Food

Cheese in desserts: The Turkish, US and Russian

Ayla Coşkun

ISTANBUL: From delicious sandwiches to pizzas, cheese is mostly associated with savory dishes, but there is also a wide world of delicate and unique desserts that employ the use of cheese to extraordinary results

When talking about cheese, some of the first things that spring to mind are yummy cheese platters, pizzas or even a simple grilled cheese sandwich.

Think a bit harder and you will remember, “Oh, there’s cheesecake!” This is the train of thought that inspired this week’s culinary adventure. Cheese, as great as it is in savory dishes, has a special place in desserts as well. Read on and you’ll soon discover at least one you haven’t heard of – or at least haven’t tasted yet.

Here is a selection from three different cultures:

Cheese in Turkish desserts

I found it especially funny when I told my grandma about cheesecake. She crumpled her nose. “Cheese in a cake? That sounds weird,” she said, but when I reminded her that we love künefe or halva with cheese she caved in. These are just two of the first desserts that popped to my mind and both can be made fairly easily at home. You have to keep in mind though that you’ll need a cheese that has not been salted. In Turkey you can ask for “künefe peyniri,” but Turkish string cheese, such as “dil peyniri,” or crumbly “lor peyniri” (peynir means cheese) are great alternatives as well.

Let’s start fancy: Künefe

Many will argue where this delicacy is made best. The southern province of Hatay is known for it but many countries in the Middle East will claim it as their own as well, though it is probably named kadayıf or some variation thereof (kataif or alike). Regardless of where it came from or where it tastes best, you’ll need to give this one a try. A key ingredient you’ll need here is the “tel kadayıf” itself. Made from a thin dough and baked to hold its shape, kadayıf is sometimes described as vermicelli – at least in shape.

The recipe given here is for one portion and can be doubled or tripled depending on how many you want to make. But trust me, try one first and share it as it is quite heavy.

Ingredients

  • 100 grams tel kadayıf
  • 30-40 grams unsalted cheese
  • 2-3 tablespoons crushed pistachios
  • 3-4 tablespoons butter

For the syrup

  • 200 grams sugar
  • 200 milliliters water
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

First, bring the sugar and water to a boil and simmer it for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice. Give that one last stir and let it cool. To achieve the right consistency you want the syrup to be cold and the künefe to be hot.

Prepare a small, preferably metal, tin and smother it in a decent amount of butter. Get half of the kadayıf and press it into the pan. Put the cheese and about two-thirds of the pistachios before pressing the other half of the kadayıf onto it. You can either bake this in the oven until it turns a golden brown color, or cook it on a stove but you’ll need to flip it to get that even color and crunch.

Once it has turned the right color, pour the syrup on the hot dessert and serve immediately. Directly eating it out of the tin is customary.

Cheese halva

Making künefe is not hard, but if you want to make something even faster without having to head out to get more ingredients, halva is the way to go.

Ingredients

  • 150 grams semolina
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 300 grams salt-free cheese

For the syrup

  • 600 milliliters water
  • 300 grams sugar

Instructions

Unlike künefe, with halva it doesn’t matter if the syrup is hot or cold – but having it prepared beforehand will make things easier. Bring the water and sugar to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes before turning the heat off.

Melt the butter in a pot of your choice and roast the semolina until it starts to change color. Constant stirring is key here. Slowly add the syrup into the semolina and continue stirring until it has fully absorbed the sugary water. Finally, add the cheese to the mix and continue stirring until the cheese is evenly distributed. Turn off the heat and serve.

Classic New York cheesecake. (Shutterstock Photo)
Classic New York cheesecake. (Shutterstock Photo)
The cheesecake

When we think of cheesecake, the first one that comes to mind is the New York version. However, I have had the pleasure of eating all kinds of cheesecakes and I have to say one thing: They are all amazing in their own right. But here we are honoring the classic New York-style one. Just don’t worry if the top cracks!

