As a pastry chef, I tend to chase textures. Unlike a savory chef, who has a wide array of nature-made textures at their disposal, for example, the range of textures in fish and meat, or raw vegetables, pastry chefs have to create the textures they work with.
Where as a savory chef can use nuts, raw carrots, endive, potato chips, seeds, apples, lettuces, if they want something with a crispy mouthfeel, for the most part, we have to construct it. The ingredients we rely on, flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk, and cream, can’t simply be applied to heat and placed on a plate.
Instead, we begin the technique driven process of combining these ingredients in precise ratios and exquisitely practiced sequence to come up with a texture we desire.
You’ll often find me asking our cooks to stretch their brains when discussing texture- what’s nutty without being a nut, what’s creamy without being cream. And you’ll find us geeking out over that crispy element we can’t quite put our finger on in another chefs dessert. Is it feulletine? Puffed rice? Shattered caramel? We subtly ask, pry a little, or out right beg them to tell us. Years ago, stumped by a crispy fruit element on one of Brooks Headley’s desserts at Del Posto, he told me with a sly look, it was dried cantaloup rehydrated in versus, knowing I never would have guessed.
When developing desserts, we ask ourselves how crispy can crispy be? How creamy can creamy get?
Currently, I have chased a cheesecake to it’s creamiest by destroying it all together. It feels a little like the private joy of stomping on your own sandcastle, but when I pull a cheesecake from the oven, I immediately scrape it into a food processor and puree it into hot, velvety oblivion.
The molten cheesecake is then poured into a crust, where it sets in the refrigerator into the creamiest cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. This method started with ice cream, as I pureed baked cheesecakes to be added to ice cream bases. Once I tucked the cheesecake puree away in the refrigerator and inspected the resulting texture, it became clear this super smooth cheesecake could be so much more.
Over the years we have filled macarons and sandwich cookies with cheesecake puree, smeared it on plates, tucked it into mousses, layered it between cakes, and when no one is looking, spread it on the tail ends of banana bread for kitchen snacks.
This month, a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie at Publican Quality Meats marries this pureed cheesecake with fall pumpkin and it’s requisite spices. Set in a brown butter-hazelnut pie shell this twist on the classic squash pie is mounded with whipped cream once set.
Over at The Publican, we are whipping pumpkin cheesecake puree with buttermilk, and nesting a brown sugar pavlova in it. Whipped cream sweetened with the caramelized goats milk called cajeta crowns the meringue, while a drizzle of Steens molasses and pecan toffee flurry about the plate.
I highly encourage you to partake in this method, carefully constructing a crustless cheesecake, then completely ruining it to watch the creamiest cheesecake you’ve ever tasted rise like a phoenix from the ashes.