Lebni is a creamy smooth and tangy cheese, like sour cream with soul. If there were such a thing as “the little white dress,” this would be the dessert equivalent: a pristine, delicately set ivory filling in a sweet buttery crust. Although it needs nothing else, it welcomes accessories such as ripe strawberries (served alongside or sliced and arranged on top à la française), or roasted figs or plums, or shards of caramelized walnuts or pine nuts. The only secret for success is not to overbake it, for, as with all custards and cheesecakes, the filling continues to cook after it emerges from the oven.
Equipment: A 9-1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom
Note: I use Byblos brand lebni (kefir cheese), made with both milk and cream, so it is moderately rich (with 6 grams of fat per 30 grams of cheese).
For the crust:
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (4.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
For the filling:
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) lebni (kefir cheese; see Note)
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
1To make the crust, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
2In a medium bowl, combine the butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix just until well blended. If the dough seems too soft and gooey, let it stand for a few minutes to firm up.
3Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan to make a very thin, even layer. This takes a little patience, as there is just enough dough; to avoid ending up with extra-thick edges, press the dough squarely into the corners of the pan. Place the pan on a cookie sheet.
4Bake until the crust is a deep, golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, checking after about 15 minutes or so to see if the dough has puffed up from the bottom of the pan. If it has, lift and gently slam the cookie sheet down to settle the dough, or press the dough down with the back of a fork and prick it a few times.
5Meanwhile, make the filling (somewhat surprisingly the order in which the ingredients are mixed makes a big difference in the smoothness of the tart, so proceed without deviation): In a medium bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Whisk in the cheese.
6When the crust is ready, remove it from the oven and turn the temperature down to 300°F. Brush the bottom of the crust with a thin layer of the beaten egg yolk to moistureproof it. Return the crust to the oven for 1 minute to set the yolk.
7Pour the filling into the hot crust and spread it evenly. Return the tart to the oven and bake until the filling is set around the edges but, when the pan is nudged, quivers like very soft Jell-O in the center, about 15 to 20 minutes. Check often in the last few minutes, as overbaking will destroy the silky-smooth texture of the filling. Cool the tart completely on a rack. Refrigerate if not serving within 3 hours.
This recipe, while from a trusted source, may not have been tested by the CHOW food
Excerpted from PURE DESSERT (Artisan Books) Copyright 2007 by Alice Medrich Photographs copyright 2007 by Leigh Beisch.
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