Friday, September 27, 2013

Gift Idea #2 - Fig Cake for a Cheese Basket

Photo by Buff Strickland at DIY Network
Cheese baskets make a great gift and this is a perfect addition to it.  It seems like every cheese counter in the world has fig cakes for sale.  That's because the flavor of figs with almost any cheese is unforgettable.

It had never occurred to me to make my own fig cake until Joe Heyen from Colorado* sent us his recipe (originally from Worlds of Flavor).  According to Joe, this cake with a slice of Manchego on top is absolute heaven. 

It's extremely simple to make and the only equipment you will need is some kind of mold or container and a way to press the dough.  You can use weights, as Joe did, or you can use your cheese press, as I did.  (This comes under the heading, "Cool ways to use your press for things other than cheese!")

One other feature of this cake is that it's healthy; there is no flour and no sugar.  And, you can make it almost completely raw by using raw figs and nuts.  If you're vegan, and you eat figs (which some consider vegan and some do not), you can use agave or coconut nectar instead of honey.

* Joe is actually staying in Chicago for awhile, due to the floods in his Colorado town and, unfortunately he had to leave his cheese making equipment behind.  Our sympathy goes out to him and everyone else in that area of Colorado.

Joe pressed his cake in a cazuela with weights on top

Spanish Fig Cake
From Worlds of Flavor Spain 

Ingredients

2 cups dried figs stemmed, quartered  (Joe says he prefers white figs)
1/4 tsp cloves, ground
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp honey
2/3 cup almonds, slivered, toasted (or walnuts, which Joe prefers)
2 Tbsp sherry, plus one tsp.*

* I used brandy.  But, if you don't want to use alcohol, possible substitutions include apple cider, non alcoholic vanilla extract, apple juice with brandy extract added, or coffee.

Directions

Stem and quarter your figs.  (If you have fresh figs, there are good directions for drying them here.)



Sliver and toast your almonds.




Place figs in a steel bladed food processor and chop finely, pulsing for about one minute.



Add spices and honey and blend until combined, about 30 seconds, or until mixture forms a ball.






Add almonds and process until coarsely chopped and combined with the figs, about one minute.



Add 2 tablespoons of the sherry and process until the mixture sticks together, about one minute.  (I used brandy.)  Then, moisten your hands with 1 teaspoon of sherry and roughly shape like the non-reactive container the mixture will be in. 


Wrap in parchment paper or cheese wrap.



Cover in plastic, then press into your mold.  I used our small mold (M3) because I wanted a thick little cake.  This mold doesn't have a bottom, but you can use any mold, or container 4-6" in diameter.





Allow to set for two days at room temperature.  You can flip it after one day, if you want but it isn't necessary.  (Joe says he keeps his in the press for a week, but I need my press to make cheese!)


I love the way our Wheeler press looks on my counter.

After two days, take it out of the press.



And, it's ready to eat.



I wrapped mine in parchment, put it in a plastic bag and froze it.  (One more gift to cross off my list!)




for printing

Spanish Fig Cake
From Worlds of Flavor Spain 

Ingredients
2 cups dried figs stemmed, quartered
1/4 tsp cloves, ground
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp honey
2/3 cup almonds, slivered, toasted (or walnuts)
2 Tbsp sherry, plus one tsp.  (Substitutions include brandy, apple cider, non alcoholic vanilla extract, apple juice with brandy extract added, or coffee

Directions
1.   Place figs in a steel bladed food processor and chop finely, pulsing for about one minute. Add spices and honey and blend until combined, about 30 seconds, or until mixture forms a ball. Add almonds and process until coarsely chopped and combined with the figs, about one minute. Add 2 tablespoons of the sherry and process until the mixture sticks together, about one minute.

2.   Moisten your hands with 1 teaspoon of sherry and roughly shape like the non-reactive container the mixture will be in. Wrap in parchment paper and then plastic, then press into container. Place a second container on top to compress it into a firm cake. Allow to set for two days at room temperature.

3.   Slice cake into 1/4 inch thin slices. Serve with slices of Manchego.

This is the second in a series of posts with gift ideas for the holidays.  To see the first post, click here and for the third, click here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gift Idea #1, Farmstead Cheese in a Glass Food Preserver


It's time to start making those holiday gifts!   In the home cheese making biz, you have to keep one eye on the future and one eye on the moment.   And, in this particular moment, we're approximately 3 months from the holiday season- the perfect time to plan your cheese, order your supplies and make your first farmstead cheese.

