Strawberry Ricotta Cheesecake


One of my pet peeves is reading recipes without pictures. How do I know if I want to make something if I have no idea how it’ll turn out? So why is there a generic picture of strawberries in this post, instead of the said dessert?

When I bake, I usually bring the dessert to a party, where it’s hacked to a pulp. A whole dessert, like an uncut pie, is boring, so I usually don’t photograph it either. As a result, I don’t blog about lots of things I make, because I don’t have pictures.

To solve this problem, I think bakers should be allowed to present desserts with pieces cut out. Just for photographic purposes of course. Besides, it’s hard to wait that extra day between baking a dessert and actually eating it at the party.  Once, a co-worker presented a crumb cake with a giant hole in it. I thought it was a great idea, except she said she wanted to make sure it wasn’t poisonous.

So you’re not sold on this idea, but you should be sold on this dessert (and its cookbook). As a chocolate fan, I usually think fruit desserts are boring. But every dessert from Rustic Fruit Desserts is one of the best things I’ve ever made. This “tart” originally had a short dough crust, but I used graham crackers because they’re easier to work with, especially during hot weather. I really like Midel, which is made of 100% whole wheat flour and has no refined sugars. It’s healthier than the traditional brands and much more flavorful.

Strawberry-Ricotta Cheesecake

Serves 8-12
Filling adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber; graham cracker crust adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking

Graham cracker crumb crust:

1 1/4 cup fine graham cracker crumbs (recommended brand: Midel)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan or springform pan.
  2. Mix together the ingredients with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Using your fingertips or the flat bottom of a glass cup, press the mixture firmly over the bottom and up the sides of a pie pan or 1/2 inch up the springform pan.
  3. Bake until the crust’s lightly browned and firm, 10 to 15 minutes.

Strawberry-ricotta filling:

1 cup (8 ounces) whole-milk ricotta
1/3 cup (6 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 dry pints (6 cups) strawberries, hulled, and halved if large
1/2 cup strawberry jam

  1. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the ricotta, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, salt, and nutmeg on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Stir in the vanilla.
  2. Pour the filling into the prebaked crust and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the edges have puffed up but the middle’s still jiggly. (As the tart cools, the center will firm up.) Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Just before serving, put the strawberries in a bowl. Warm the strawberry jam in a small sauce pan over low heat, then strain the jam over the strawberries and toss to coat. Arrange the berries on top of the tart and serve immediately. Alternatively, you could omit the jam and serve the berries alongside the tart.

Storage: The tart can be made a day in advance, in which case you should refrigerate it and top with the strawberries just before serving. Covered with plastic wrap, any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

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Breakfast Cookies

breakfast cookies

I’ve always been enamored with eating cookies for breakfast. After all, muffins aren’t much better; they’re basically cake without the frosting. If people can make healthy muffins, could a cookie be far?

The trouble is, most breakfast cookies have all the butter and sugar, but the whole grains are an afterthought. And then healthy cookies are disappointingly doughy.

When I saw this recipe on 101 Cookbooks, it sounded too good to be true. No added sugar? Vegan? 100% whole grain? No copout substitutes (like vegan buttery spread or Ener-G Egg Replacer)? It’s rare that a recipe with one of these attributes is delicious.

I’m happy to report that you can feel good eating these cookies for breakfast. Each cookie is crazy high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. There’s a macaroon-esque chewiness, crisp edges, and cakey interior. The heartiness of the oats, richness of the coconut, and brightness of the fruit play well off of each other. My only complaint is that these crumble easily. Oh well, just think of it as soft granola.

The recipe is also highly customizable. Feel free to clean out your cupboard. You can use raisins (because you went on a healthy shopping spree and to your dismay, they became hard pellets), flaxseed meal (because there’s only so much you can sprinkle on oatmeal every morning), and applesauce (because the jar’s starting to look lonely after you dabbled in low-fat baking a while ago), but feel free to use any dried fruit (or chocolate chips), nut meal, and puréed fruit (even mix in a little nut/seed butter, such as tahini).

Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from Nikki’s Healthy Cookie recipe on 101 Cookbooks

Makes 3 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup flaxseed meal
1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded and unsweetened
heaping 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F, racks in the lower and top thirds. Line two baking sheets with foil and grease with oil.
  2. In a large bowl combine the applesauce, vanilla extract, and olive oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, flaxseed meal, coconut, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the raisins.The dough is a bit looser than a standard cookie dough.
  3. Drop firmly packed dollops of the dough, each about 2 teaspoons in size, an inch apart, onto the baking sheet. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown.

