Monday, February 22, 2010


My good friend, artist Charlotte Gordon (see her work here), was a recent dinner guest at my house. She loved the dessert, a Spanish take on cheesecake, and asked me for the recipe. So, here it is, for all to enjoy.

                                                                                   (Photo by Gerry Dawes)

Called quesada or tarta cuajada, this cheese tart comes from the northern region of Cantabria, famous for its cow’s milk cheeses. It is made with soft, fresh cheese, before the curds have been pressed or salted. You could use unsalted cottage cheese, beaten smooth; ricotta; fromage blanc; or yogurt that has been drained in a colander lined with cheesecloth for an hour.

I substituted Greek yogurt—already drained and thickened—and cream cheese.

I made a crumb crust by pulverizing leftover Spanish Christmas cookies, mantecados and polvorones, with their scents of cinnamon, almond and sesame, and mixing the crumbs with an egg yolk. You can use any favorite crumb crust or try the olive oil crust in my recipe below.

The sliced pears are lovely for winter desserts. But the cheesecake is equally good without them. A tart fruit sauce—of apricots or raspberries—also goes nicely with the cheese tart.

Incidentally, for those minimalist cooks out there, I make this “cheesecake”, without the crust and without the pears, in individual glass cups and cooked in the microwave (with a vented microwave cover; at medium power, for 2 minutes X 3, turning cups a quarter-turn after each 2-minute interval, and allowing to rest 5 minutes before removing).

Got any more recipe requests? Charlotte suggested a "dial-a-recipe," so, instead of phoning me when she's searching for a recipe, she can request it on the blog. Maybe this could work---

Cheese-Custard Tart with Pears
Quesada con Peras

Olive oil makes a crisp-bottomed pastry that contrasts beautifully with the smooth cheese-custard and pear filling.

1 ½ cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour   
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
pinch of aniseed
1 ¾ cups sugar, divided
4 eggs
½ cup olive oil
2 bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1 cup Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

For the crust: Combine the 1 ½ cups flour, baking soda, salt and ½ teaspoon cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Add the aniseeds and ½ cup sugar. Beat one egg and beat in the oil. Mix this into the dry ingredients.

Use fingers to press the crust mixture into the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

For the filling: Combine the sliced pears with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ¼ cup sugar. Reserve 4 slices of pear. Spead the remaining pears in one layer on top of the crust.

Beat the cream cheese at medium speed until smooth. Beat in the yogurt and the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Add ½ tablespoon of lemon juice and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Beat in remaining 1 tablespoon of flour and 3 eggs, one by one.

Carefully pour custard mixture over the pears in pan. Place reserved sliced pear on top.

Bake until custard is set, about 75 minutes. Allow to partially cool before removing springform sides. Serve the tart warm or chilled.

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