April 30, 2009

Magic or Meh?

You know I love the Barefoot Contessa. She gave me incentive to do a little baking with a recent show on shockingly simple danish. Well, they're more like cheese-filled croissants, really. When I think of 'cheese danish,' I think of those heavy, often figure-8 shaped pastries with the cream cheese filling (drool). These are like that...but...different.

Baking always intimidated me (mainly crusts/pastries) until I took a cooking class at the ICE (birthday gift from a friend). There, the teacher, while not the bubbliest sort, took the time to break down the science of WHY you do what you do when it comes to baking. She explained the butter/fat/water/flour ratio, and explained why it's so important to chill pies/pastries before popping them into the oven (you want your fat to be cold and solid, so when it melts in the oven, it creates the steam that makes the crust flaky) and sundry other things that until then, were a mystery. I dunno--something about the straightforward way she described it just set off the proverbial lightbulb over my head. We also made dishes with pre-made puff pastry, and my lord....it's as amazingly easy as it is dangerously delicious.

That's all you do in this dish--slowly cream together the sugar, cream cheese, ricotta, lemon zest, egg yolks, salt (never skip the salt!!), and vanilla, and spoon it into the pastry. Seal the pockets with an egg wash. A few reviewers suggest brushing the egg wash AFTER chilling, right before they go in the oven, and that's what I tried, too.

The results? For me? Mostly... meh.

Here's the thing...Ina touts the lemon zest as the 'magic ingredient' that makes this treat a standout. I beg to differ. I felt the lemon zest was overpowering. Next time, I'm going to skip the zest, and use almond extract instead of vanilla. I think those will be the REAL magic ingredients.

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