Sweet labne cheesecake

I regularly daydream about flavour combinations. I do it whilst driving, walking to work and even in the shower (too much information? Sorry!). A dozen different ways of using a single ingredient often leap into my mind. If only I had time to cook it all and/or had more people to feed.

Love the crunchy biscuit nubbins

Love the crunchy biscuit nubbins

Although I’m critical of my own creations, I love being invited for a homecooked meal. Most of my friends aren’t really into cooking so those days are few and far between. I hope that no one is ever too intimidated (there’s nothing more daunting than cooking for someone you perceive to be a better cook) by my cooking enthusiasm to invite me over!

I’d been mulling over these deconstructed cheesecakes in my mind for ages and an afternoon tea party I threw last month was the perfect excuse to make them. Instead of cream cheese or marscapone, I chose to use labne as the creamy element.

Labne (labneh) is a kind of strained yoghurt cheese that is ready in a few hours or a day or two, depending on how firm you want it. Marinated labne balls in olive oil, garlic and herbs are a wonderful addition to any mezze plate. For the cheesecakes, I made a sweet labne which I’d never tasted before but was confident would turn out well. Labne recipes often tell you to use muslin or cheesecloth for straining but I used an ordinary Chux kitchen cloth (Brand new! Rinsed several times first!). So really, use what you have and just make sure it’s very clean.

For a very creamy texture and to soften the tang, I added a small amont of double cream to the plain, unsweetened Greek-style yoghurt but you can use pure yoghurt if you want to keep that very natural flavour. I think you can play around with the proportions easily so adjust for your own tastes. As the biscuits are sweet enough, I added very little sugar so you can appreciate the contrast between the labne and everything else.

Flecked with vanilla and lemon zest

Flecked with vanilla and lemon zest

I scraped in the seeds of half a vanilla bean, some lemon zest and a tablespoon or so of icing sugar (powdered sugar) into a yoghurt-cream mixture and then strained it for a few hours. That’s all it takes for a lovely labne that’s creamy yet light. Crushed buttery biscuits (cookies), some macerated strawberries and you have a wonderful dessert that makes minutes to assemble. I macerated the strawberries in black raspberry infused vodka but limoncello would also be great. Otherwise, omit the alcohol if you’re serving to children or teetotalers.

You can assemble these up to 3 hours before serving. Any longer and the biscuit crumbs can get a bit too soggy.

You can assemble these up to 3 hours before serving. Any longer and the biscuit crumbs can get a bit too soggy.

Next time I’d probably pipe the labne into the glass jars so it looks a little prettier. But the beauty of being deconstructed is that it’s meant to look a bit messy! Basically it’s fantastic for those of us that aren’t so keen or talented at cake decorating and fiddly work. The resulting ‘cheesecakes’ combine nubbly biscuit crumbs, sweet seasonal strawberries and the lemon-vanilla scented labne for a fun dessert without having to use the stove, oven or any appliances.

For that alone, I love it. Who doesn’t like a brilliantly lazy summer dessert?

Feeds: Six-eight people (note that it’s a small dessert)
Start cooking: 3 hours before eating (to allow for straining time)

Sweet labne cheesecakes

Ingredients:

  • 400 grams x plain Greek style yoghurt
  • 160 grams x double cream
  • 40 grams x icing sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1/2 x vanilla pod
  • Zest of one unwaxed lemon
  • 10 x plain biscuits, lightly crushed
  • 250 grams x fresh strawberries, hulled
  • 2 tablespoons x berry vodka/limoncello (optional)

Method:

  1. In a bowl, combine the yoghurt, double cream, lemon zest and icing sugar. Split the vanilla pod and scrape in the seeds into the mixture and fold through.
  2. Place a clean cloth (muslin, new kitchen cloth etc) into a colander which is resting over a bowl. Pour the yoghurt-cream mixture into the middle of the cloth and bring the sides of the cloth together to tie and contain the mixture.
  3. Place the colander and bowl into the fridge and leave to strain for 2 hours.
  4. In the meantime, slice your strawberries into small pieces. It’s more dainty if they’re small but leave them large if you’re aiming for a rustic result. Macerate in alcohol if desired or otherwise stir in a teaspoon of sugar to encourage some juice to exude from the fruit.
  5. Lightly crush the plain biscuits so there’s a mixture of fine crumbs and larger pieces of biscuit.
  6. After you’ve strained the labne, you’ll notice a murky liquid under the colander. This is the whey seeping out and it’s great for baking with! Use it as you would buttermilk for cakes or muffins with a light crumb.
  7. When assembling cheesecakes, fill your ramekin or glass jar with a teaspoon of biscuit crumbs, macerated strawberries and sweet labne. Continue until you’ve used up all of your ingredients. I like to finish it with a dusting of biscuit crumbs on top. Chill cheesecakes in the fridge until ready to serve (can be made a day ahead but is best served within 24 hours before the biscuit can get soggy).
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