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Win a Year’s Supply of Chocolate from Amano

mystery cacao beans Calling all cacao nerds! My favorite American chocolate maker, Amano, is making a new bar with these beans. If you can guess where they’re from, you can win a year’s worth of chocolate!

These beans are unusually dark, so this could be a major clue. Also, Amano says, “They have a beautiful rich chocolate flavor with some very nice fruity notes. We have made a number of test batches and the chocolate made from these cacao beans is wonderfully complex. The finished chocolate is unlike any of our current chocolates.”

Go to the Guess the Origin Contest to enter. When the bar is released, a drawing will be held for everyone who guessed correctly.

Full disclosure: I’ve loved this chocolate from the beginning and followed their introduction of “dark” milk chocolate. By promoting this contest, I’ve received an extra chance at winning the raffle.

Photo: Amano Chocolate

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Banana Upside-Down Brownies

banana brownies

I have a confession. I really like bananas (they’re a healthy, portable snack and I go crazy over banana-chocolate cake), but I feel guilty about the environmental and social impacts.

Bananas are grown with some of the highest pesticide levels of any tropical crop. Normally we don’t worry about it because we don’t eat the contaminated peel, but the pesticides leach into soil and kill surrounding wildlife. Also, bananas are grown in Latin America (imagine the fuel costs and how unripe they have to be to ship properly), where workers are denied fair wages and health care. Before you throw your hands up in frustration, please buy organic and fair-trade bananas (sparingly). Yes they’re more expensive, but that’s how much they’re supposed to cost. And then go ahead and make these banana brownies.

I first got this idea when I went to a demo and ate brownies with grilled bananas. So gooey and good. I decided to make it a one-pan affair by baking the bananas and brownies together. The brownies are an old standby. They’re like the box-mix kind, with their chewy bite and crackly, paper-thin crust, but better. They also happen to be low-fat. The only brownie I like more has three sticks of butter and 3/4 pound of chocolate, so you can’t really compare. The topping has a couple tablespoons of butter or optionally none at all, making the whole thing healthier than expected.

Personally I think these need nuts to break up the gooey texture, but a lot of people who like fudgy brownies liked these as is. If you’re not a fudgy fan, I suggest adding a handful of toasted walnuts or cocoa nibs (toss with a teaspoon of flour, so they don’t sink to the bottom) during the last stage of mixing.

Banana Upside-Down Brownies

Topping recipe adapted from David Lebovitz; brownies adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich
16 servings

For the topping:
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 g) packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons water or butter; cubed, at room temperature
3-4 ripe medium bananas (organic and fair-trade please)
A few drops of lemon juice

For the brownies:
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (112 g)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened dutch process cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or 1/4 cup cocoa nibs, tossed with a teaspoon or two of flour

  1. Make the Topping: place the brown sugar and water or butter in an 8×8″ metal cake pan. Place the pan directly on the stove and warm over low heat, stirring until the sugar is the texture of wet sand. If using water, simmer for about 45 seconds. If using butter, stir just until the sugar is moist and bubbling, then remove from heat. (It won’t be completely smooth, and there may be a few bare spots.) Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Peel and slice the bananas in 1/4-inch (1 cm) slices. Arrange them, slightly overlapping, over the melted brown sugar. Sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice.
  3. Make the Brownies: place the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  5. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar until combined (texture will remain gritty). Add the eggs, vanilla, and dissolved espresso powder. Beat with a wooden spoon about 40 strokes, scraping the sides of the pan as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and the walnuts/nibs (if using) and beat for another 40 strokes, or just until completely combined.
  6. Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out a little gooey. Note: the brownie recipe calls for 20-25 minutes, but mine were nowhere near done then. I have a temperamental oven, so check the brownies at 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after that, and be prepared to bake for up to 40.
  7. Cool for about 20 minutes, then run a knife along the edges of the brownies to help it release from the pan. Invert the brownies onto a serving platter. When completely cool, cut into 16 pieces. If keeping for more than one day, store in the fridge.

