Today marks Recipe Redux’s first birthday, and to celebrate, we’re all making small bite desserts. Recipe Redux was started by a group of dietitians, and each month a group of healthy food bloggers post the recipes they’ve created, all stemming from a single monthly challenge.
Those of you who know me in real life likely know that dessert isn’t my favorite course, and I’m much more likely to spend my time in the kitchen on something savory and satisfying instead of sweet and luxurious. So coming up with a tasty dessert bite was a bit of a challenge. Given my culinary proclivities, it’s no surprise that what I ended up with is a small bite leaning heavily on cheese and fruit. The idea here is pretty simple, and it’s a good party appetizer because so many of the elements can be made individually and made ahead of time. A classic shortbread dough is shaped into a tiny tart shell, then filled with ricotta cheese and macerated strawberries (though practically any fruit would do just as well).
But the absolute genius part of this recipe is what I came up with for the ricotta cheese: it’s homemade and infused with mint. It’s delicious, and I’m so excited to share it here! I’ve been making homemade ricotta for a few years, and it isn’t all that challenging. The only special equipment you need is cheesecloth, which can be bought at a grocery store or hardware store for around $2-3. One purchase will get you through several rounds of cheese making. After that, it’s as easy as boiling water (or milk, in this case), and draining. The brilliance of this particular recipe is that I added a good handful of mint leaves to the milk before I brought it to a boil, and the flavors and scent of the mint leaves perfume the final product. Strawberries and mint go so well together; this one simple addition helps elevate the entire dessert.
I’ve loved spending the last few months developing healthy recipes for these posts. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked how I come up with the recipes I post on this site that are my own creation, and so often, dialogue with other cooks or challenges set forth in an online community help get my creative juices flowing. The Redux challenges or the Food52 contests have given me a lot of food for thought over the last few months, and the topics they throw out have resulted in some of my favorite recipes. I love recipe development, and I’m so glad I get to do it on a regular basis.
A few notes:
1. The shortbread tarts can be made a few days ahead of time and kept in a tightly-sealed container until ready for use. Same with the ricotta cheese: simply drain, transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate in a covered container.
2. If you don’t have a mini muffin tin to form the mini tart shells, you can line a baking sheet with parchment paper and form loosely cupped rounds instead. They’ll have a much wider center and probably hold a lot more filling, but there shouldn’t be any need to run out and buy special equipment if you don’t already have it.
3. Minimize the amount of time you handle the shortbread dough. The heat from your hands will start to melt the butter, making a mess of you and your shaped dough. Working quickly and efficiently should provide just the right amount of heat to get the dough in shape.
Mint-Infused Ricotta Cheesecakes in a Shortbread Crust with Macerated Strawberries
For the Ricotta (adapted from epicurious.com)
1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
16 large mint leaves
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Slowly bring the milk, heavy cream, and whole mint leaves to a boil in a large pot, stirring occasionally so the milk doesn’t burn or boil over. Remove the mint leaves with a slotted spoon, then add the lemon juice and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 2-5 minutes and stir as the curd separates out from the liquid.
2. Line a fine mesh strainer with 3 or 4 layers of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Once a good amount of curdling has occurred in the milk, pour the mixture of the cheesecloth and bowl to drain. Drain for 30-45 minutes (longer draining times will result in stiffer, less wet ricotta, shortening the draining process leads to more volume but a wetter final product). Set aside or store, covered, in the fridge.
For the Shortbread crust (adapted from MarthaStewart.com)
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1. Using an electric mixer or hand beaters on medium speed, cream the butter in a large bowl for about 3 minutes, until fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat another 3 minutes. Add the flour and salt and continue to mix until the flour is just incorporated.
2. Heat the oven to 325-degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan generously with cooking spray or olive oil. Form each mini tart by scooping a scant 1 Tablespoon of the dough and forming it into a ball in your hands. Flatten the ball into a flat oval and use the base of your thumb to make a curved indentation. Gently tuck each round into the mini muffin tin molds — no need to force them in: simply layer them over each opening and let gravity do most of the work. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the shortbread is golden but not overly brown. Remove each cup from the tin gently (I found sticking a tooth pick around the edges released the tarts from the pan and gave me some leverage for gently lifting them up without damaging the crust).
For the Macerated strawberries
1/2 quart of strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
2 Tablespoons of sugar
1. Combine the strawberry slices and sugar in a bowl and allow to sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Putting it all together:
Scoop a generous teaspoon of ricotta into each of the mini shortbread tarts. Top with the macerated strawberries, letting some of the juices run into the ricotta and tart base.