Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Yoghurt to cream cheese

I’ve been dying to have a crack at Maida Heatter’s Polka Dot Cheesecake, but can’t come at shelling out for a kilo of Philly. That’d be twelve hard-earned dollars hanging on a creation that I could stuff up, very easily. 

To turn to Google with "how to make your own cream cheese" reveals that, for some people, to make what I would call labneh is also to make cream cheese. I’ve made labneh before and know it to have a tarter taste than Philly, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

First, I make yoghurt, about which much DIY opinion and technique is out there thanks to people who have done a lot more research than I have, but I’m with Madhur Jaffrey. Suffice to say that I bring whole milk (usually bog-standard Pura, though organic, sheep’s or goat’s milk works too if feeling artisanal or prosperous) to a scalding point where it forms a skin that starts to rise with tiny bubbles, then I turn off the heat and go away and do something else and let it cool down to about 40 C, trying not to forget completely about it.

Then it goes into a jug along with a couple of dollops of the previous batch of yoghurt as a starter, plus a good half-cup or more of whole milk powder to help thicken it (saw this tip online – it never ends up as neatly scoopable as Jalna pot-set-type yoghurt, but it definitely helps), is briefly stirred up, and poured into a prewarmed wide-mouthed thermos, and left to form good bacteria or some such for at least eight hours, though I’ve let it go up to 24 hours without serious known consequences. I think it just gets sourer the longer left to its own devices after eight hours, without getting any thicker.

Or yoghurt could be bought, though since I’ve started making it myself it’s pained me sore to have to buy six dollars’ worth of Jalna from the shop if it so happens we run out – it took some time before the consequences of completely using up the current batch penetrated the household consciousness. Words were had.

Anyway, so to make labneh/cream cheese, the yoghurt is scraped from the thermos into a bowl lined with a length of muslin (or Chux). The ends are scooped up, knotted loosely and hung from something over a bowl. A wooden spoon through cupboard handles works for me. The bundle drips gently for at least four hours, or overnight, or all day while at work.* And that is it.

Lo and behold, it forms a lovely solid-ish mound with the weave of the muslin imprinted in it.

 *The cup or two of whey that collects in the bowl below can be used in place of water in  breadmaking, or as a stock in cooking rice. It’s meant to be highly nutritious, and once you’re past the first sourness, is actually not that bad to gulp down as is and imagine it doing you good. Plus there’s the smugness of using up everything. It can at least go in the cats’ bowls before ditching, or be stuck in the fridge for later reference, where it can last a few weeks – even months, some do say.
Draining 750mL yoghurt yields 250–300g cream cheese/labneh. So this cheesecake needs a series of batches over a few days, as I’m limited by thermos size. On the one high-thirties day we’ve had this so-called summer, I made up yoghurt with two litres of milk that I poured into litre glass jars rather than the thermos, and stuck outside wrapped in a towel. It worked well, though if the temperature had suddenly dropped partway through – another feature of this so-called summer – they would have been a goner.

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