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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

24 June 2008

Regency Refreshments: Cheesecakes

Some recipes for Cheesecakes appear to be essentially a custard baked into a puff pastry shell. They are essentially a Danish. But most call for the cook to begin by making cheese curd. I’ve done this on my friends’ goat ranch, and it’s a quick and easy process, but I’m going to cheat and start with a nice plain ricotta.

The Universal Cook (1806):
Similar to Cheesecakes are Maids of Honour. In fact, I see very little difference when comparing the recipes (except, perhaps, the edition of candied citron and brandy), so I’m not going to bother to include those recipes or to make them up. Whatever variety I make will be similar enough to give you an idea of what they would have been like. A flavor that seems to be common in all the books is lemon. And as I’m a sucker for lemon-flavored anything (and I’m quite tired of everything being filled with currents by now, and the “common cheesecake” recipes often call for their addition). This is the variety I chose to make.

The English Art of Cookery (1788) :
All the Cheesecakes of the day appear to have been baked in puff pastry shells. Luckily puff pastry is readily available (as it takes forever to make). So I’ve now skipped over two time consuming and labor intensive steps that a cook of the period would have had to go through (making cheese and making puff pastry).





My recipe:

2 lemons
¾ c. sugar
Six egg yolks
1 pint ricotta cheese
2 sticks butter, melted
1 pack puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a muffin pan.

Peel the lemon rind with a vegetable peeler (be careful to just peel off the rind and not the bitter white pith). Boil it in water until it softens (20-30 minutes). Strain and combine with the sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until ground. Add the egg yolks and cheese and blend. Add the melted butter and blend (it will be really thin, don’t worry, it solidifies as it bakes). This can be done one to two days ahead of time and then stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

You can defrost the puff pastry, but it’s not necessary. If you leave it cold it will be easy to cut and will bake perfectly. Just break it along the fold lines and then cut it into 2-inch squares (one sheet of Pepperidge Farm’s Puff Pastry yields a dozen squares).

Press each square of puff pastry into a hole in the muffin tin and prick the bottom with a fork (as you would a pie crust). Spoon a large dollop (about 2 TBL) of the lemon mixture into the “cup” formed by each puff pastry square and bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

You can garnish these with bits of candied lemon peel or with a dusting of powdered sugar if you like.

My friends’ reactions:

These were a huge hit. Everyone really enjoyed them. We did discuss that it might be nice to use fresh lemon zest, rather than the boiled rind, to achieve more brightness in the lemon flavor (this would certainly suit a modern palate better) and we decided that these would be wonderful as a base for strawberry shortcake.

I know this recipe sound like a lot of work, but it was actually really easy and quick (and would be even quicker if you just zested the lemons and used the fresh zest).

Lesson learned after the fact: Raccoons really like lemon-flavored cheese. I have a near nightly visitor who believes with all his little furry being that whatever is left in the dog dish must be there for him. For the last year or so this has been the deal. He never touches anything else. Just the dog food. Then last night the sweet scent of lemon-flavored cheese filling wafted out of the trash and he was IN. Garbage all over the place. Cheese filing all over my floor. Pure comedy (of so I keep telling myself). Once he'd polished off the garbage he moved on to the kitchen table and the six cup cake-sized cheese cakes up there in a ziplock bag. He didn't touch the fruit, the granola bars, the box of cereal or even the cinnamon muffins. Nope. My little bandito is all about lemon-flavored cheese.

9 Comments:

Blogger Mary Blayney said...

A keeper for me too, Kalen. Once again I wonder what has changed more: the lemons we use versus what the folks in the 19th century had access too or our tastes buds and theirs.

4:04 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Absolutely hysterical Kalen about your little furry friend. Now you are making me hungry for cheesecake. I had no idea that they ate it during the Regency period. Good to know!

5:04 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

You leave out food for a raccoon, Kalen? Gosh -- we have big, scary ones in my neighborhood. For a girl from Brooklyn like moi (and for my cat, Ben, a tough ex-feral who's been known to attack pigeons), they seem almost like bears.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

He is like a little bear! I don't leave food out for him, I just forget to pick up the dog bowl before I go to bed (must get better about this!).

Cheesecakes are period, but they're not like the modern dessert with its gramcracker crust. They really are more like Danish.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Susan Holloway Scott said...

Kalen, I love your recipe posts! Besides getting tasty eats, I think it is a great way to research and "experience" the past (just like wearing the clothing, which you also do.)

Like everyone else, I wondered about boiling the lemon peel instead of zesting it, too. I'm guessing that at this time, most lemons are still imported. Perhaps the rind on a lemon that's been moldering in a ship's hold has become a little too travel-weary to zest? Don't know, just guessing.

As for the racoons -- I live on the edge of a bird sanctuary (woods as far as can be seen), and our Pennsylvania racoons aren't nearly as dainty as yours. Ours eat everything, including chewing holes through big Rubbermaid trashcans as an appetizer before they reach the trashy main course inside.

Hope you keep baking!

1:20 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Tonight is baking night again . . . I'm leaning towards Blanc'mange (which doesn't really require any baking), but I may attempt Quaking Pudding (boiled, not baked).

I think I'll leave the more complicated Bath Cakes and Sally Lunn Buns for a weekend.

If anyone has anything specific they'd like me to work on please let know.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Deborah said...

Just found this blog today through a link on Pam Rosenthal's! I love historical romance novels, as well as all aspects of social history.

Six years ago, we moved to the country to create a sustainable, organic homestead, which meant doing a lot of research to see how things were done 100+ years ago.

A comment on the lemons ... from what I've read, rich people in England had their own citrus trees, which were grown in orangeries -- big glass houses. This is one of our goals, since we live in Illinois, where citrus does not grow due to the cold winters, and citrus trees are harvested in winter. (So this cheesecake would only be eaten December through February or so, depending upon the variety of lemon.) England is a Zone 7 or 8, so really only a bit colder than Florida or California. When I went there at the end of November one year, pansies were growing in people's yards! But I digress -- an orangery in Illinois will need good insulation, because we are Zone 5.

But this does not explain why the lemon peels were boiled ... hmm. Zesting and drying the peel would allow the cook to use it year round.

I make several kinds of cheese, including ricotta. I had never thought of making a cheesecake with it, but I will have to try it! I love to experiment in the kitchen. I do make a cheesecake with my chevre.

I have a blog for our homestead, http://antiquityoaks.blogspot.com and have recently been writing about food, so some of you might find some food for thought.

I also have Shetland sheep (from the Shetland Isles off the coast of Scotland), which we raise for their wool, which we clean, spin, knit, felt, etc. So, if you ever have any questions about wool, just holler! I love to talk about this stuff.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Hi Deborah. I have friends up in the mountains here in CA that have an "off the grid" lifestyle. They're in the process of building their own house right now (doing the whole hand-sculpted cobb thing).

It's a very impressive endeavor (and just a ton of work) to live the way they do. It’s a little too intense for me, but I just respect the hell out of them for “walking the walk” as well as “talking the talk” if you know what I mean.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Susan Holloway Scott said...

So, Kalen, how was last night's blancmange? Since you're an intrepid historical cook, I'm guessing that your version will be more like a traditional pudding than the gelatin-laden modern versions. Though I have to admit, whenever I see that word, I hear it in a "Monty Python" shriek. *g*

10:48 AM  

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