Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ingredient: CREAM CHEESE

As crazy as it may sound, Philadelphia was once the culinary epicenter of America. Well, we are talking about the late 19th century, a time when people went bananas over zippers. But yes, it’s true, Philadelphia’s reputation for great food led a soon-to-be-very-famous New York State based cream cheese maker to name his brand Philadelphia. That brand became so famous, in fact, that in Spanish one word for "cream cheese" is "queso Filadelfia."

When you really think about it, cream cheese is a funny thing. It’s meant to be eaten fresh, like Mascarpone, not aged, like Brie. The addition of modern stabilizers gives it a questionably long shelf life. It’s sold in a block or a tub, next to the sour cream and Ready Whip, not the feta or the cheddar. You can find cream cheese in almost any supermarket, meaning it's extremely popular, yet almost everyone who’s buying it is planning on eating it in just one scenario (because how many people are making their own cheesecake?) So if you’re ever reaching for cream cheese at the same time as another shopper, feel free to give them a knowing nod that says, “Mmm…bagels.”

Despite its status on the outskirts of real Cheesedom, I love cream cheese. And why not? Recipes for cream cheese can be found from 17th century France. While my dog will only eat the fat-free version, I love all kinds: full fat, plain cream cheese, vegetable cream cheese, cream cheese with salmon. I’m not ashamed to say that you can occasionally find me eating scallion cream cheese even in the absence of bread. Why? Because cream cheese is salty and tangy, moist and creamy. It also fits into the category of “things that can be spread on bread” which means I just love it.

And in case you were wondering, cream cheese is the main ingredient in Crab Rangoon, that awesomely old school Chinese-American appetizer in which cream cheese, imitation crab and scallions are deep fried in wonton wrappers.

Shone’s Carrot Cake

Shone is my aunt, though we’re not actually related by blood. I spent half my childhood with her and her daughter Robin, usually on the way to visit some old house or destination garden on the East Coast. Over the years I learned quite a bit-- not by choice but because I’d be stuck with the adults when my older sister and Robin ran off and I was forced to listen to the advantages of growing Azaleas or the archetypal architecture of Coastal Connecticut.

Something I enjoyed more was spending New Years Day at her house. I went every year until I got old enough to enjoy New Years Eve (at which point New Years Day becomes a dead zone and the new year ostensibly doesn’t start until January 2nd.)

On New Years Day, Shone always served this carrot cake, which I love for its dense, spicy crumb and visible shreds of carrot. She grew up in Hawaii¸ which might explain the secret ingredient in this cake: pineapple. You won't actually taste the pineapple, but you will appreciate the extra moistness. The cream cheese frosting is delicious; tangy but sweet. It’s also the easiest thing in the world to make: put all the ingredients in the food processor and blitz until smooth.


For Cake:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 sticks (1.5 c) unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups grated carrots
½ cup canned crushed pineapple
1 cup raisins

For Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice

For cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 13 inch cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar, and white sugar. Add the butter and beat until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Gently stir the remaining ingredients.

Pour batter into baking pan (it will be rather thick) and bake for 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Let cool

For frosting:
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

Spread frosting over cake.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, came across your blog through serious eats. Like the way things are organized by ingredient. check out my homebrewing blog, it also gets into food/pairing, growing hops, and other beer related stuff.