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Coconut, Chocolate, and Caramel Tart (aka the “Samoa”)

coconut-chocolate-caramel tart

I was just trying to purge my pantry and for the life of me, couldn’t get anyone to eat my Chez Paniesse tart (a famous dessert that looks deceptively plain). I was met with skepticism: “You used old cream to make a tart? And it has a stick of butter too? Gee, thanks.” Some people didn’t bother trying it. Others eyed it suspiciously and insisted on only taking a nubbin. But once they tasted it, they couldn’t stop raving:

“Man, so delish. Not sure what I was thinking about taking a smaller piece. I inhaled it.”

“It’s divine.”

“Jess, you can clean out your cubboard any time you want.”

Imagine extra-rich dulce de leche, crunchy almonds, and a crumbly crust. You might be a chocolate person. You might be a nut-free person. Doesn’t matter. You’ll still like this dessert.

The recipe’s solid, so I decided to turn it into a homemade Samoa (my favorite Girl Scout cookie). All I had to do was add coconut, chocolate, and cacao nibs for crunch. It’s much easier than rolling out individual cookies, cutting the dough, dipping the baked cookie, and drizzling it with chocolate (although Chow’s version looks promising).

This tart has a lot of steps, but the dough is very forgiving. As I was shaping it, I worried that the heat from my hands would turn it into mush. And it came out fine! For tips, I recommend David Lebovitz’s photo tutorial (it’s for the original tart, but my recipe’s close enough). And do yourself a favor: spread it out over two days (one for making the dough, another for baking).

coconut-chocolate-caramel tart

Coconut, Chocolate, and Caramel Tart

Inspired by Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere
16 servings

Special equipment:
9- or 10-inch tart pan
parchment paper
heatproof spatula

For the dough:
1 cup (140 g) flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 oz, 115 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.
  2. Add the butter and mix with your fingers, a fork, or pastry blender until the butter’s in very small pieces, the size of rice.
  3. Add the water and vnailla and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.
  4. Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.
  5. When ready to put the pastry in the pan, grease the bottom of the pan and line it with a circle of parchment paper. Let the dough come to room temperature and press the dough into a tart shell using the bottom of your hand. Try to get the dough flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you want to make sure the sides don’t collapse. If that happens, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the dough back up the sides.
  6. Put the tart crust in the freezer and chill thoroughly.
  7. When ready to bake the crust, preheat the oven to 375° F.
  8. Bake the crust for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough (or use a water-flour paste).

For the tart filling:
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, preferably lightly toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. To bake, place the tart pan on top of a baking sheet (in case the filling leaks).
  2. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy pot (use one that’s at least 4 qts) until it begins to boil.
  3. Continue to cook and when it starts to foam up, remove it from the heat and stir in the coconut and vanilla.
  4. Scrape the filling into the crust. If there’s too much filling, save it; if the tart leaks, you can re-fill the crust.
  5. Make sure everything’s evenly distributed and there’s no clumps of coconut. Put the tart into the oven.
  6. After ten minutes, check the tart.
  7. Take a heatproof silicone spatula, hold it diagonally, and tap the entire surface of the tart to break up the top layer. Do not break the pastry underneath; you just want to break up surface crust that’s forming. This step is very important to cook the filling evenly and prevent it from looking wrinkled.
  8. Continue to cook, checking the tart every 5-8 minutes, and break up any dry crust that may be forming, easing off as the filling sets up. As it begins to caramelize, stop tapping it and let the tart finish cooking on its own.
  9. Remove the tart from the oven when the filling is light brown (like the color of caramel sauce) and there are no large, gooey pockets of white filling, about 30 minutes.

For topping:
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

  1. Immediately cover the tart with cacao nibs (you want it to stick to the still-hot caramel).
  2. Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack and sprinkle chocolate on top. The entire surface should be covered. Don’t be shy. Add more chocolate if you have to. (There should be at least twice as much chocolate/nibs than pictured above.)
  3. Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don’t come off when you remove the ring.
  4. When completely cool, remove the ring by resting the tart on top of a solid object and gently coax the ring off. Slip a large spatula underneath it the tart to remove the bottom of the pan. Cut into slivers (best done with a serrated knife).

Make-ahead: The dough can be made in advance, and chilled (up to 4 days) or frozen longer. The dough can be frozen once it’s pressed in the tart pan. Wrap in plastic if you don’t plan to bake it within 48 hours. Once baked, store the tart at room temperature. Wrap in plastic wrap if keeping for more than one day. It’s best eaten on the first day but will keep for up to 4 days.

