Monday, February 7, 2011

Strawberry Jam & Cheesecake

In today's Jams and Jellies class, we made three different strawberry jams as well as cheesecakes. We started class by making the cheesecakes. For the crust, we crushed gingersnaps and added melted butter, sugar, and a pinch of salt. After combining the mixture we pressed the crust into mini tart pans. We then sliced strawberries thinly and arranged them on top of the crust. Finally we prepared the filling.

The key to a successful cheesecake filling is having room temperature, softened cream cheese. This ensures there are no lumps in the final product. Using a mixer and a paddle attachment, we creamed the cream cheese until smooth, scraping down the sides often to ensure no lumps. We next added in ricotta cheese and sour cream, again creaming until smooth. Then we added whole eggs, one at a time, being careful to fully incorporate each egg and scraping the sides often. Finally, we added sugar and the seeds from one vanilla bean. We had a cheesecake filling that was smooth; I loved the look of the vanilla bean evenly spread throughout the filling.

We portioned the filling over the layer of strawberries, ensured the tops were smooth, and placed these in the oven to bake. Next, we worked on our strawberry jam.

My group made our strawberry jam using the homemade apple pectin we had previously made in class. We diced strawberries and added them to the pot with the apple pectin, sugar, and lemon juice. We cooked this until it thickened; unfortunately, our jam took a long time to set, and it ended up being slightly overdone but it tasted delicious, particularly with the hint of apple.

Another group made strawberry jam using liquid pectin. They had to crush their strawberries which were added to the pot with sugar, lemon juice, and later the liquid pectin. This jam resulted in a much sweeter jam than ours, due to the use of the liquid pectin.

The third group made strawberry jam with the addition of balsamic vinegar and crushed black pepper. I really liked the taste of this, but would have liked even more black pepper. We spread a thin layer of this strawberry jam on our cheesecakes, and then were free to decorate them to our liking.

I really like the structure of this course, and the fact that we work on similar products but with differing components. It's interesting to sample three types of strawberry jam and compare them. Even though my group's was slightly overdone I preferred the flavor of it to the jam made with liquid pectin. An advantage of using liquid pectin though is that it can save time during the cooking process because it gels more quickly, so it all depends on what you may be looking for in your production or final product. I really liked the jam with balsamic vinegar and pepper - it's also interesting to see different flavor profiles. And in general, I really love making these smaller sized desserts; it gives me more practice then just making one large product, and I like the challenge of experimenting with the decoration. It was especially great to see that each member of the class came up with an entirely different cheesecake - some covered their sides in crushed gingersnaps while others used strawberries as decorations in various ways. Like I said, overall, this provides a really great structure to the class, which I find enjoyable.

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