Tuesday, 19 June 2012
A few days ago, I asked a question on the Poires au Chocolat facebook page: if you could make one dairy product at home, which would it be? The choices were ricotta, butter and crème fraîche.
I asked because I recently bought a copy of The Homemade Pantry. Though lots of the recipes look lovely, the stories that accompany each one are my favourite part of the book - they bring the whole thing alive.
The recipes I immediately wanted to try were in the dairy section. I couldn't decide which one to try first, so I passed the choice on.
Apart from one attempt at marscarpone for the Daring Bakers, way back when, I've never made cheese. This is definitely not a Foundations post - I'm not an expert - it's more of a 'I made cheese! Woah! It worked!' post.
As I was looking over my notes to type the recipe up a minute ago, I realised that I made a mistake yesterday. Instead of converting 1/3 of a cup of lemon juice, I calculated 1/2 cup. Which makes sense - it did taste lemony, and I had to use a lot of lemons (though the ones that grow in the garden are quite small and don't have an enormous amount of juice, so I thought it was that).
I'd love to know how it affected the process and the texture of the cheese, so I'll have to try it again. I've put the correct amount below (90ml instead of 135ml). I also managed to forget to dampen the cheesecloth - it was one of those days.
One of the great tips in the dairy chapter is to ice the pot to stop the milk scorching on the bottom. You just swish an ice cube around the pot until it has melted, then add the rest of the ingredients. As long as you don't touch the bottom when you stir, it seems to stop the problem.
Mum and I had a big debate over how much whey you should take out at the end. I had this vision of cheesemaking that involved squeezing the cheesecloth, so that's what I did. Mum thought that it made the ricotta too dry - I didn't mind. Either way, I had a lot of fun squeezing it.
The first way we ate the ricotta was on fresh bread with a little orange zest, a generous drizzle of honey (from the bees in the garden!) and some of the amazing cherries we've been eating here. It was a gorgeous snack.
I then used most of the ricotta in this Chocolate Ricotta Pound Cake. I first made it in 2010 - it's an unusual cake, somehow damp and almost creamy but not too rich.
Because of the extra-lemony ricotta, the cake has a fruity taste. At first I didn't like it, but it's definitely growing on me. I want to try it in a non-chocolate pound cake another time.
Though I made a few mistakes, I loved making ricotta. Like most of the best cooking and baking techniques, it felt a lot like magic.
As a result, I may or may not have chanted this over the curdling pot:
"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble."
The old superstition is that witches curdle milk, so it seems appropriate.
(adapted from The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila)
1.9 litres whole milk
90ml lemon juice
1 ice cube
Measure out the milk and squeeze the lemons. Get a big, heavy-bottomed pot and place it near the stove. Add the ice cube and swirl it around until it has totally melted. Pour in the milk (on top of the water) and then the lemon juice. Give the pot a very quick stir, making sure you don't touch the bottom.
Transfer the pot to the stove, then attach a thermometer (cheese, sugar etc, not meat) to the side. Turn the heat onto the lowest setting. Heat for about 40-50 minutes, until the temperature reads 80C/175F. You don't need to sit watching it - just come back to check the temperature. Stir once or twice during this period, again not touching the bottom.
When it hits 80C/175F, turn the heat up to medium-high. Don't stir. Watch it until the temperature reaches 95C/205F, then take the pan off the heat. It shouldn't boil. Leave to sit for 10 minutes. It looks like this - the curds and whey have separated.
Line a sieve or fine colander with a double layer of damp cheesecloth. Use a slotted spoon to transfer scoops of the curds into the cheesecloth. Let them drain for ten minutes. Simply transfer to a bowl if you want a loose, wet ricotta, or squeeze a little for a thicker version. You can also keep and use the whey if you like - Alana recommends using it as the liquid for bread or instead of stock in soups.
(Makes approximately 300g ricotta)