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27 May 2010

The Four Velveteers go cheesy nutting

Here we go again! It is Velveteers time!! Actually, to be honest, it was almost one week ago and I finally managed to cook up the dish I planned, photo shoot it and now write about it.
 What did I do in these days? I catered a birthday dinner party. It was great fun; it is always great fun to be able to make people happy. The suddenly super hot and humid weather made me feel 10 years older though, aching bones, legs and so on. Yeah, I missed only (extra) gray hairs.
For this round of the Four Velveteers; Aparna, Asha, Pam and me decided to prepare a dessert that would feature nuts.
From the first moment I wanted to include cheese in my dish; the idea was a new catch on the classic Greek dessert based on yogurt, honey and nuts. On the way thinking about how to realize it, I was more interested in using Camembert.
The idea was now to hollow a little Camembert wheel keeping the shell as container for the dish, the scooped out cheese would be turned into a nice fondue sauce.
The other ingredients for the dish would be seasonal and refreshing; that means rhubarb and strawberries!
During this season I can consider myself as blessed; this region of Germany (North Rhine Westphalia) produces some of the best strawberries I have ever eaten. They are not what we would recognize as perfectly ripe, inviting looking strawberries; they have more of an orange pinkish hue than the bright purplish red we are used to. But their scent, oh my...
If the look isn't enough to drive you closer, their intoxicating sweet, aromatic, honey like aroma is just fantastic.
I am not very familiar with rhubarb, but few trials with it and you easily get why it goes so well with strawberries and oranges; its taste actually reminds a lot of these fruits.
As nuts I decided to use hazelnuts. I finally converged on the perfect way to roast them so nothing is stopping me to enjoy them, So here you are my:

Strawberry and rhubarb jelly salad served with a sweet fondue sauce and a licorice candy disk

Ingredients (a wheel of 11cm/4” would serve 3 people):
  • Hard Licorice candy (the amount may vary depending on the size of the candies and on the size of the disk to produce);
  • 1 stalk rhubarb;
  • juice of half an orange (1-2tbsp);
  • water;
  • 0.6g agar-agar;
  • 1 small wheel of Camembert (11cm/4” in diameter);
  • 10 roasted hazelnuts, crushed into bits;
  • few strawberries, washed;
  • 1tbsp or so of cream (the amount of cream should equal the amount of scooped out cheese);
  • 2tsp or so of sugar;
  • 1/4tsp Chinese rice wine;
  • 1tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus some for decoration.

The rhubarb jelly will be the first to be taken care of.
Peel the rhubarb stalk, and chop it coarsely. Put the chunks in a saucepan with the orange juice, some water and 1/2 a tablespoon of sugar. Let it cook until the rhubarb will be reduced to pulp.

In the meantime that the rhubarb is cooking, proceed to do the licorice disks.
Warm up your oven to 150deg C (300 F). Coarsely crush the candies in a mortar. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, place as many cookie cutters as disks on the parchment paper and distribute uniformly the crushed candies among them. Slide the tray into the oven and let the candies melt for roughly 10 minutes. Keep a careful eye on them because these candies may boil and burn very easily. When they will have spread uniformly into the cutter, take them out and let them cool down.
At this point the rhubarb should also be ready; pass it through a fine sieve pressing it down, leaving this way all the fibers behind. Weight the resulting juice and bring it to 120g with some water if necessary; sprinkle then the agar into it and bring back to a boil stirring. Finally, taste and add other sugar if needed and pour the jelly into a flat mould to let it harden into the fridge.

Now it is time to prepare the cheese.
Using a sharp knife, score a circle on the top surface of the Camembert, leaving a 5mm border all around; remove then the moldy surface (and have it as the chef’ snack). Now using a sharp spoon, carefully spoon out the cheese taking care not to pierce the bottom but leaving as much cheese to it as there is on the sides. Once the cheese shell is ready, sprinkle the crushed hazelnut on its surface and press it in using your fingertips.
In a tiny saucepan put the scooped out cheese flesh, with the cream and few drops of lemon juice. Put it over a low flame and let the cheese melt stirring regularly. When ready, add 1 pinch or so of sugar (taste it, the amount of sugar depends on the quality of your cheese; in my case it didn’t need much of it). Add then the rice wine and combine thoroughly, keep it warm.

Let's complete the dish.
In the meantime, chop the strawberries and, in a bowl, mix them with the thyme leaves and some sugar. Cut then the rhubarb jelly into cubes. Start filling the cheese alternating the strawberries with few jelly cubes; be careful because they are quite delicate. When you will have filled (not overfilled) the cheese crust, pour the Camembert fondue on top of the fruits letting it sink in the crevices.
When ready to serve, cut the wheel into portion sized wedges and decorate with the disk of licorice candy and few thyme leaves.


  1. What an amazing dish, Alessio! I love the combination of cheese and fruit, especially the fresh thyme!! Mmm. :-) Those German strawberries sound delicious! I can almost smell them. :-)

  2. You might be late, but you did it in style! :)
    Fruit in cheese, covered with more cheese sounds yummy. Lots of interesting and some unusual (to me) flavours, Al.

  3. Great cake :) I wanted to make something with cheese too but in the end, Aparna's cupcake won me over. LOL! You aren't that late. I'm worst - the last to post it. :p

  4. Ma che BUONO!Devo provarlo al piu' presto!

  5. Wow! What a very pretty presentation! I just love the cakes!