I have a patience problem when it comes to cooking. I like to be active; to stir, mix, fuss and otherwise bother whatever recipe is at hand. This is great when I'm doing something like shortbread, which can take the abuse. It's terrible when I'm working with a food that requires a much more relaxed, hands-off strategy, like soft cheese. Cheese, as I have discovered, is easy. Heat milk in some form from some animal, add an acid, and then let it sit. Don't touch it when it's resting, don't mess with it until it's done, don't even stir it more than necessary to keep it from scorching. This goes against everything that I think I need to do in the kitchen to get a recipe to work. It's also why my biscuits always come out flat. It's why I check the candy thermometer eight times a minute, and why I hover over my current project like a mother hen. I obsess. I worry. I over-think.
And my cheese STILL comes out this wonderful. This stuff practically makes itself if you turn your back long enough. (Actually, that's how crème fraîche a.k.a. soured cream is made. Heat up cream. Add buttermilk. Let sit out for about 48 hours. Ta da! Awesomeness!)
I've been experimenting with home cheese making ever since my birthday, when I was given this book:
|Hello,beautiful. Why yes, we can be friends.|
I started with yogurt, then moved on to ricotta and was quite successful. I made it twice, actually. Came out with some awesome ricotta gnocchi that I will make again, I promise.
When we hit the holiday season, I wanted to try something a little more challenging. I had spotted a recipe for a pumpkin roll with ginger buttercream in Ina Garten's book Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. It required mascarpone cheese.
Mascarpone cheese is a main component of tiramisu, a decadent Italian dessert made with ladyfingers dipped in coffee and a fluffy cream mixture. Literally translated, it means "pick me up". If you alter the word a little, you can even change it into an innuendo, "get me up". Thank you Suzi from Citta della Pieve for that Italian lesson.
Before I get to the recipe, we should go over the materials necessary for successful mascarpone.
First, a double boiler. See this post if you don't have a double boiler.
Second, cheesecloth or butter muslin. Cheesecloth is woven more loosely than butter muslin, so you'll need more layers. I used four for this project. If you can't find either cheesecloth or butter muslin, I've heard you can use a few layers of coffee filters (I'd go with unbleached) as a substitute.
|The Set Up: four layers of cheesecloth draped in a strainer, suspended above a catch-bowl.|
Third, a calibrated candy thermometer, analog or digital as per your preference. Calibrating a candy thermometer is simple: boil a small amount of water in a sauce pan and take a reading from the thermometer. Remember that non-instant read thermometers need a little time to come up to temperature. The thermometer should read 212° F (or 100° C if you use metric). A tiny bit of variation (up to about .5 of a degree) is acceptable. Any discrepancy of more than a degree should be noted for future use. I don't recommend using a meat thermometer for this job, although it technically might work.
1 quart heavy cream
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Note: some recipes call for lemon juice, but I prefer white vinegar because it imparts less flavor. Practically any acid will work: tartaric acid, lemon juice, cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, etc. The amounts necessary to curdle the milk will vary with acidity, however.
In a double boiler, heat the heavy cream to 190° F, stirring occasionally and being careful that the water in the lower pan doesn't touch the bottom of the top pan. Whisking or stirring constantly (but gently) add the vinegar and stir until the cream begins to curdle and is thick, about a minute or two. The cream should still be very smooth. Immediately remove the top pan from the double boiler and allow the cheese to cool undisturbed (aka DON'T STIR) until the cheese is approximately as thick as yogurt or sour cream, about 15 minutes. Ladle or gently pour the cream into a strainer lined with cheese cloth, set over a bowl. Cover and let strain in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. Discard the liquid at the bottom, stir the cheese, and use however you desire.
Because marscapone is so creamy and the curds are so small, it blends well with sweeteners and as such is used mostly for dessert. Just yesterday I mixed mascarpone cheese with some confectioner's sugar and dipped strawberries in it for dessert. Absolutely fantastic.
This stuff is just perfect. If you add enough sugar and beat it long enough, the result is this spectacular combination of whipped cream and icing, perfect for icing cakes or dipping fruit. It doesn't deflate like whipped cream and it has more flavor than regular icing. You could also make it more savory and use as a dipping sauce, although the flavor is so mild I wouldn't recommend using it as a substitute for sour cream or crème fraîche. It won't hold up to heat, either, but it's still quite versatile.
Edit: My computer corrected 'mascarpone' to 'mascapone' for no good reason I can find. Spelling errors have since been fixed.