A mission like no other. An impossible task involving tedious work and argumentative discussions. How to convince the French that the cheesecake is one of the most wonderful and decadent American dessert ever created?
When describing cheesecakes to a Frenchie, Americans like to talk about a gâteau de fromage, which sounds horribly disgusting as a literal translation. Add to this the explanation that cheesecakes are made with cream cheese – or as translated to crème de fromage – and your French audience just fainted. The reason for such repulsion towards cheesecakes? Cream cheese is not sold in stores in France just like it’s never used in French cooking. In fact, the French don’t even know what it is. It’s a common American cooking ingredient that provokes fear – for the French, fear of the unknown and the idea of a sickening cake made with cream AND cheese. However, I seem to remember that since 2007-2008 La Grande Épicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché sells Philadelphia cream cheese. Small gourmet stores might sell it as well. Needless to say, it’s a rare item and terribly difficult to find. Secretly, friends living in eastern France will drive and cross the border to go buy cream cheese in German supermarkets. The crazy things we’ll do for cream cheese!
So how to describe a cheesecake? While made with cream cheese, it does not taste “cheesy”. Smooth, rich and yet easy to eat, cheesecakes are not usually strong if they are plain. If made with chocolate or topped with fruits however, they can melt on your tongue like butter as the succulence of the fruits explodes in your mouth. Sweet, slightly tart, tangy and creamy on top, it can be paired with a delicate pie or cookie crust. Flooding the senses with pure splendor, it leaves you longing for just one more bite. The taste of a cheesecake will soothe your soul gently but quietly and will make for a decadent scrumptious slice of heaven. That’s how cheesecakes taste like!
Parisians are slowly but surely getting into yummy American baked goods and are now treasure hunting the entire city for “real” cheesecakes and cup cakes sold exclusively in expensive bakeries and gourmet stores. It’s all the rage these days. The trick is to find an equivalent and comparable ingredient to cream cheese to get the same type of texture and taste. I’ve read that a mix of fromage blanc and petit-suisse - neither of which are sold commonly in the U.S. – or using St Môret spreadable cheese are possibly good ingredients to use for lack of cream cheese. To be determined and tested – I’m not convinced.
Special guest photographer: Damien Bordreuil for the photo of the purple flower-cupcakes (above)
And then… the fiadone came along. A Corsican classic. The most famous and popular of Corsican desserts. The fiadone is also called the Corsican crustless cheesecake; and although Corsicans won’t be too happy to hear this, it’s also been referred to as an Italian ricotta cheese torte – aka the Italian Easter Pie. The fiadone is probably the closest dessert to an American cheesecake you will find anywhere in France. Crustless and no more than an inch in thickness, the fiadone is made with a Corsican cheese called brocciu, which does not contain lactose. It is a whey cheese made from sheep or goat milk and could be easily replaced by fresh ricotta cheese or cottage cheese – or a mix of the two – if brocciu is not available by you. I prefer to use ricotta even though it does not bring out the tangier and more complex flavors of the brocciu but it is a close match.
Corsica is France’s Island of Beauty. Purchased secretly from The Republic of Genoa – now Italy – in 1764, it has been incorporated into France since 1770. It is one of those destinations the French keep secret by fear of attracting unwanted tourism and ruin the fun of being part of an exclusive paradise. Craggy mountains plunging directly into a deep blue sea, Corsica embodies this idea of an isolated beauty that a very small few will have the chance to explore once in their lifetime putting to shame any Caribbean island.
Aromatics such as myrtle, rosemary, lavender, rockrose and heather will forever haunt your sense of smell after walking through the dense forests or hiking in the mountains of the back country nuzzling through the bushes and trees for blackberries, chestnuts, figs and wild grapes. Rivers, natural ponds and lakes will offer cooling and refreshing baths during the scorching summer months. Snowy mountains in winter will make for picture perfect photos. And of course, the colorful coast and its yellow sunny beaches will allow for restful lazy days playing in the waves and napping on a beach towel.
The fiadone is lighter than a regular cheesecake, which is why Corsicans don’t mind eating it even during summer months. I could easily say that fiadone is as popular in Corsica as cheesecake is in America. And since cheesecakes have their own Holiday – July 30 as the National Cheesecake Day – here is my shoutout for the inclusion of the fiadone in this mid-summer celebration of sweet and creamy goodness.
Special guest photographer: Marc Santori for all 3 photos in this post featuring animals
Fiadone – Corsican Cheesecake
1.5 Tbsp (20 g) of melted butter
17.5 oz (500 g) of ricotta cheese
1 organic lemon
3/4 cup (160 gram) of sugar – up to 1.5 cup (300 g) if you like it sweeter
2 drops of vanilla extract
1 shot – about 1 Tbsp – of brandy (or replace with orange blossom)
Preheat your oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
In a bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with 2 whole eggs slightly beaten and 4 yolks. Reserve the 4 egg whites in a different bowl. Mix well.
Zest the lemon and drop lemon zest in the ricotta mix along with the sugar, the vanilla drops and the brandy. I use a Corsican plum brandy because I happen to find that the plum goes very well with the lemon.
Beat the egg whites with a hand mixer until firm – stop when you get stiff peaks. Fold them into the ricotta mixture.
Use a 10 inch (25.4 cm) springform pan. Add a round of parchment paper at the bottom. With a pastry brush, spread the melted butter at the bottom of the pan and on the sides. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes – or until a knife will come out dry from the cake. With my oven, it is an exact 45 minutes. The top of the fiadone should be golden brown.
Let it cool and place in the fridge. Serve cold or at room temperature.