one cup of heavy cream in a well chilled bowl with a well chilled whisk until stiff but not brittle. Carefully fold into the cheesecake. Pour into molds, wrap, and freeze for 24 hours before serving.

Blueberry preserves

  • 6 pints blueberries
  • 1/2cup water
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons citric acid
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons high methoxyl (HM) pectin

Wash blueberries under several rinses of cold water, remove stems, leaves, and any rotten or damaged blueberries. Place in a one gallon, non-reactive kettle with the water, 6 cups of the sugar, the citric acid, salt, and pepper. I like whole berries in my preserves, so I don’t blend or actively break them up. Let the heat do it for you. Gradually bring to a boil, starting with very low heat. Periodically scrape up the bottom of the kettle to make sure the preserves aren’t sticking. Eventually the blueberries will burst and start to give up their juice. Once the berries are swimming in juice, you can raise the heat to medium and bring on to a boil. Maintain a low boil for ten minutes. Combine the pectin with the remaining cup of sugar and mix well. Sprinkle over the boiling berries and stir well. Boil hard for one minute, stirring all the while. Place into clean, sanitized, air tight containers. We store preserves either frozen or under refrigeration since we don’t have a food processing license. You can can them according to instructions with your Ball or Mason jars.

Candied Coconut

  • Two fresh coconuts – check to be sure they have abundant water by shaking at your ear. Do not buy dry coconuts
  • water to bring coconut water volume up to one cup
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cayenne

Crack coconuts, drain and maintain water. Strain and place in a measuring cup. Add enough cold water to bring up to one cup. Place in a one-quart saucepan with the sugar, salt, and cayenne, and slowly boil while peeling the coconuts. Using a flexible and sharp knife, carefully cut meats out of the coconut shell and slice thinly, 1/16″. Rinse to remove clinging bits of shell. Add sliced coconut to the boiling coconut syrup, cover, and maintain at a simmering boil for four hours, checking periodically and adding fresh water if needed. After four hours, drain the coconut well, maintain the syrup for other uses (sorbet, daiquiris, pina coladas) and spread the coconut out in a thin layer on a cookie sheet to dry somewhat. When still sticky but not wet, toss well in additional granulated sugar. Return to a clean cookie sheet and dry in a low oven until chewy and dry but not hard, which should take about 2-3 hours depending on the temperature in your oven. Store in an airtight container and use within a couple of weeks.

Basil Sorbet

  • 10 ounces sugar
  • 10 ounces water
  • pinch salt
  • 8 ounces peeled and chopped granny smith apple
  • leaves from 1/2 pound fresh basil
  • 2 grams xanthan gum
  • 30 grams glucose powder or dextrose

Place water, sugar, salt, and granny smith apples in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Reduce to a simmer and cook until apples are tender, about thirty minutes depending on the size of your chop. Remove from heat and cook thoroughly to room temperature. Place in a one-quart measure and add enough ice to bring up to one quart total volume. Place basil leaves in a blender with the apple pieces and blend until smooth and bright green. Gradually add the syrup in a steady stream until incorporated. Mix xanthan gum and glucose powder and sprinkle into feed hole on blender while running. Blend thirty seconds. Freeze immediately according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Oat scone shortbread

  • 3-1/2 cups colonial oat scone flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 pound butter, chilled and cut into small bits
  • 1/4-1/2 cup creme fraiche, as needed

Whisk together the dry ingredients thoroughly. Incorporate the butter as for short paste, smashing up all the bits with your finders into little disks, working the mixture between your hands until butter is well incorporated but the mixture is still somewhat lumpy. Add creme fraiche bit by bit, gently working the mixture into a stiff paste. Use only enough creme fraiche to bring together into a stiff dough, not any more. Immediately roll out 1/2″ thick on a well floured board and cut into strips 1″ by 2″. Place on a well-oiled cookie sheet and bake at 350 until well browned, about twenty minutes. Cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container. Use within a few days.

Creole Cream Cheese

Yields 2 pounds

In a large stainless stockpot, heat over medium heat:

  • 3-1/2 quarts non-homogenized skim milk

Whisk occasionally during heating. Heat to 110 degrees. Remove from heat immediately. Whisk in:

  • 12 drops liquid rennet
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Mix thoroughly and cover with cheesecloth. Culture at 90 degrees for 24 hours. Line a colander with cheesecloth, place the colander over a container and carefully spoon the curds into the colander to drain, trying not to break them. Allow to drain for one hour, until the cheese is one solid mass. Tie up the cheesecloth and hang the cheese over a drip pan in the refrigerator for another three hours. Season by tossing with 3 teaspoons kosher salt. Pack into a sanitized airtight container and refrigerate. Use within ten days.

To assemble, dip molds in warm water just long enough to release cheesecake. Paint the plate with blueberry preserves, sprinkle crumbled shortbread about the plate and use as an edible base for the basil sorbet. garnish with coconut and a light dusting of sansyo pepper.

A few notes on sources – we use organic coconuts we procure through Goodness Greeness. You may find them at a natural foods grocery store. You can easily substitute young coconuts, which are easier to work with and more widely available. Non-homogenized milk is available from Kilgus Farmstead at the Green City Market and select grocery stores around town. Sansyo pepper can be found at Japanese specialty markets or online.

Frozen Citron Cheesecake should be available another few weeks until rhubarb takes over.