Farmstead cheese was Jim's Recipe of the Month for August.  This is an excellent beginner hard cheese.  It can be aged for as little as one month or much longer, so there's still time to order your culture and rennet, or whatever you need.  (We almost always ship within 24 hours of placing your order.)

Recently, I was rooting around in my storage area, and I found a food preserver I had bought years ago at a tag sale.  I decided to age my cheese in it, although it was originally made to keep cheese from molding in the fridge.* 

Directions are embossed on the lid*

I like it for aging because 1) it isn't plastic so I know there are no PCB's to worry about, 2) it has a built in "mat" to keep the cheese out of any whey that might seep out, and 3) it's very easy to lift the lid and turn the cheese every day.

I looked it up at the Maytag website, because I think they are the only company still making it  ($29.95).

I learned that Maytag now makes blue cheese and sells it (as one option) with a food preserver.  My round-style preserver with a 2 pound piece of blue cheese sells for $59.95.  So, it's a great gift for any cheese lover and it would be a fabulous gift with your own homemade cheese inside it.

I did a quick search on the web, and there are slight differences between these food preservers.  They range in price from less than $10 on ebay to hundreds of dollars at auction houses.

Check out the process here and see if it's doable for you:

Farmstead Cheese Aged in a Glass Food Preserver
Recipe Adapted from Jim Wallace's Recipe Page

Ingredients:

2 gallons milk
1 packet of Mesophilic culture (C101)
1/2 tsp liquid rennet (or 1/4 tsp double strength vegetable rennet or organic vegetable rennet)
3 tsp cheese salt
1/2 tsp calcium chloride (if using pasteurized milk or cold stored milk)
annatto for color (optional)

Supplies:

curd knife or any knife to cut curds
ladle
colander to drain curds
butter muslin
cheese cloth to bandage cheese or wax
mold (small mold (M3) or the mold that comes with our press)
press
glass food preserver (optional)*

*There are many places to buy these online.  There are quite a few listed on eBay and the prices start at less than $10.

Directions:  (This is just a summary.  The full directions can be found at Jim's recipe page.)

1.  Heat milk to 88F.  While doing this, add annatto (I didn't) and calcium chloride (I did).


2 gallons of Nubian goat's milk

My method of indirect heating



I added calcium chloride because my milk had been refrigerated for 2 days

2.  Add culture



3.  Add rennet



4.  Let set for 30 minutes until the curd is ready to cut



5.  Cut the curds into 3/8 to 5/8" pieces.



6.  Increase the temperature to 102F over a period of 30 minutes.



7.  Stir the curds at 15 minute intervals over a period of 1 - 1.5 hours.



8.  Test the curds for the proper resistance.



9.  Drain in a colander lined with butter muslin for 30 minutes.



10.  Add salt in two separate doses.



I used my fingers to distribute the salt.

11.  Pack the curds into the mold.





12.  Press for an hour at 10 pounds.



You can see how little space this takes up in my tiny kitchen.


My hands were too full with the first flip to take a picture.

13.  Press for 3 hours at 25 pounds.

Things were looking up at this point, but you can see that it still needs some coagulation.

14.  Press at 50 pounds for 18 hours.

There are a few minor indentations from the cheese cloth, but the curds are fully compressed.

I trimmed off that little bit of rough edge with a knife.

15.  Wax or bandage your cheese.  I chose to bandage mine using red palm oil to adhere the bandages to the cheese.

You may not be familiar with this healthy oil.  I love the taste and the bright color, so I thought I'd experiment with using it here.

I sanitized the butter muslin first.

I traced the follower to make the end pieces, leaving 3/4 inch extra all the way around.

I followed Jim's directions, pressing after both ends, then rolling on the side piece and pressing overnight. (It was too hard to take pictures when I was handling the cheese, but you can see the oil leaking out of the bottom of the press.)

I used butter muslin, so I only needed to do this once.  (Some folks who use cheese cloth, do it all twice.)

It looked so pretty!

16.  The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 80-85% moisture.



My cooler stays at 50F for two days, then I switch off the ice pack with 2 bottles of frozen water.

The first day, the lid got moisture on it, but I wiped that off.  My plan is to add a little water to the bottom of the preserver after the first week, to keep the humidity up.

17.  The cheese can now be aged for 4-6 weeks (or more) - just in time for the holidays.

*  On the lid it says, "Sanitary Cheese Preserver, Remove Lid Daily, Directions:  Place one third pint vinegar and one tablespoon full salt in bottom, slightly diluted with water.  Patent Applied For."

This is the first in a series of posts with gift ideas for the holidays; to see the second one in this series, click here, and for the third, click here.