Sunday, June 1, 2014

Return to Blogging with Homemade Ricotta

I didn't realize how long it had been since I last posted here. Spoiler alert: it's been a long time. I recently left my pastry chef job, recently as in last week, and I'm already missing cooking/baking on a daily basis. In the first three days of not working there, just at my other job, I made homemade ice cream, homemade ricotta, and a lovely fresh berry ricotta tart. The ice cream was nothing special, and weirdly textured because I'd forgotten that my strainer at home is coarser than the chinois I'm used to using, so the smooth creamy mocha ice cream I envisioned was rather unpleasantly sprinkled with coffee grounds. The ricotta, however, was gorgeously textured, and as a bonus, used up a half gallon of milk and half and half that was dangerously close to going bad. The recipe is from Alana Chernila's wonderful book, The Homemade Pantry (Clarkson Potter 2012.) The last time I attempted ricotta resulted in a pitiful amount of rubbery curds that were completely inedible. This time, I followed her directions for a long, slow heating of the milk - resulting in creamy, small curds. (Check out her blog for another ricotta recipe and an explanation of the curd formation! I'm not a huge fan of the dry, grainy ricotta often found in tubs at the grocery store, but I could eat this homemade version all day. A half gallon of dairy yielded about 2 cups of ricotta, and close to 5 cups of whey, which I am desperately trying to find a use for. Supposedly you can use it in place of water in bread, or in smoothies, but it's quite tart and I'm a little afraid of it, to be honest. At any rate, here's the recipe!

(adapted from The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila, Clarkson Potter 2012)

8 cups whole milk (I used a combination of 1% milk, half and half, and cream)
1/2 c heavy cream
1/3 c lemon juice (from actual lemons, please!)
salt to taste

Ice a large, heavy bottomed pot. (Slowly melt an ice cube in the pan, making sure every surface gets touched by the cube as it melts - will prevent the milk from forming a scorched, unappetizing skin on the bottom of the pot.) Pour in the dairy and lemon juice and set over low heat, stirring constantly for a few seconds, making sure to not scrape the bottom of the pot. Clip on a candy thermometer, and let come to 175° very slowly - seriously, it took me over an hour. Worth it, I promise. Stir a few times while it's heating, but you can pretty much leave it alone. Once it reaches 175°, turn the heat up to medium-high, and watch carefully while it comes to 205° - do NOT stir during these couple minutes! Remove from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes - now is a good time to get your draining set up ready. Line a sieve with dampened paper towels (cheesecloth if you have it - it takes forever to drain if you use the paper towels) and set over a deep bowl. Once the 10 minutes are up, you can either pour it all into the sieve if you have patience, or you can scoop off the curds and place those in the strainer. I decided it would be faster to just pour it all through, and had to put my setup in the refrigerator to drain overnight. Either way, you should have a pint of delicious, creamy ricotta cheese! You can salt it if you'd like, but I didn't. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.