Monday, April 18, 2011

Frozen Cheese Dessert--Simple Easter Delight

This is one of the many fond memories of my childhood. I rediscovered it a few years ago when we had a very hot summer-like Easter. Instead of all the baked desserts, that we traditionally serve on that occasion, I made this frozen cheese dessert. It was simply too hot for anything else.

Suggesting some relation to the Jewish Passover tradition, in Poland this dessert is called pascha, very aptly for being part of the Easter menu. It is made from farmers' cheese (twarog or quark), eggs, dried fruits, and nuts.

In my hometown, it was a specialty of a café that bore a misleading name "Cocktail Bar". It was all kids' favorite hangout, sponsored by the local dairy. It served no alcohol, closed early, and was famous for its milk shakes and other innocent delicacies, pascha among them. I went there often with my father, after a visit to an art exhibition and a Sunday walk through the old town.

Pascha and ice cream made from farmers' cheese were my favorite items on its menu. I was not allowed to eat ice cream if the weather was too cold (according to a common belief, eating ice cream on a cold day would give you cold or flu) but I was allowed to order a frozen cheese dessert as something more substantial and not as cold as ice cream. The best part of this was that I did not mind this compromise at all.

I liked it so much that I learned to make it. The original recipe included raw egg yolks, but nowadays I skip that part. I also use cream cheese instead of farmers' cheese and add honey instead of sugar, not only to sweeten it but also to compensate for the missing egg yolks. As I am not afraid of calories, to make it even more self-indulgent, I also add heavy whipping cream, or sour cream, and mascarpone.

It tastes absolutely yummy, but another nice thing about this dessert, besides its taste, is that it can be made a day or more ahead and kept in a freezer for a few weeks.

Frozen Cheese Dessert
(Serves 8-10)

Two 8 oz boxes of cream cheese, room temperature,
One 6 oz box of mascarpone cheese, room temperature,
2 tbsp heavy whipping cream (or sour cream),
1 cup running honey,
2 tbsp lemon juice,
1 tsp vanilla extract,
1 and 1/2 cup different chopped dried fruits (figs, apricots, golden raisins),
1/2 cup crushed pistachios.

1. In a large bowl, using electric mixer beat cream cheese until smooth.
2. Add heavy whipping cream and mascarpone and beat until all cheese is combined.
3. Pour honey into the bowl with cheese and run the mixer until all the ingredients become one smooth cream, about 3 minutes.
4. Add vanilla, beat for one minute, and add lemon juice. Once again run the mixer for about two minutes.
5. Add chopped dried fruits. Mix gently with spatula.
6. Line a square dish with a plastic foil, overhanging it beyond dish walls. Pour in the cheese mix, spread it evenly and smooth  with a spatula. Sprinkle with pistachios, gently cover with the overhanging foil, and freeze for at least 8-12 hours.

Take from the freezer about 15 minutes before serving. Cut slices and serve when it is slightly soft but still frozen.

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