Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mascarpone cheesecake (with rose-scented geranium water)

I’ve been looking back at recent posts and realize my blogging is skewing toward sweets. I think that’s due to a few factors: 1) I enjoy baking tremendously. I appreciate the combination of precision required to get the chemistry of baking right with the left-brain creativity associated with decorating and presenting baked goods; 2) baked goods are more fun (and easy) to share and therefore even more satisfying than cooking for two; and 3) they are easier to blog for a very practical reason which is that photographing a creation in natural light (a must) is much more difficult with a savory dish than a baked good. It requires either making something well ahead of dinner, or saving a portion to photograph the next day (and hoping that the refrigerator and time do not ruin the beauty of the just-cooked food). That said, I think I need to head back toward sweet and savory balance. That is, after this week’s post which I cannot resist. I’ve noticed others participating in the “weekend herb blogging” event for some time. It’s a food blogging event hosted by a different blogger each weekend and involves submitting a dish cooked with an herb or plant to the host blogger (this week's event hosted by Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once). I’ve parked the idea of participating in the event somewhere in the recesses of my mind and the idea rose (no pun intended) to the fore when I was introduced to a sumptuous mascarpone cheesecake recipe which contains rose water made from rose-scented geraniums. I had the cake on our trip down south and managed to wrangle the recipe out of the pastry chef.

Needless to say, there were many challenges in making the dish, not the least of which was locating rose-scented geraniums (and organic plants at that!) and making rose water. Apparently, rose-scented geraniums are simply not available in New York City (at least not in the fall). I was determined to get my hands on the plant vs. substituting with commercial rose water since the taste of the rose-scented geranium water was one of the main things that drew me to the dish. Commercial rose waters always strike me as overly floral and somewhat soap-like in flavor and, are, in my humble opinion, to be avoided at all costs. Unlike the former, fresh syrup made with rose-scented geranium leaves has a subtle, slightly intoxicating rose scent unlike any typical rose you have ever smelled. It lent a wonderful, sophisticated and unexpected flavor to the mascarpone cheesecake, which frankly would have been excellent with out it, but was special with it. I liked the idea of concocting a secret ingredient for the dish, and although highly inconvenienced by, what soon became an obsessive quest to track down rose geranium plants, I was nevertheless energized about my hunt and eager to learn more about this plant that I had never before heard of. After an aborted order with a rather rude vendor out of state, I finally found a nursery that not only had plants in stock but also carried numerous varieties of the plant. They were somewhat taken aback by my ignorance about all things rose geranium but worked with me to identify three different varieties of rose-scented geranium that might work well in a recipe. The plants that arrived were very small and planted in seedling pots but they had generously large leaves, each with its own take on a heavenly rose scent. I decided to mix leaves from the three varieties to make the syrup, which basically involved making a tea from the leaves, straining the liquid, and bringing it to a boil with sugar.

It turns out, rose-scented geraniums are not technically geraniums but rather members of the species Pelargonium. Pelargonium and geraniums are members of the same botanical family. There are over 230 varieties of scented "geraniums" with different leaves, sizes, flower colors and scents (or lack of scent) including rose, lemon, lime, apple, mint and ginger. These leaves are used not only in the kitchen to make syrup for flavoring baked goods (apparently rose syrup and pound cake are a classic), jellies (rose traditionally a flavor in apple jelly), and flavored sugar (by storing leaves in a sugar bowl), but also are used out of the kitchen to make perfume. It is the leaves, not the petals, that are scented, and they so fragrant that significantly fewer scented geranium leaves, for example, are required to add rose scent than rose petals would be. For more information, see additional information from the Herb Society of America.

Back to my cake, I made the recipe in stages over a couple of days so as not to become overwhelmed. I made the ginger snap crust (the dough of which would make a wonderful cookie) and the rose syrup one day, and the filling the next. There are some subtleties in the recipe that I definitely did not execute as well as the restaurant in which I had it: namely tempering the egg and sugar mixture into the mascarpone cheese – which initially resulted in a very lumpy mixture that I had to work hard to smooth out, and adding gelatin to sufficiently thicken the filling (I translated required sheets into powder which is all I had on hand and the final result was somewhat less firm than I would have liked – I’ll have to go back and try that again). But, the bottom line is that the cake came out rich and airy and had wonderful flavor due to the rose water and ginger snap crust. It’s a pretty little dish with figs that dress up the otherwise snow-white cake and it provided a Proustian remembrance of our trip.

P.s. I'm not going to post this recipe broadly as it might not be fair, but if you are interested, please let me know via email.


Helene said...

Absolutely divine! no kidding, that photo is heaven.

Anonymous said...

This cheesecake recipe is lots of work
The rose water gives it a kind of quirk.
Baskets of rose scented geraniums I had
From years gone by - they never smelled bad.
Your photos are always good as can be
Your writing is great - from you to me.
So please continue to bake and post
Your many recipes we'll continue to toast!

Anonymous said...

This was SO excellent -- I ate mine and a bit of someone else's -- very subtle and unique taste and very refreshing and light, unlike some desserts -- BRAVO -- R

Kalyn Denny said...

Very interesting, and I am quite impressed that you made your own rose syrup. Great photo, and welcome to WHB.

Sabra said...

Thanks guys. Thanks for the poem Larry! Thanks Kalyn for the warm welcome!

Anh said...

This is such an excellent cheesecake. And the photo, OMG, captures the lightness of the cake so well@

Anna (Morsels and Musings) said...

wow! this looks so inviting!

very impressive.

Anonymous said...

Lovely! I think I'll leave the full recipe to you and try the ginger snap idea. -A

Marianna said...

wow, that is absolutely superb!! in my family, we used dried geranium leaves in fishy-shrimpy dishes, it adds a wonderful twist!

Cheery said...

Could you give the link to the website of the nursery (if they have it)?

Sabra said...

Hi Cheery.
I unfortunately cannot recall the specific name of the place I bought them from but if you google "buy rose-scented geranium" or "buy pelargonium" quite a few results will turn up (that's how I found my resource). Good luck!

Marianna said...

Mmm gorgeous photos, looks so elegant...almost romantic and sounds so tasty! I dont know so many ppl who use geranium leaves, we always have some dried leaves in the kitchen and I personally tend to use it a lot for fish & seafood!

Marianna said...

Oh my goodness, this is how much I love your cheesecake that I realized I've already commented a while back!! Sorry!

Unknown said...

i read this and I died and went to heaven. I want to eat this now, it must of been divine

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