Cheesecake bars

Fresh cheese is a staple in classic Shavuot foods, and cheesecake is one way to expand the joy of this holiday. Small cheesecake bars, topped with early strawberries, are a wonderful way to usher in the transition-to-summer month of June. 

Cheesecake Bars

 If you love cheesecake, but feel guilty after eating it, pursue it in a small way instead. These bars hit that spot perfectly, especially when adorned with a perfect small, ripe strawberry.

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 1/2 cups cottage cheese

1/2 cup (half an 8-ounce package) cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2 large eggs, beaten

A handful or two ripe strawberries (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (or 325°F if using a glass pan). Have ready a 6-by-9 inch baking pan (ungreased) or the equivalent.

2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the brown sugar, crumbling the sugar into the flour with your hands until uniformly distributed. Add the melted butter, and stir to thoroughly combine. Press this mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan.

3. Combine the cottage cheese, cream cheese, granulated sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and eggs in the bowl of a food processor, and buzz until completely smooth. Pour this mixture into the pan, spreading it into place.

4. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the top surface is firm to the touch. Remove from the oven, and allow it to cool completely before chilling. Let it chill for at least two hours, and serve cold, cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Ideally topped with sliced strawberries.

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade ricotta is not only more soulful than anything you can buy, but also more economical, producing approximately one pound of cheese for the price of a half-gallon of milk. You can determine the thickness of the cheese simply by keeping watch over the project and wrapping it up (in every sense) when the cheese achieves your preferred texture. The longer it stands, the firmer it becomes. Time and gravity – and your taste – are the textural determinants. You also get to decide on the salt content. Try this for dessert or brunch, with some artisan honey warmed and spooned over the top like a syrup, and possibly also some fresh fruit, toasted nuts and scones or little cookies. You can get cheesecloth in most grocery stores.

1/2 gallon whole milk

1 cup whole milk yogurt

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

1. Combine the milk and yogurt in a large saucepan or a kettle and whisk until smooth. Place over medium heat, and warm for about 15 minutes, or until tiny bubbles form along the sides. The top surface may bulge slightly, and a little skin might develop.

2. Remove the pan from the stove, and pour in the lemon juice without mixing. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for an hour to curdle. 

3. Prepare a 4-layer cheesecloth net about 16 to 18 inches square. Lay this inside a medium-large fine mesh strainer or colander balanced over a bowl. Long pieces of cheesecloth will drape down the sides. Pour the curdled mixture into the net so the liquid drips into the bowl, and the solids remain in the cheesecloth. Don’t press it or try to hurry the process along in any way, or you’ll lose some of the cheese. The whey needs to drip at its own pace.

4. After about an hour, lift the side flaps of the cheesecloth and without actually knotting them, tie them neatly around the cheese. Let it stand, slowly dripping, for another two hours – or even longer, if you like a firmer, drier cheese. 

5. Salt the cheese to taste, transfer it to a tightly covered container, and refrigerate. It will keep for about five days.