French Cream Heart (Coeur à la Crème)
This dessert has Valentines Day written all over it. The many Valentines Days I've been single and have longed to make this for somebody, in the end I decided 'fuck it, I want to eat it all to myself, no excuse required.' And I sure did that. I made it one bleak day in January and it was so good I finished the platter within the same day of serving - to myself.
Desperation aside, January isn't the prime time for this dessert, and neither is February for that matter. This tender, rich heart is full of pale, creamy love that would break many harts around a summer table. Serve it with fresh, sour berries that will punctuate it's comforting, vanilla sameness: raspberries work particularly well. Strawberries, when used in season, are sharp and wonderful alongside, cut into naturally-heart-shaped halves. Scooped out passionfruit would be a down-right tease of a dessert - save that for the hottest of dates.
So this is a French dessert - naturally - calling on natural ingredients and methods. I believe this dessert originated in the Loire Valley in France, but it's not unfamiliar in other regions of France when I've brought it up. Light a lot of France's best dishes, it is simple yet elegant, and its this simplicity, like in a lot of French dishes, that demands best quality ingredients that stand up to the spotlight. It's a farmhouse dessert, made with a mixture of fresh cream, smooth cream cheese, goats' cheese and a single, sweet note of vanilla bean.
Even as a cook who champions best quality - I tend to avoid using actual vanilla beans unless absolutely crucial. However this is one recipe - perhaps the only one too - that I strongly urge you to use an actual vanilla bean, not extract. Reason being, being a strained dessert, it will lose liquid, and by using a liquid vanilla extract, all of that supreme (and expensive!) flavour will be washed away along with it. By using actual vanilla bean, the dessert will have vanilla seeds suspended in it, which is pretty, have to mention, but will continuously infuse the creamy creation as it sits in the strainer.
Don't let the mention of a strainer put you off - it's completely undemanding work and you will have all the equipment at home already to do it. The ingredients are simply mixed together and scooped into a dish that is lined with cheesecloth, or muslin, or even a clean, white t-shirt! Traditionally a heart-shaped one, but a simple colander is fine. What I did was buy a cheap, silicone heart-shape cake mould online for about £3, and stabbed holes in into allow the liquid in the cheeses to strain out. It strains naturally, as it stands, without any effort from you. It's this straining procedure that reduces the dessert to a thick, intensely creamy sensation. Prepare to fall in love.
Coeur à la Crème
- 200ml Double Cream
- 150g full-fat Cream Cheese (must be full-fat)
- 150g of full-fat Soft Goats Cheese or Chèvre
- 3/4 tablespoons (40g) of Icing Sugar
- 1 Vanilla Pod
- Into a small bowl, add the double cream and whip to soft peaks, almost like Greek Yoghurt
- Prepare a large bowl. Take the vanilla pod, and using a small knife, make a slit right down the middle of the bean, running from top to bottom. Take a teaspoon, and from one end, firmly scrape down the bean, gathering up as much of the mushy, black vanilla seeds as you can. Place this black mulch into the large bowl.
- To the large bowl, add the cream cheese, goats' cheese and the icing sugar. Whisk vigorously until everything is smoothly combined and no lumps can be seen.
- To the large bowl, scoop in the whipped cream and gently fold in with a soft spatula, being careful not to squash or knock the air out of the cream. You can add about a third of the cream first and mix it in rough, this just makes it easier to fold in the rest of the cream. Still, it takes a few minute to fold in, but relax, continue gently until you can't see any more blatant streaks of cream. Admire the little flecks of vanilla bean in the mixture.
- Prepare the mould you're going to serve it in. You need to use something with holes for the liquid in the mixture to drain through. You can buy a cheap silicone mould online for £2/3 these days, and simply poke holes in it. If you're pushed for time, or just dying to make it, you can use an ordinary colander or a sieve. Line it with some sort of clean fabric: cheesecloth is best, or muslin, or a clean, white T-shirt is great (I promise you, it won't ruin it!) Make sure there are no creases or pleats in the fabric, as this will gash your desserts appearance.
- Scoop your mixture into the fabric-lined mould, making it as flat and even as you can on the top. Tuck any loose bits of fabric over the top of the dessert to cover it. Set it on a plate or dish - this will catch the drained liquid - and place it somewhere to chill for at least 12 hours, no less. Overnight is great. A fridge is best, though if you can't fir it in, placing it in a cool, dark room overnight would be fine.
- The next day, remove your mould from the fridge and place on a counter alongside a dish you intend to serve it on. Pull away any bits of fabric on the of the dessert, and place the serving dish upside down on top. Keeping the mound and plate together, invert them both so the serving dish is the right way up and the mould is upside down. Ease the mould off the dessert, leaving the fabric on. Once safely off, gently peel the fabric off the dessert, unveiling it in its pale, creamy glory!
- Serve the same day ideally, surrounded by fresh berries, or a simple berry sauce made from berries and honey heated together in a pan. Enjoy!