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Flag-waving dessert options for chefs of every level

Thursday, July 03, 2003

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Patriotism is running high this week. Real flags wave from rooftops, poles, houses and cars. Every designer with an eye to target marketing has emblazoned Old Glory on jeans, shirts, underwear, purses and bathing suits. Even the hardware store is into flags with strings of twinkle lights in red, white and blue.

Red, White and Blue Cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crust is a delicious -- and patriotic -- way to add fireworks to your holiday celebration. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette, with food styling by Marlene Parrish)

Our interest never flags here at the PG Food department because we know home cooks are shameless when it comes to holiday decorating. So here are our Fourth of July picks.

Some recipes are artsy-craftsy, a few are old standards with a twist, and one serves a gang. All of them take advantage of the abundance of our most patriotic seasonal favorites -- strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

Red, White and Blue Cheesecake with Chocolate Cookie Crust

The top of a cheesecake is the perfect blank "canvas" for artistes in the kitchen. A big raspberry star stands in for the Grand Old Flag, but you can make circles or stripes with berries.

Many Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

Pie and pastry bakers, this one's for you. After the tart shell is baked, it is spread with a luscious mascarpone filling, then topped with a jumble of sweetened berries. But if baking scares you or you don't have the time, nobody will send you to jail if you take the easiest way out and buy supermarket spongecake shells, dividing the mascarpone cream and berries among the mini-cakes. In gourmet grocery stores, you also can buy ready-to-fill phyllo pastry cups. All versions are delicious.

Summer Berry Butter Cake

This cake, bursting with berries, is perfect for either a brunch or a picnic. Unadorned, serve it as a coffeecake, or dress it up with custard sauce, ice cream or whipped cream. Since this freezes well, make a couple of cakes when so many berries are in abundance at the farmers' markets.

King-Size Berry Tart with Ginger Cream

Talk about shock and awe. This puppy makes between 16 and 24 slices and is the personification of overkill. Which is why we love to make it.

Delegate this dessert to a detail-oriented cook, and maybe get a couple of older kids involved. You'll need help picking over the berries, rinsing them and patting them dry. Don't worry. You don't need a giant oven to make a king-size tart. The trick is to make it in quadrants or separate modules, baked one at a time and then "glued" with pastry cream.

Plan your pattern on graph paper before you start.

If you want to decorate this one like the Grand Old Flag, make a rectangle by adding two more sections of pastry in the middle, just like you'd add leaves to a table.

Before you begin to assemble the cream filling and berry topping, set up a table, such as a card table. Toss on a cloth, then find a board or platter where you'll work on the design and present it. (I used my mother's old bread board, which is 2 feet by 3 feet.) Once you start putting the tart together, don't even think about moving it.

Because the recipe uses packaged puff pastry, it's fairly simple to prepare. All quadrants of pastry can be prepared (but not baked) one day ahead and stacked in the freezer between sheets of parchment paper. Let each section stand at room temperature until no longer frozen solid but still firm, about 5 minutes, before baking.

The ginger cream can be made one day ahead and chilled, covered. And the assembled tart can be kept at cool room temperature for three hours before serving.

Red, White and Blue Cheesecake with Chocolate Cookie Crust

This star-centered favorite will be the star of the dessert table. For variety, make circles of berries instead of the star beginning at the center and working out, but be sure to brush the surface with syrup to glue the berries in place.

  • Crust:

  • 28 chocolate wafers, ground fine in a blender or food processor
  • (about1 1/2 cups crumbs)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling:
  • 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Bottled raspberry or blueberry fruit syrup
  • About 1 1/2 cups raspberries
  • About 1 1/2 cups blueberries

Make the crust: In a bowl stir together the cookie crumbs and the butter until the mixture is combined well, and pat the mixture onto the bottom and 1/2 inch up the side of a deep 9 1/2 inch springform pan. Chill the crust for 30 minutes.

Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the cream cheese until it is light and fluffy, add the sugar gradually, beating, and beat the mixture until it is combined well. Beat in the flour, add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the sour cream, the zests, the salt and the vanilla, beating the filling until it is combined well.

Pour the filling into the crust and place the cheesecake in a foil-lined shallow baking pan which will give it stability and make it easier for you to handle. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes. (The cheesecake will not be completely set; it well set as it cools.)

Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake stand in the oven with the oven door propped open (use a wooden spoon) about 6 inches until the cake is cooled completely.

Chill the cheesecake, covered, overnight. When ready to decorate, remove the side-ring of the pan. OR, if you are taking this dessert to a picnic or will carry it in the car, run a knife around the cake to loosen it. Remove the side-ring, wash it and put it back in place. Carefully remove it when you place your artwork on the dessert table.

How to decorate: Make a star template first. Trace a 9-inch, 5-pointed star onto white paper, and cut it out. Place the star onto the top of the cheesecake and trace its outline lightly with the point of a knife. Remove the paper.

Brush a little bottled berry syrup over the surface of the cheesecake. This will help the berries to stay in place.

Place raspberries at the tip of each point of the star, and place one in the middle. Then fill in the the star using the lines as a guide.

Place blueberries around the rim of the cheesecake. Now fill in the rest of the top of the cheesecake with blueberries keeping them as close together as possible.

Makes about 12 servings.

Gourmet, July 1993

Many Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

If you are not a baker, nobody will send you to jail if you take the easiest way out: Buy 2 six-packs of individual (strawberry shortcake) spongecake shells. Divide the mascarpone cream and berries among the mini-cakes. In gourmet grocery stores, you can also buy ready-to-fill phyllo pastry cups. The goal is making a yummy dessert, not getting a medal for effort.

