Thursday, July 16, 2015

Medieval Makeover -- A Versatile Cheese Tart

The other day I was in a hurry.  I needed a dessert for company but I needed something that wasn't sweet.  I knew one member of the company preferred cheese and fruit at the end of his meal.  Also I wanted to try something different.

These thoughts came together to desiring something like a cheesecake but not too rich and with a good cheese flavor.

Okay, so I needed a crust.  I didn't want a pie crust; I was thinking more like a graham cracker crust.  But I didn't have any graham crackers!  So what can I do instead?  Bread crumbs!  Sweetened and spiced and buttered.

What about the filling?  I turned to a fun book, How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg, and Armor a Turnip by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook.  I have previously referenced the authors when I wrote about my Strawberry Tarte post and another on Icelandic Chicken.  Mr. Friedman is known in the SCA as Cariadoc.  By the way, as of this writing, the strawberry tarte post is one of the most popular at over 1000 page views.

ISBN 9781460924983
In the Milk an Almond book I found a recipe, "For Tarts owte of Lente" (page 42) which is basically a cheese filling between two pie crusts.  What I liked is that the filling was simple, without sugar or spices.  I hoped it would bake correctly without being encased in dough.

For a topping I had fresh strawberries and some delightfully tart pomegranate jelly. (Thanks to Mrs. R and her kitchen!)

That settled it:  I knew what I needed to do.  Now to figure out the details!

So I mixed bread crumbs with vanilla sugar and spices, then mixed that with melted butter until the mix held together when I squeezed some in my hand.  I patted that mixture into my rectangular tart pan.

Then I put cream cheese, eggs, butter, and milk into the blender and whirred it until it was smooth. I poured the filling into the crust, spilled a bunch of the filling while moving the pan into the oven, and baked it until it was light brown and set in the center.

Once the tart cooled I arranged strawberry halves on top and brushed the surface with melted jelly.  The whole thing went into the refrigerator until it was time to serve it.

I only had time to take a picture of the result
Success!  It was tasty and tart and only a little sweet.  The cream cheese flavor came shining through.  It was like a cheesecake but a simple and pleasant follow up to dinner.  The crust was a little crunchy, which was nice, and with enough sweetness and spice to make it interesting.

The last bit left; saved for my daughter!
This got me to thinking about other cheese and fruit combinations that might be good.  And then my daughter came home with a desire to cook and practice taking food pictures...

Our combined efforts produced a cheddar cheese tart with spiced apple topping.


Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

All the ingredients together:

Separate as specified

1 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
a few scrapes of nutmeg
1/16 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Mix the crumbs with the sugar and spices, then pour in the butter and mix until the crumbs stick together easily when squeezed in your hand.  You may need to add some extra butter to achieve this.

Pat into the tart or pie pan, trying to keep the thickness even along the bottom and remembering to press the crumbs up along the sides and into the corners.  Avoid making the crumbs too thick in the corners.  Set aside.

Push firmly

7 1/2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut in chunks
3 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
(note:  Cariadoc's recipe calls for 1 T butter and 1 cup cream, which I did not have.  So I used 1 cup reduced fat milk with one extra tablespoon butter.)

Place all the ingredients in a blender, close tightly, and blend until smooth. 

IMPORTANT:  Put the tart pan in the oven and then pour the filling into it, thus reducing the chance to spill it all over!

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is lightly brown and the center is set.

Allow to cool.

The spot in the middle is loose crust that floated upward.

2 tablespoons butter
2 medium apples, cored and chopped into chunks
1 tablespoon sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a few scrapes of nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Melt the butter in a pan and slowly saute' the apples in it.  As they are cooking, sprinkle on the sugar and spices and stir well.  If the mixture looks a little dry, pour a spoonful of water on it, stir, and then cover the pan to contain the steam.  

Note:  This makes heavily spiced apples, which my daughter and I both like.  If you don't like spices as much, reduce the quantities to as much as a half to make it more subtle.  We were thinking the spices would balance out the sharpness of the cheddar cheese.

Cook until apples are tender.  Let cool.
Pulling it all together

Once the tart and the topping are cool, spoon the apple mixture over the top, aiming for an even spread of apple chunks across the surface.  

More yum.
Put the whole thing in the refrigerator until well chilled.

The Verdict

Yes, it is good!  The cheddar flavor was luscious, the filling was not oily (as I worried it might be, using cheddar), and the apples were spiced strongly enough to balance off the cheese.  The crust had some crunchy parts, which complimented the smooth filling and tender apples.  Success!

In some ways, it was not as good as the cream cheese and strawberry version.  The cheddar made the filling denser, more like eating a piece of cheese rather than like a piece of cheesecake.  Perhaps replacing some of the cheddar with cream cheese would make that better.  The strawberries were the perfect accompaniment to the cream cheese flavor as they were juicy and sweet.  The apples were very good with the cheddar, however our taste buds were asking for smaller chunks and a wetter topping; more like chunky applesauce.  If we did this again, we would aim for that topping goal.

We also thought about other flavor combinations that might be good, like
  • blue cheese with fig jam
  • bacon bits in a cheddar filling with a caramelized onion topping
  • blue cheese with apricot jam
  • brie and fig jam
  • goat cheese and poached pears (use the ones poached in spiced wine, as in here?)
  • goat cheese with lemon curd, garnished with raspberries
I would adjust the spices in the crust to best match the flavor choices.  I might not even sweeten the crumbs at all, or just very lightly.

Let me know what you try!

This could also be a very good breakfast dish...


  1. Oh my goodness, that sounds good! I was wondering about the bread crumb crust falling apart or being soggy and chewy, but it seems like that didn't happen. That's good, because I have at least a whole loaf's-worth of stale, dry bread around here that I could use up. I was thinking of a parmesan filling with caramelized figs and onions, and bacon or a little bit of blue cheese. I'm not a huge fan of blue cheese (I've lived in too many moldy places, so that's all I can think of when I taste or smell it), but I think a little bit crumbled up with the bacon, figs and onions on top would be good. The bacon and cheddar, and brie and fig jam sound delicious, too! I might have to make some ...

  2. I, too, worried about the crumb crust being soggy or weird, but I decided if graham cracker crumbs could do it, so could dried bread crumbs. I think the butter helps guard against sogginess.

    If you don't want blue cheese, consider using feta. The Parmesan is a good idea, too!

    Oh please do try your ideas and post pictures!

    Dried bread crumbs are a staple in my kitchen. I have studied and tried enough medieval and Elizabethan recipes to see their value as a sauce or soup thickener, a crunchy topping on a casserole, with butter as one of the best tasting and self-basting crusts on roasting meat, and as a base for stuffings of all sort. Even in some boiled puddings, although they tend to ask for fresh or soft crumbs. I let the bread dry to rock hard and reduce it to crumbs in my blender or food processor. I store the crumbs in bags in the freezer.

    Cheers! Tracy