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Curtis Stone's strawberry and almond cheesecake

"I've made all kinds of fancy cheesecakes in my time, but nothing really beats the classic combination of strawberries and almonds with a boost from vanilla bean," says Stone. "I could just pile macerated strawberries on top, but why not give your tastebuds a proper party by folding grilled strawberries into the cheesecake batter too? Cheesecakes are elegant and my go-to for celebrations because they taste best when whipped up a day in advance."

Crostata di marmellata


You'll need

180 gm “00” flour, sifted (see note) 60 gm pure icing sugar, sifted 50 gm almond meal 1 lemon, finely grated rind only ½ vanilla bean, scraped seeds only 100 gm butter, coarsely chopped 1 egg, plus 1 yolk, beaten To serve: double cream or mascarpone   Rhubarb jam 800 gm rhubarb, trimmed 800 gm caster sugar 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped 1 lemon, halved, wrapped in muslin

Method

  • 01
  • Combine flour, icing sugar, almond meal, lemon rind and vanilla seeds in a bowl. Add butter and rub with fingertips until coarse crumbs form (1-2 minutes). Add egg, mix until just combined (do not overwork), then shape into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  • 02
  • Meanwhile for rhubarb jam, peel tough outer layers from rhubarb, cut into 2cm-pieces and combine in a large saucepan with remaining ingredients. Stir occasionally over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then increase heat to medium-high and bring to the boil. Stir frequently, to prevent mixture catching on the bottom of pan, until it begins to form a gel on the back of a spatula or wooden spoon (40-50 minutes). To test setting point, remove jam from heat and spoon a little onto a chilled saucer, return to freezer for 30 seconds, then push edge of jam with your finger. If it wrinkles and is quite stiff, it’s ready. If not, cook for another few minutes and test again. Cool completely before using. Makes about 400gm. Rhubarb jam will keep for up to 2 weeks.
  • 03
  • Preheat oven to 170C. Roll dough to 5mm thick, then use to line a 24cm-diameter tart tin, trimming edges to fit. Roll out scrap pastry and cut into 1cm-wide strips to use as lattice for top of tart and refrigerate until required. Fill tart with jam, spreading to edges, smooth top and create lattice pattern with pastry strips. Bake until golden brown (40-45 minutes). Cool completely on a wire rack, then serve with double cream or mascarpone.
Note “00” flour is a strong, fine flour used for making bread and pasta. If unavailable, substitute bread flour.

It seems there are two extremes when it comes to Italian sweets. There are the Rococo extravaganzas turned out by pasticcerie and then there are the home-made desserts: rustic, simple and uncomplicated. One of the simplest of these would have to be crostata di marmellata, a case of crumbly short pastry filled with jam and decorated with a lattice pastry top.

It’s all about getting the basics right. Pasta frolla is the sweet pastry dough of Italy, dating back to the late Renaissance. As with pastry-making anywhere in the world, each cook swears by their own recipe. Some versions call for whole eggs, others for yolks only; some swear a bit of lard is the secret to a tender crumb while others are adamant it’s only butter that should be used. Whatever the recipe, a certain lightness of touch is paramount, as is ample resting time.

Once you’ve got the pastry mastered, it’s a simple task to fill it with jam but it’s important to use a top-quality preserve. Don’t be tempted to cut corners and substitute whatever jam you happen to have in the pantry, unless you happen to stock the absolute top-notch stuff. Home-made jam is a better way to go and it’s a simple task to whip up some of your own.

Rhubarb’s natural tartness is perfect for this recipe because it prevents the crostata from being cloyingly sweet, but you can use any fruit in season and follow your favourite jam or marmalade recipe.

The trickiest part of this crostata is the lattice top. Re-roll the pastry scraps left over from lining the tart tin and chill them well. Then work quickly to form the lattice, returning the pieces to the refrigerator if they become too soft to handle. Don’t get yourself all tied up in knots – this is a rustic dish, after all. Any imperfections can be disguised with a heavy dusting of icing sugar and a generous dollop of cream or mascarpone.


At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people

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