Sunday, November 28, 2010

Knaafeh: a most unusual cheesecake

The other cheesy highlight of my trip to the Lebanon was a wickedly delicious dish called Knaafeh which is commonly served for breakfast. It’s a bit like a cheesecake based on a rubbed pastry called mafrookeh and topped with a stringy cheese which tastes like mozzarella.

It is generally served with a syrup made from orange flower water and sometimes in sesame bread which would obviously add a fair bit to the calorific overload.

The pictures are of one we tasted in Patisserie Douaihy in the Place Sassine, a really friendly pastry shop and café.

I was planning to try and make it when I got back but having studied this recipe from Anissa Helou, a food writer who leads trips to the Lebanon, I can see it’s not that straightforward - unless you can order the pastry from a Lebanese shop. I may just have to head back to Beirut . . .

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lebanese breakfast cheese

One of the many fascinating discoveries of my trip to the Lebanon last week was the Lebanese breakfasts which - surprisingly for an intensely sweet-toothed country - were mainly savoury and based around cheese. There was usually more than one kind - a salty, feta style one (Akkawi), halloum (like halloumi) and labneh which is not strictly cheese at all but strained yoghurt drizzled with olive oil.

They were served with fresh tomatoes, crunchy strips of cucumber, olives and various kinds of flatbread of which my favourite was mana’eesh or mankoushe, a pizza-style bread which is dusted with za’atar (a mixture of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds) At one winery, Heritage, they also served home-made jams - apricot and a gorgeous fig one flavoured with aniseed.

You can also buy mankoushe on the go when they will roll it up like a wrap. Incredibly cheap at about 90p. And totally delicious.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Real Cheese Toasties

When you suddenly realise it's 2pm and you haven't thought about lunch there's nothing that hits the spot quite so successfully as a cheese toastie. Particularly one made with proper bread and real artisanal cheese.

The trouble is that since tasting the legendary Trethowan's Dairy's toastie my home-made efforts seem to fall woefully short but yesterday's effort (seen above, half-munched, before I remembered to take a pic of it) wasn't bad.

I used the last of the Sparkenhoe red Leicester, a French Roscoff onion (there's posh!) and two thinly cut slices of sourdough bread, assembled the sandwich in a frying pan into which I'd poured some olive oil, flipped it over a couple of times then gave it 10 minutes in the AGA. (Absurd. The whole process took far too long but at least the onions were completely soft and mingled seductively with the cheese). It would have been a lot easier to have made it on my contact grill but the idea of hauling it out and cleaning it afterwards just for one sandwich seemed a real faff.

Sometimes I use a bit of butter in the pan which I think helps crisp and brown the crust and adds extra flavour.

What about you? What's your recipe for the perfect toastie? Should we have a cheese toastie comp do you think?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Making cheese with cardoons

One of the most fascinating things i discovered at last weekend’s Cheese Fair was what cardoons look like - or at least what they look like in the form in which cheesemakers get to handle them. They’re widely used in Spain and Portugal and Mary Holbrook, who I referred to in the last post, uses them to make Cardo and Tilleys, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog (though managed to misspell).

Cardoons are a thistle-like plant which grow up to about 7 foot high. The stamens are picked and dried - a bit like saffron stamens. "You want cardoon with as much purple in it as you can get" said Mary. It’s traditionally used to make sheeps’ cheeses but she uses it with goats milk when she has a plentiful supply in the summer and believes it gives her cheeses a special flavour and texture. “It’s the cardoons, not my cheesemaking which give character to the cheese” she said modestly.

“We have to grind the stamens to break them then add warm water and infuse them for 20 minutes then filter it and stir it into the milk. You have to do this extremely thoroughly otherwise you can get parts of the milk coagulating and others staying liquid. The process is quite quick - it takes about the same time as making normal soft or hard cheese.”

Despite the trickiness of the process and the difficulty of getting hold of the stamens Mary thinks there’s no substitute for the raw ingredient. “I’m not looking forward to the day when they have liquid cardoon rennet” she said firmly.