Cheese Whisperer: Glorious Cream Cheese
Cream cheese is a comfort food and familiar friend to many a cheese lover. It’s commonly encountered on bagels, as icing on carrot cake and in omelettes, mixed with garlic and herbs. Cream cheese is a staple ingredient for many of our Co-op Deli spreads, including the ever-popular Smoked Salmon Spread, Bacon Asiago Dip and Jalapeno Archichoke Spread. If you haven’t tried any or all of these spreads, you certainly should.
We stock a great selection of different natural cream cheese here in the Co-op’s Cheese Department, including several standouts: Organic Valley’s Cream Cheese and Neufchatel Cheese, Sierra Nevada Cheese’s Farmstead Organic Cream Cheese and Nancy’s Cultured Cream Cheese. We also stock Tofutti Cream Cheese for dairy-free folks.
So what exactly is cream cheese? Cream cheese is made from a blend of pasteurized cow cream and milk with lactic acid bacteria to start fermentation and add a tangy taste. This soft, mild flavored cheese has a high moisture content that concentrates the fat and protein to give it a spreadable and, well, creamy texture. It is typically enjoyed fresh, usually when aged only a few weeks. Thought to have originated in Europe, cream cheese is referenced in cooking manuals as early as ancient Greece and Rome.
American-style cream cheese was first popularized in 1872 by dairy farmer William Lawrence in upstate New York, when he tried to reproduce a type of spreadable French cheese called Neufchatel (similar in flavor and texture). Lawrence accidentally doubled the amount of cream in the cheese and by 1880 Al Reynolds began distributing it in tin foil wrappers and under the Philadelphia Brand cream cheese. In the days before and since many small dairies and home cheesemakers have crafted and enjoyed artisan cream cheese.
Cream cheese holds a lot of potential in the kitchen, especially in recipes for dressings, sauces and soups. Use it in breakfast dishes to add a fluffy texture and zippy flavor. Add it to scrambled eggs or stuff french toast. And who can forget its dessert implications in cheese cake and cookies? Cream cheese makes a wonderful base for dips and spreads, and it’s easy to dress up. Or try adding canned or roasted pumpkin to cream cheese and sandwich it between two ginger cookies for a festive mini pumpkin pie. Simply add your favorite herbs, vegetables or smoked meat or fish. Then generously apply to toasted pita bread, rice crackers or the ever-popular bagel.
Notes: Not quite cheesecake, this decadent creamy berry dessert can also serve as a tasty breakfast. Use fresh or frozen berries. Recipe adapted from BBC Food website.
- 4 oz. butter, softened
- 8 oz. powdered sugar
- 2 free-range eggs
- 8 oz Nancy’s organic sour cream
- 1 organic lemon, zest and juice
- 10 ½ oz self-rising flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 6 oz. total of blueberries, blackberries and/or strawberries
- For the cream cheese topping:
- 2 oz. butter, soft
- 8 oz. powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 8 oz. Nancy’s organic cream cheese
- 1-2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 oz. total of blueberries, blackberries and/or strawberries
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and line a rectangular baking tin approximately 10½ inches x 8 inches.
- Beat butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Stir in the sour cream, lemon juice and zest, flour and baking powder until well combined, then carefully fold in the berries.
- Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, and set aside until completely cool.
- Meanwhile for the cream cheese topping, beat the butter and icing sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese and lemon juice, then spread over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with additional berries and dust with icing sugar.
Posted by Claire