Sweet Shavuot cheese pies

A wide variety of choices for a dairy holiday.

Cheese pie 370 (photo credit: mct)
Cheese pie 370
(photo credit: mct)
During the years I studied cooking in Paris, I savored some tasty cheese tarts. My favorite kind of sweet tart was baked in a buttery pastry shell and filled with a lightly sweetened mixture of crème fraiche blended with eggs and a creamy white cheese that was similar to rich Israeli gvina levana.
For Shavuot, when treats made of dairy foods are traditional, such light-textured cheese pies are perfect.
They can be made with cottage cheese as well. A popular technique when preparing the filling is to first drain the cottage cheese of its liquid in a strainer. This is what the author of Sweetie Pies, Patty Pinner, does. She bakes the filling of drained cottage cheese mixed with evaporated milk, melted butter, sugar, instant vanilla pudding mix, vanilla, nutmeg, egg yolks and whipped egg whites in a flaky pie crust.
Pressed cottage cheese is also the choice of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, authors of Home Baking, for making Irish curd pie, “an old culinary treasure that has been revived.”
The moist filling of cheese mixed with softened butter, lemon zest, vanilla sugar, egg yolks and beaten egg whites is poured into a shell of simple pie dough. It is baked with a topping of melted butter mixed with beaten egg, sugar and flour, which forms a crust on the pie. This cheese pie is served hot or at room temperature.
Cheese and fruit make a popular pairing in dessert pies. In their new book, An Apple a Day, Karen Berman and Melissa Petitto bake an apple and golden raisin tart with a cheesecake-like topping. The tart’s slightly sweetened pastry base is easy to make; it is simply pressed into a tart pan. (See recipe below.) To make individual cheese and apple tarts, Berman and Petitto marinate diced apples with apple brandy, and bake them with a topping of sweetened mascarpone custard flavored with lemon juice and zest and covered with a generous sprinkling of sliced almonds. These pies remind me of French custard fruit tarts, sometimes called Alsatian tarts, which bake with a rich custard made with cream or whole milk instead of cheese.
For an unusual cheese pie, you might try a savory and sweet double-crust pie from the 1500s, which has a buttery sweetened dough flavored with cinnamon and rose water. Its filling is composed of equal weights of Parmesan cheese and sugar blended with farmer cheese, buffalo mozzarella cheese, chopped cooked carrots, melted butter, eggs, mint, marjoram, grated nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and candied orange peel. The recipe for this pie is in Anne Willan and Mark Cherniavsky’s award-winning book, The Cookbook Library, and is based on a recipe from a book by Bartolomeo Scappi that was published in Venice in 1570.
Instead of using pie dough, you can make cheese pies with a more substantial yeasted dough crust, as Alford and Duguid do for their ricotta pie. They cover the dough with sweetened ricotta cheese mixed with eggs, vanilla and cinnamon, sprinkle it with a crumbly streusel of butter blended with sugar and flour and bake the pie in a buttered skillet.
If you’d rather not make pastry, you can make a cheese pie with a crust of toasted slices of sponge or pound cake cut to fit in the pan. Marcy Goldman, author of The New Best of BetterBaking.com, uses such a crust in her layered cream cheese-apricot tart. She covers the toasted cake crust with a blend of cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and a little flour. After baking the mixture, she pours sweetened sour cream mixed with eggs, flour and vanilla over the tart and bakes it until this second layer sets. She chills the tart and serves it topped with drained canned apricot halves brushed with warmed apricot jam.
Easiest of all might be the no-bake strawberry-nectarine-cheese pie recipe that I got from my mother’s friend, the late Rebbetzin Betty Solomon, who was known for her good cooking in their Jerusalem neighborhood. The pie’s filling of cream cheese blended with sour cream, vanilla and lemon is topped with fruit and brushed with jelly, and makes a colorful dessert for Shavuot. (See recipe below.)
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations.THE REBBETZIN’S STRAWBERRY-NECTARINE PIE WITH CREAM CHEESE FILLING
When you need a quick dessert for Shavuot, you can make this pie with a crust of crushed cookies instead of baking a pie shell. Then all you need to do is spoon the vanilla-flavored cream cheese and sour cream filling into the shell, top it with slices of any tender fresh fruit you like, and brush it with the shiny jam glaze. If you like, you can make this pie with cheese and sour cream that are lower in fat.
Makes 6 servings
225 gr. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened 6 Tbsp. sugar 1⁄4 cup sour cream 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract 1 tsp. lemon juice 1⁄2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest 1 23-cm. (9-inch) pie crust or crust made from crushed cookies 2 cups small or medium strawberries 1 1⁄2 cups nectarine slices 6 Tbsp. redcurrant jelly 2 tsp. water 2 tsp. fruit brandy (optional)
In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric beater until smooth. Beat in the sugar, followed by the sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour into the crust. Refrigerate the pie, uncovered, while preparing the fruit.
Rinse and hull the strawberries and pat them dry. Halve them lengthwise. Arrange the nectarine slices on top of the cream cheese filling, at the outer edge of the pie. Cover the center with strawberry halves, cut side down.
In a small saucepan, melt the jelly with 2 tsp. water over low heat, stirring often. Off the heat, stir in the fruit brandy. Cool the mixture slightly. Brush or spoon the jelly over the fruit pieces, then in the spaces between them.
Refrigerate the pie about 30 minutes or until ready to serve.
This fruit tart, which is baked with a cream cheese topping, is from An Apple A Day by Karen Berman and Melissa Petitto.
Makes 8 to 12 servings
Pastry: 1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour 110 gr. (4 oz. or 1⁄2 cup) cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces 1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar 1⁄8 tsp. salt
Filling: 2 large Fuji or other sweet apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced 1⁄4 cup golden raisins 2 Tbsp. apple brandy, such as Calvados 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
Topping: 225 gr. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened 1⁄2 cup granulated sugar 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 2 large eggs 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 190ºC (375ºF).
To make the pastry, place the flour, butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 5 to 7 times or until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is incorporated. Do not over-process. Press the pastry into a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
To make the filling, overlap the apple slices on top of the pastry, creating a concentric design. Sprinkle the raisins, apple brandy and sugar over the apples.
To make the topping, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, eggs and vanilla with a handheld mixer until blended. Pour the topping over the apples.
Bake for 40 minutes. Cool and refrigerate before serving.