Monday, June 21, 2010

The Longest Day of the Year was three days ago.

CHEESE!

I made a new cheese this week and it was an awesome feta-type thing.

I took a Mozzarella making class a few weeks ago.  I paid for it!  I showed up on time!  And here in lumbers the instructor, who had just been informed he was doing it THAT morning.  And now he tells us that he only has goat milk and you can't make mozzarella with goat milk.  So he's going to show us how to make un-named cheeses.  "If you want something with a name, you have to get all scientific.  Which I don't do.  Basically, if it's harder than yogurt and edible, it's cheese.  So let's see what we make this morning!"  Um... but I can already do that, and do do that, in my own kitchen, for free!  Regardless, I figured a 20 year veteran of random cheesing might have some thing to teach me.

When I take a class, I asked lots of questions, trying not to be annoying or interuptive, of course.  Normally, teachers LOVE me.  They love that someone doesn't have a glazed look in their eyes.  They love that someone's engaged enough with the topic to actually ask relevant questions.  But sometimes, I get a dud who can't see what a gem of a student I am.  One professor YELLED at me to stop thinking.  Another professor walked out on the class when I innocently asked for clarification on the topic of the Roman's being totally egalitarian... apparently there was a pile of personal history there and I stepped in it.  Another teacher, concerned about my having a pulse and some enthusiasm, apparently a very rare trait in her classes, suggested I get my thyroid checked.  And this one slowly drawled, "You...know, that's...the...great... thing...about... the...internet. You...can...just...look...up...all... these...questions... on....Google."

The one thing I did get out of the class was a more cavalier approach to cheese making and the edibility of disasters.  Hence, my totally rockin' feta, which I then used in a fritatta (which we have weekly now) made with my yard's own lamb's quarters, my own chicken eggs, my own cream (from the cows, of course!), and some left over rice noodles.  Yum! 

And then, here's the real story.  Huck's Birthday cheese cake.  He wanted cheese cake.  Me, I am from a Betty-Crocker-Box family.  And Huck's from a scratch-learned-in-Switzerland family.  I'll be making a cake and he'll suddenly have feedback about the direction I'm mixing the batter (apparently you go different directions depending on which side of the equator you live on!), the types of peaks my eggs whites have crested to (Rockies vs. Appalachians)... whatever...some sort of esoteric bakery knowledge he pulls from a universe with which I have had no contact.  His helpfulness has unintentionally made me very conscious of my complete vacuum where this world of knowledge might exist.  Sensing my performance anxiety, he offered to make his own cake, but I just couldn't let him. After the "Fred-Flinstone-buys-Wilma-a-bowling-ball-for-her-birthday" present fiasco, I felt I just had to make it.  And guilt, fear and a total lack of confidence are always the best places to start with any endeavor.  Right.

I hunted through several hundred cheese cake recipes searching for the right, gluten-free one.  I knew he didn't want gummy cream cheese.  So we needed a marscapone or cottage cheese recipe.  And I thought I found what I was looking for in our antique cook book.  A fabulous looking recipe promising "basic" cheesecake.  I have since concluded that cheesecake recipes have come a long way, baby, in simplification.  This can't be what everyone else is making.

I thought I had enough time.  One hour to piece it together.  One hour to bake.  And one hour to cool while I picked up Blue from her day camp.  But one hour later, my miscreant egg-whites still wouldn't fluff.  My whipped cream was quickly regaining consciousness.  I was very confusedly creating "dry cottage cheese" by rinsing the cream off the curdles. Meanwhile, I was frantically searching for a substitution ratio of cornstarch for gluteny flour (1.5 tsp for 1 TBS wheat flour!).  So, I figured I would finally fold in my sickly egg-whites right before I left to pick Blue up, slap the baby in the oven and get back just in time to take it out, assuming no traffic.  But my cottages weren't blending with my crest-falling whipped cream, so I got out the food processor.  And I proceeded to dump the mixture in, before looking to see if I had put the blade in, which I hadn't, so it gushed straight through to the counter.  In the mean time, my 12 minute egg-whites completely deflated.  I quick called Huck, cried, hung-up (as if it was some middle school prank!), and ran out to pick up Blue.


Upon return, I screamed through 8 eggs to get my three egg whites, thanks to separation anxiety.  But these hard won whites went from placid ocean to Grand Tetons in less than two minutes! Lucky me!  I finished it up, poured it all into the spring form.  I transferred the top rack to the middle and we were on our way.  Right.

I checked back an hour later to find something strange going on with the oven rack.  I'd moved only half the rack down.  So there was my cheesecake, perfectly cooked and practically flowing over one side, while the hazelnut crust plummeted into an abyss on the other. 

Huck's assessment was that it listed like a drunken sailor yet to find his sea legs.  The recipe said NOTHING about cooling the cake, so we slopped the hot cream onto my nifty display pedestal. And there, the force of gravity and the fact that the solid was still hot enough to be a liquid took their tolls and we blew out the starboard side while the port side imploded in emptiness.

And the only candle we could find was the nine from Blue's birthday.

Nevertheless, it the was the best tasting, best textured damn pile o'cheesecake any of us have ever had or ever hope to have in our lifetimes.  Seriously.  God, it was so WORTH THE PAIN!  I'll do it all again, I swear.

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