Ingredients

For the bottom

  • 125 grams cookies, graham crackers, petite beurres or something similar
  • 50 grams sugar
  • 80 grams butter

For the filling

  • 6 eggs
  • 300 grams sugar
  • 900 grams cream cheese
  • 400 milliliters heavy cream
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Instructions

Crush the cookies with the help of a plastic bag and a rolling pin. This way you can keep all the crumbs in a handy bag and avoid making a bit of a mess. Alternatively, you can just use your hands and a bowl, whichever you prefer. Melt the butter and add it together with the sugar into a bowl and mix it well. Spread this mixture into the baking tin of your choice and press it down with the help of a spoon to form an even crust. Put the tin into the fridge until the crust sets.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar until the sugar has at least partially dissolved and add the remaining ingredients of the filling into the mix. Stir this until it is fully incorporated, so no streaks of any one ingredient should be visible. Avoid over mixing as we do not want to have too much air in the filling.

Carefully pour the filling into the prepared baking tin, preferably with the help of a spoon to avoid a heavy stream poking holes into the bottom layer of the cake. Let this mix rest for at least 5 minutes. In the meantime, heat up the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (390 Fahrenheit). Bake the cheesecake for 15-20 minutes at this heat and turn the heat down to 140 Celcius (284 Fahrenheit) for about an hour. Turn off the oven but do not open the door! Let the oven and the cake cool off together. After about 2 hours – longer if it is summer and shorter if it is winter – and let it rest in the fridge overnight. Never eat a fresh cheesecake!

Sirniki and Blintz: Russian delicacies!

My mum lived in Poland for quite a while and sometimes she craves the food she would eat there. These cravings introduced me to these amazing tastes – though I must say that the blintz definitely got made more than the sirniki!

Sirniki: Cheesy pancakes

With their fluffy texture, they are an absolute must with a cup of tea or coffee. These aren’t limited to breakfast – that’s for sure.

Ingredients

  • 450 grams lor cheese (farmer’s cheese)
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 60 grams cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1-2 tablespoons semolina, optional

Instructions

Put the cheese, cream cheese, heavy cream and egg into a bowl. Combine and mix the batter until it reaches an even consistency. It will not be perfectly smooth, but the smoother, the better. Add the remaining ingredients, apart from the vegetable oil, and mix until you get a thick-ish dough. You can add semolina to make it easier to form balls but this is optional. You can also add a bit more flour if you find it too runny. Heat a skillet with a bit of vegetable oil and roll small balls out of the dough, flatten them by hand slightly and fry them on both sides until golden brown. Serve warm, but sirniki can be just as good cold and served with some fruity jams.

Blintz. (Shutterstock Photo)

Russian sirniki. (Shutterstock Photo)

Blintz: Pancakes stuffed to perfection

Sirniki are similar to fluffy pancakes, but these are more like crepes stuffed with a cheesy filling and taste best the day after – but that is just my personal take. I toss them into the toaster to make the outer crust really crunchy and … yes, I’m getting hungry just writing this!

Ingredients

For the pancakes

  • 125 grams flour
  • 250 milliliters milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 50 grams butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Vanilla
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

For the filling

  • 350 grams lor or ricotta cheese
  • 220 grams cream cheese
  • 5-6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

Instructions

Place all the ingredients for the pancakes into a bowl and whisk until you get a smooth dough. Set that aside to prepare the filling by doing essentially the same thing as with the dough. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until it is smooth. If you think there are still too many chunks of cheese you can run it through a blender to make it extra silky.

Heat up a wide pan and with a bit of vegetable oil and make your crepes as big as possible. Once the crepe is baked through on one side, take it off the heat and add a couple of spoonfuls of the filling and spread it. Roll it up and serve!

Alternatively, you can make these by cooking all the crepes, filling them with the cheese mix and baking them in the oven for a couple of minutes all together. In this version, you’ll want to add an egg to the mix to hold it together better. Depending on the cheese you used you might want to add 1-2 tablespoons of flour as well.

Courtesy : dailysabah

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