THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
The origins of mascarpone cheese can be traced to the region of Lombardy, Italy. The cities located there, southwest of Milan, include Cremona, Brescia, Milano, Mantova and Sondrio, and they all have a rich dairy heritage. There, in the late 16th or early 17th century, the cheese was invented, likely as an accident.
There are several explanations for the history of the name “mascarpone.” It could be from the Spanish, mas que bueno, “better than good,” a remnant from Spain’s occupation of Italy. It could also have been born from the word mascarpia, the local dialect’s word for ricotta, a cheese very similar to mascarpone. It could also have come from the word mascarpa, which is a byproduct of the whey from aged cheese. The word is pronounced, “mahs-car-PO-nay.”
Although it is often described as “Italian cream cheese,” mascarpone cheese is much lighter and mellower. The fat content hovers around 70 percent to 75 percent, providing the reason for its almost butter-like quality. Although it is called mascarpone cheese, it technically isn’t cheese; the formation process involves no cheese starter. It is less dense than most cheeses but thicker than whipped cream. The appearance can be white to pale yellow, and its close affinity to ricotta and other “cheeses” makes it retain its place in the cheese section of supermarkets all over the world.
While I rarely toot my horn about my own dessert creations, I have to admit: This one is pretty fantastic.
I’ve enjoyed mascarpone my entire life. Shamefully, however, the idea to make a Mascarpone Cheesecake came to me only a few years ago when I combined my excitement for cheese with the one I have for desserts.
Luckily, much to my delight, the result was wonderfully creamy, surprisingly light and absolutely cravable.
The crust was quite the happy accident. In December, I made a some biscotti to give as Christmas gifts and forgot I froze the leftovers. I definitely need to start labeling more diligently, because when I pulled the biscotti from the freezer, I was almost certain they were regular store-bought cookies. Either way, the hint of almonds and amaretto and the nutty texture went perfectly with the rest of the components.
For the filling, I decided to keep it simple by whipping mascarpone with cream cheese, adding some lemon juice, sugar but not too much, some vanilla and a pinch of salt. The dessert went over very well with my friends and clients and although everybody had a different opinion on their favorite topping (berries compote or mascarpone and Nutella warm sauce?) this was undoubtedly a hit, and oh-so easy to put together for any special occasion.
It is with great pleasure that I share this recipe with you all.
Lisa and Suzanna are still in the kitchen eating the leftovers.
70 vanilla wafers (8 1/2 oz), finely ground in a food processor (2 1/3 cups)
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
20 oz cream cheese (2 1/2 eight-ounce packages), softened
8 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups strawberries, hulled, quartered
1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberry
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan.
Stir together cookie crumbs, amaretto flavoring and butter in a bowl. (Optional) Reserve 1/4 cup crumb mixture for sprinkling over cheesecake, then pat remainder onto bottom and 1 1/2 inches up side of springform pan (about 1 inch thick). Put pan in a shallow baking pan and bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on a rack, about 25 minutes. Leave oven on.
Make filling while crust bakes:
Beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium high speed until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, lemon juice, and salt and mix at low speed until combined. Pour into cooled crust and bake until cake is set and puffed around edge but still trembles slightly when pan is shaken gently, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool slightly in springform pan on rack, about 20 minutes. (Cheesecake will continue to set as it cools.) Leave oven on.
In a large, nonreactive saute pan over medium heat, combine 1/4 cup water & 1/2 cup sugar & bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook 2 minutes, then add berries, lemon juice & salt. Return to boil, then add butter & swirl mixture around in the pan until butter melts. Spoon berries along with the sauce onto warmed dessert placts &, if desired, place a small scoop of vanilla ice cream (or yogurt) in center of each plate. Serve immediately & enjoy!