  • Sweet pastry dough, enough to make a 9- to 11-inch tart or a 9-inch single crust pie

  • Pie weights or raw rice for weighting shell
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese (about 8 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup well-chilled heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups small strawberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons sweet orange marmalade
  • 2 tablespoons dark berry liqueur, such as Chambord or cassis

Make the shell: Roll out pastry and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with a removeable fluted rim. Prick bottom of shell all over with tines of a fork. Chill shell 30 minutes, or until firm.

Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights or raw rice. Bake shell in middle of oven 20 minutes and carefully remove foil and weights or rice. Bake shell until golden, about 10 minutes more, and cool comepletely in pan on a rack. Shell may be made 1 day ahead and kept in pan, loosely covered, at room temperature.

Make the filling and topping: In a bowl with a whisk or an electric mixer beat together mascarpone, cream, and sugar until mixture holds stiff peaks. Spoon mixture into shell, spreading evenly.

Quarter strawberries and in a large bowl combine with remaining berries. In a small saucepan simmer marmalade and liqueur, stirring, until reduced to about 3 tablespoons and pour over berries.

With a rubber spatula gently stir berries to coat evenly. Mound berries decoratively on mascarpone cream.

Tart may be assembled 2 hours ahead and chilled. Bring tart to room temperature and remove side of tart pan before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Gourmet, July 1998

Summer Berry Butter Cake

This cake, bursting with berries, is perfect for either a brunch or a picnic. Unadorned, serve it as a coffeecake, or dress it up with custard sauce, ice cream or whipped cream.

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 6 cups mixed berries (1 1/4 pounds) such as raspberries, blackberries and blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-by-2-inch metal baking pan, then line the bottom with wax paper and grease the paper. Heat butter with cream in a small saucepan over low heat until melted, then cool.

Beat eggs, granulated sugar and salt with an electric beater until mixture is thick, pale and forms a ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes with a standing mixer or about 12 minutes with a handheld. Add zest, baking powder and vanilla and mix on low speed until blended.

Add 1 1/4 cups flour and half of the butter mixture and mix on low speed until blended. Mix in remaining butter and 1 1/4 cups flour in same manner. Increase speed to medium and beat 1 minute with a standing mixer or 2 minutes with a handheld, or until batter is thick and sticky. Remove electric beaters and clean off clinging batter with your fingers, adding it to the batter in the bowl.

Add berries and carefully fold in with a rubber spatula until barely combined. Raspberries will begin to fall apart, and batter will look slightly pink.

Spoon batter into baking pan, gently smoothing top. Bake in middle of oven until springy to the touch and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack.

Run a knife around the edge of cake, then invert rack over cake and flip cake onto it. Remove wax paper and reinvert cake onto a serving platter.

Just before serving, dust with confectioners sugar. Makes 12 servings.

Gourmet, July 2000

King-Size Berry Tart with Ginger Cream

This square tart is fairly simple to prepare although it will take some planning and time. But isn't that part of the fun?

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 4 (17 1/4 ounce packages frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed but kept chilled
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger (4 ounces)
  • 2 pints strawberries (1 pound), hulled, then halved or quartered if large
  • 3/4 cup red currant jelly
  • 4 pints blueberries (2 1/2 pounds)
  • Garnish: confectioners' sugar
  • Special equipment: Parchment paper and a large flat board (at least 20 inches square) for serving.

Prepare the bake pastry in 4 quadrants: Stir together yolks and 2 tablespoons water for egg wash. Put a baking sheet in freezer.

Unfold 1 pastry sheet on a 12-inch square of parchment and brush all over with egg wash. Prick entire surface evenly with a fork.

Unfold a second pastry sheet on a cutting board and cut out a 1 1 /4-inch-wide right angle strip along 2 adjacent edges with a sharp small knife, reserving remaining square for another use.

Place right angle on one corner on top of two adjacent edges of pricked pastry to form first quadrant of tart. Transfer pastry on parchment to baking sheet in freezer and chill until firm, about 10 minutes.

Transfer pastry on parchment from freezer to cutting board and trim a 1/4-inch wide strip from all 4 edges using tip of small knife and a ruler and cutting all the way through pastry.

Make 1/4-inch long vertical cuts through double layers of edge about 1/2 inch apart. This helps the sides rise evenly.

Return pastry on parchment to baking sheet in freezer and chill until firm, but not solid, about 10 minutes more.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and heat another baking sheet on lowest rack in oven until hot, about 2 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven and transfer pastry on parchment from freezer to hot sheet.

Bake pastry on lowest rack of oven until puffed and deep golden brown, a little darker than usual so double edges are cooked through, about 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer pastry on parchment to a rack to cool.

Repeat procedure with remaining 3 packages puff pastry to make remaining 3 quadrants of tart.

Make ginger cream: Blend cream cheese and granulated sugar in a food processor until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth. Add ginger and pulse until finely chopped and mixture is combined well.

Prepare fruit and assemble tart: If very puffed, gently flatten inner parts of pastry (single layer) slightly with your palm. Fit quadrants together on a flat board to form a giant square tart shell, trimming inside edges of each quadrant slightly with a serrated knife to help quadrants fit together smoothly.

"Glue" inner edges together smoothly, then spread remaining ginger cream evenly over tart, leaving double edges as a border.

Arrange strawberries in a decorative pattern over cream. (Make a pencil sketch before you start.) Bring jelly to a boil with remaining 2 tablespoons water, whisking until smooth, then simmer glaze 1 minute.

Toss three-fourths of glaze with blueberries in a large bowl and spoon blueberries onto tart to cover cream between strawberries, mounding slightly. Brush strawberries with remaining glaze.

Gourmet, July 2002

Marlene Parrish can be reached at mparrish@post-gazette.com or 412-481-1620.

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