Turkey Day Treats
This Thanksgiving my contribution to the family feast was appetizers. Of course, most of my family is on Facebook and I have the habit of posting copious Instagramed images of my kitchen creations, so I needed to come up with something impressive that would live up to my shameless online culinary braggadocio… So, I made sourdough toasts topped with Ricotta Dolce and vanilla pear butter. Yum, huh?!
The sourdough toasts were from French bread baguettes compliments of Yeasty Pete, my two-year-old sourdough starter. The vanilla pear butter was a recipe given to me by a friend who had brought it to my cheese party earlier in the year, where we found it eminently compatible with cheeses of all kinds. (Check out the recipe below!) The Ricotta Dolce used a recipe from Debra Amrein-Boyes’ 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes. This was just the book closest to hand as I was rushing out the door for the 9-hour drive to Los Angeles, but ended up having a Ricotta Dolce recipe I had not tried before, which yielded some interesting observations.
All cheese making books seem to have a recipe for Ricotta Dolce (aka Whole-Milk Ricotta). It is an easy fresh cheese to make and is a mock-version of true Ricotta. Authentic Ricotta is made by “recooking” and acidifying whey left over from Mozzarella making. Ricotta Dolce starts with whole milk that is heated to high temperatures and acidified, producing a similar fluffy moist spreadable cheese.
I have tried two Ricotta Dolce recipes in the past; one from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making and the other by my friend Louella. I also made it once in a cheese making class at the Urban Homesteading Institute. Interestingly, there seem to be two different approaches. Without reiterating entire recipes, at least two I’ve used (Carroll’s and Amrein-Boyes’) call for adding the acid (lemon juice or citric acid) first then heating the milk to scalding (anywhere from 175 to 190-degrees). However, the two other recipes (Louella’s and the Institute of Urban Homesteading’s) call for heating the milk to the right temperature then adding the acid. Both methods seem to work, but in one the curds emerge slowly from the milk as it warms, and in the other they burst forth suddenly as the acid hits the hot milk. I tend to prefer the latter, just for drama’s sake!
The recipe I used this Thanksgiving used the add-acid-then-heat method, which was not very exciting and had me worried for a bit, when curds started showing up at unexpected times. It allowed for some prime observation though. I noticed small curds emerging very early in the process, when the heat was still pretty low. Then, they seemed to recede back into the milk at the mid-point, then appeared again in thick clusters as the heat hit its peak. Rather than waiting for the temperature to hit its highest before fishing the curds out, I started pulling them out into a cloth-lined colander as they appeared. This did not seem to affect the end product much, and cleared the way for new clusters of curds to pop to the surface. The ultimate draining time was a factor though. Amrein-Boyes’ recipe calls for draining the curds for up to an hour, but by the time I was done pulling all the curds out of the pot I felt that the drained curds were already becoming too dry and dense. Had I drained them for an hour, they would have been dry and crumbly. As it was, they were on the verge of being unspreadable, but worked okay on my toasts. I will make a note on that recipe to not drain the curds much at all in order to retain that super moist Ricotta consistency.
Now, choose your own Ricotta Dolce recipe adventure… will it be slow and subtle or magically dramatic?… and don’t forget to make some pear butter too!
Vanilla Pear Butter… Cheese’s Best Friend
Note: Vanilla beans are insanely expensive! My local Whole Foods-wannabe market was charging $13.99 for ONE bean, so I just used extract. I later found a much more affordable option at Costco (something like 10 beans for 10 bucks). Also, my pears were pretty juicy and made a thinner sauce. I think this could be solved by using harder (less ripe) pears or simmering the sauce for longer to cook off the excess liquid. Either way though, this is amazing stuff and works so well with cheese!
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 7 pears, any variety, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or about 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- In a large saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, and continue to simmer for 2 minutes. Add pears and cook over medium heat 60 minutes or until fruit is very tender and juices are thick and have begun to caramelize.
- Remove saucepan from heat, add vanilla, and stir in lemon juice. Transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth or use immersion blender. Transfer to clean, sterilized jars and lids. Refrigerate for up to 2 months or process in a hot water bath for longer storage.