Its Spring! Although that means erratic rains in this part of the country, some days when its cloudy and very much like the monsoons back home, other days the sun is out, the air is crisp and you notice flowers, all kinds of them everywhere!
In this riot of colours, sometimes what stands out is a lone white flower, a calla lily perhaps? or a white gardenia with the dew still on its petals. Pure, simple, ethereal and beautiful in a totally non-showy way.
That's exactly what this dessert is like. It is also light, delicate, tender and fresh- perfect for spring.
Lebni, Labneh or Keffir cheese is a type of Mediterranean cheese, but it really is just strained yogurt.
You can very easily make it at home, although I was lazy and bought some from my neighbourhood grocer who happens to be Lebanese and stocks some delicious Mediterranean treats.
This tart is like a very light cheesecake. It has the texture and creaminess of cheesecake, without the heaviness and the guilt (oh the guilt!) The light custard is so good, I am planning on making it alone next time, because it really doesn't need the buttery crust, which only enhances it.This dessert is another masterpiece from the brilliant Alice Medrich.
If you've been here awhile, you'll know that I have a sort of obsession with Alice. I sat in the very front row of her class at the Ferry building last month. Since there was a huge crowd there to meet her, I won't be surprised if she even noticed me. On the other hand, I am worried that she did, and if she thinks of me as the potential stalker type girl who nodded her head vigorously at everything she said, and kept clicking photos of her every move and asking questions. I hope she does not have nightmares about me chasing her down dark alleyways.
Alice, if you read this (highly unlikely) I just want to clarify- after the class, when you went to get that sandwich at Boccalone, and I was right behind you, I swear I was not following you- I just really wanted to try their salumi cone (which is fantastic by the way) and was pleasantly surprised (as much as you were probably shocked) to see you there as well.
Yes I am obsessed, with your cookbooks- but I like to think my obsession is of a good, healthy sort and not neurotic. I just really like your thorough, fool proof recipes and hope it doesn't sound creepy when I say I love you.
So no, I will not chase you down dark alleyways- unless you happen to be carrying this Lebni tart.
I know that I had promised to lay off Alice and my favourite cook book for a while. Ah-ha! see, this recipe is not from Chocolat and the Art of low fat desserts from which I have already made and devoured the low fat chocolate mousse, truffles, and pound cake and, it is from her other book Pure Dessert, which focuses on the purity of fresh, seasonal ingredients and is simpler, lighter and a far cry from her over the top, decadent chocolate desserts from her previous books.Here, she describes the Lebni tart as a little "white dress" in the midst of ultra decadent desserts.
Recipe Source: Alice Medrich from her book Pure Desserts from here
(makes one 9.5″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or a 9 inch springform pan. I actually made only half the following recipe and used a 6 inch springform pan)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cups lebni (kefir cheese)
- It is usually found at specialty Mediterranean grocers or Whole Foods. If you can’t find Lebni, just buy greek or even regular whole mild yogurt and strain it overnight in your fridge over a cheesecloth or paper towel placed over a mesh that is kept over a bowl to catch the dripping liquid. For a step by step demo click here
Raspberry Sauce Topping Optional ( Not part of the original recipe-my addition)
- 1/4 cup raspberry preserve ( Make sure to use a good brand with real fruit- I usually pick up some very good preserves at the gourmet food aisle of stores like Marshall's where it's much cheaper and much nicer than the supermarket gloop)
- 1/8 cup water or as required to thin the preserve
In a saucepan over the stove or in the microwave, gently heat the preserve along with the water to lighten it to a sauce like consistency. Pour over everything!You can also use some of this and a cotton bud or a food grade brush to paint a pattern on your tart if you like.
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.
- In a medium bowl, combine the butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix just until well blended. If the dough seems too soft and gooey, let it stand for a few minutes to firm up either on the counter or in the fridge.
- Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up sides of a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with a removable bottom to make a very thin, even layer.
- This takes a little patience, as there is just enough dough; to avoid ending up with extra-thick edges, press the dough squarely into the corners of the pan.
- (I just used my fingers, but you can place a piece of plastic on top of the dough, and then to use a small rolling pin to roll the dough on top of the plastic. You have to push the dough gently, so that it covers the sides of the tart pan. In the case of a spring form pan, I just covered the bottom and not the sides, in the style of the cheesecakes)
- Place the pan on a cookie sheet.
- Bake the crust fully ( not par-baking) until is a deep, golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, checking after about 15 minutes to see if the dough has puffed up from the bottom of the pan.
- If it has, lift and gently slam the cookie sheet down to settle the dough, or press the dough down with the back of a fork and prick it a few times.
- Meanwhile, make the filling (at this point, Alice Medrich points out the importance of following the order in which these ingredients are mixed): In a medium bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar, salt, and vanilla. you can use a wire whisk for this, no need for an electric beater.Whisk in the cheese in the end.
- When the crust is ready, remove it from the oven and turn the temperature down to 300° F.
- Brush the bottom of the crust with a thin layer of the beaten egg yolk to moisture-proof it. Return the crust to the oven for 1 minute to set the yolk.
- Pour the filling into the hot crust and spread it evenly.
- Return the tart to the oven and bake until the filling is set around the edges but, when the pan is nudged, quivers like very soft Jell-O in the center, about 15 to 20 minutes. Check often in the last few minutes as over baking will destroy the silky-smooth texture of the filling.
- Cool the tart completely on a rack. Refrigerate if not serving within 3 hours.
- My notes: Even though I used a much smaller pan than the recipe called for, even after 10 mins the center was still very jiggly and seemed to not be done. However I heeded the warning to not overbake it. It does thicken a little while it cools although it still seemed liquidy to me. So instead of serving it, I put it in the fridge overnight and the next day it was much firmer, though still not as firm as a regular cheesecake.
- As with my previous unset tart experience, I think the best way to serve this would be as in individual mini tarts or tartlets instead of wedges- much less messier, though I am assuming the oven time would have to be reduced further so I think I'll have to start checking to see if it is set after even 5 mins or so.
Storage: It stays good in the fridge (covered) for a week
Dig into a light and refreshing end to a heavy meal! It has a slight tang and is not too sweet so for my sweet tooth I poured some of the raspberry sauce that I thought went very well with it. A drizzle of honey would have also been awesome. T loved it on its own and the next time I plan to make just the filling and bake it in individual ramekins as an even lighter pudding type dessert.
If you like tarts, check out my Chocolate Mocha Tart
If you'd like to read my previous encounters with the brilliant Alice Medrich and her recipes click here