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“Secret Ingredient” Blondies

zucchini blondies

By now I’ve made cakes from avocado, beets, and potatoes, so a dessert with zucchini sounds relatively ordinary. But if we venture outside zucchini bread, we can have some fun.

I found a recipe for zucchini blondies after seeing a surplus of the squash at my market. (Since when is zucchini “in season” in the spring? Should I be worried?) It sounded strange, but I had a lot of zucchini, and it gets boring and mushy when you sauté it the traditional way.

This recipe was surprisingly good (believe me, I don’t like everything I make). Because the zucchini adds moistness, these blondies are extra gooey and virtually impossible to over bake. Just be sure to chop the zucchini very small, as the recipe instructs. Otherwise, the blondies will seem overly vegetal. For you fainthearted, I’m sure you could substitute bananas, which would go well with the butterscotch-like batter.

Zucchini Blondies

Adapted from Smith & Hawken: The Gardeners’ Community Cookbook by Victoria Wise

Oil or soft butter, for greasing the baking pan
5 tablespoons butter, melted with 1 tablespoon water
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium zucchini, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (6 ounces)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/3 cup chocolate or butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 350° F with a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a 9-inch square metal baking pan.

Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until blended.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Add to the butter mixture. When almost combined, stir in the zucchini and nuts to make a stiff batter.

Spread the batter in the baking pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean with a little batter clinging.

Remove from the oven, and when cool, and slice into 16 squares. Serve warm or at room temperature. Keeps, covered, for 3 days at room temperature. Or wrap each piece individually and freeze for longer.

Vegetables in Dessert:
Heirloom Tomato CakeChocolate-Potato CakeBean BrowniesClassic Carrot CakePotato-Chip Cookies, and more

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Menu for Hope Winner

Wow, where has the time gone? Last Dec. I offered some of my favorite chocolate for a great cause. The winner was chosen on Jan. 18. Congratulations…Tracy Wang! Please contact me, and your chocolate will be on its way. Thank you for the reminder, Pim! And sorry everyone for being delinquent.

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Menu for Hope extended till 12/31

Merry Christmas/happy holidays, everyone! The Menu for Hope campaign is extended till New Year’s Eve. Every $10 donation to the World Food Programme enters you to win some outrageous chocolate (code UE18) or other prizes, if you choose.

Please donate today!

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Menu for Hope VI: Win Amano Chocolate

Menu for Hope VI

It’s my favorite time of year, when we remember our blessings and indulge in gifts! For me, the Menu for Hope charity campaign represents the spirit of the holidays. The idea is simple: for each $10 you donate, you’ll get one virtual raffle ticket toward the food-related prize of your choice. This year, bloggers are again raising money for the the UN World Food Programme, the world’s largest food aid agency.

Amano chocolate

For the campaign, I’m offering some of my favorite chocolates in the world. Amano is a small-batch chocolate maker in Orem, Utah, yet it holds its own against the heavy hitters (such as Valrhona). The cacao beans are carefully sourced and processed, resulting in incredibly complex chocolate. You can taste notes of lapsang souchong, lavender, and cinnamon. No kidding! Amano has donated four bars each of

the 70% limited edition Montanya, 70% Dos Rios, and 70% Guayas
the 70% Montanya, 30% Ocumare, and 30% Jembrana.

Winner’s choice! All together that’s 12 bars. If you’re having difficulty choosing, the first set is for traditionalists; the second is for those who like the creaminess of milk chocolate and the complexity of dark. Personally, I wish I could win the all-dark set. Please remember, this is prize # UE18.

Here’s how to win:

  • Browse the tempting list of prizes at Chez Pim.
  • Donate to the campaign at First Giving.
  • Each $10 you donate will count towards one raffle ticket for a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code. For example, a donation of $50 can be five tickets for UE18. Please write, “5xUE18.”
  • If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
  • Please allow us to see your e-mail address so that we can contact you if you win. Your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone.
  • Check back on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18 for the results of the raffle. Good luck!

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Amano Chocolate Winner

Hey everyone, thanks for entering the Amano chocolate giveaway! I enjoyed reading your responses, especially all the nice things you’re planning to do. The winner is…Ling Ling. Congratulations! The chocolate’s in the mail.

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