To celebrate spring and my recently gone birthday, here’s a fresh tasting cake, yet not an ordinary birthday cake ! Did you know we too, in France, had a cheesecake as a specialty food ? Though in France "tourteau" more often refers to a species of crab, "tourteau fromager" happens in this recipe to literally mean "cheesy little pie". This name is referring to the way it is baked, in a special kind of pie pan (small and rounded, nearly bowl-shaped), as well as to the cheese on which the batter is based, namely fresh, creamy chèvre (goat cheese). Baked in very hot country ovens, initially in almost ball-shaped terracotta dishes, they were distributed and enjoyed at great gatherings, such as weddings. Like many good things, the invention of this obviously burnt cake is attributed to a "serendipity" : the cake having unwillingly been baked too much, it had been found delicious though.
And it just originated from the region my father’s family lives in, the Poitou-Charentes. He told me about how he and his siblings made rides on bike to the manufacture where they could get the failed ones, how lucky ! At home, we mostly knew the store-bought version, which we were always happy though to see in the fridge, from time to time. You might think we French people eat quite weird things, but there’s some kind of magic about this burnt cake : under the uninviting black crust hides a fluffy, soft, not too sweet interior protected by this crust, with an amazingly unspoiled taste. Some however like to say the burnt part is the better, but I feel somewhat embarrassed to tell you that since I did not like eating the burnt part as a child, and I still prefer the inside. But today, I have no trouble eating the whole as is and encourage you to do so, especially as the crust is better on homemade cakes ! Let’s say it’s a kind of food experience only adults can appreciate to the fullest extent.
To have it homemade, I had a few issues to fix. First, I had to find the right container to bake it. Here is one of the pie pans specifically used today to make this kind of cakes :
I would have been glad to tell you it’s working as well with any kind of dish, but I did not manage to have such a nice result until I got this very pans (which are only 15 cm in diameter). The thing is, there’s no leavener in the cake, and the rounded shape of the dish helps in a way to give a direction to the natural leavening effect.
However, I’m sure you would be able to find, in your house or a customary store, a well-rounded shallow dish to receive the tourteau. All you’ll have to do is to make sure it is heatproof to a high heat and not too large, otherwise it would be tricky to adjust the proportions and cooking time. If you’d like to have a fully authentic cake and purchase the real pan (which anyway isn’t widely available here, so I guess neither in other countries), I suggest you to order it via the French "amazon" website (click here). And check here, preferably with an online translator, to learn more about the delivery options and shipping costs out of France. I also recommend you to buy two at once, since the proportions here are for two cakes : one is really not enough when more than one person like it, and it disappears much too quickly regarding the preparation time involved (it actually isn’t complicated, but you’ve got to plan it a while ahead) !
By the way, you might try to make it with the kind of "gratin" dish pictured below (18 cm in diameter) : it only would be less rounded on the top. And I suggest that in this case, you don’t fill it to the brim with pastry and batter, to respect the real proportions.
Don’t hesitate to let me know your ideas and trials, so that I might update this article !
Another important element in this recipe is the oven : you need to have one that reaches a quite high temperature, say, at least 230°C minimum. The recipes mostly call for a long baking at 180°C/350°F or a shorter baking at high temperature, but I found it works well when the cake is first baked at maximum heat to have the crust formed, then baked at lower heat, covered, in order to have the inside cooked through. This way, I think you’ll be able to adjust quite easily the baking time according to how the cake looks like.
You also have to make sure that the cheeses are well drained (see method below), to avoid them to moisten too much the batter, which doesn’t lend a fine texture to the inner part of the cake. By the way, I made a few changes to the original recipe (that of a great French chef actually) to improve its taste and consistency, the most important being the addition of regular cream cheese (meaning for me : made of cow milk) to the fresh goat cheese. It might not be the most authentic version, but it is for now the most similar I managed to the factory-made, which was my model : it has a fresher, less "goaty" taste. I also skipped any extra flavouring (the natural taste of this cake being extraordinary by itself !), lowered the amount of sugar, and increased that of potato starch, which is the key to the light, fluffy, almost frothy consistency I’m addicted to. Take a bite in it, and it will be swishing in your mouth…
To finish, though I use homemade when I have time left or don’t want to go to the supermarket to buy one, I have no shame using store-bought shortcrust pastry (of which the bottom of the cake is made, unlike regular cheesecake), so do consider it too if you’re not some kind of "everything homemade" maniac (what I tend to be sometimes) ! It saves some preparation time, reducing significantly the number of tasks involved.
Last but not least, tourteau fromager is good, I’d even say great, at any hour of the day, but the way I enjoy it the most is for breakfast or as a snack. Hope you’ll be able to enjoy it soon, too !
Ingredients (yield 2 6-inch / 15 cm in diameter cakes, serving at least 4) :
- 300 gr. fresh goat cheese (possibly homemade as seen here)
- 150 gr. Philadelphia cream cheese (or a similar unflavoured cream cheese)
- ready-made shortcrust pastry (enough to cut out 2 8-inch / 20 cm wide, 2 mm thick discs) or for homemade shortcrust pastry :
- 125 gr. unsalted butter, slightly softened (or vegetable fat, that makes for a more breakable yet thinner and more even pastry)
- 1 egg yolk
- pinch of salt
- 250 gr. all-purpose flour
- 1-2 tbsp water
- 100 gr. caster sugar
- 1 tbsp milk (optional)
- 4 eggs (medium-sized), separated
- 2 rounded tbsp (~40 gr.) potato starch (do not substitute cornstarch)
One or two days ahead, prepare the cheese. Line a strainer with clean cloth (muslin or cheesecloth would be better), and put it over a big bowl.
Scoop out the two sorts of cheese into the center of the strainer, fold tighltly the cloth over them and put a heavy item over it if needed (that is, if the cheeses seem quite moist).
If you can’t or don’t want to use a strainer, you might also put the cloth filled with cheese over a small bowl, turned-over on the center of a big bowl. In this case, don’t forget throwing away the released liquid (if any) frequently, to keep it from reaching the bottom of the cloth.
Put aside in the fridge at least one day to allow the cheeses to release their moisture (check them, say, twice a day, to be sure).
On the very day you make the recipe, start by making the pastry (if going for homemade) at least 1 hour in advance.
In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, egg yolk and salt and mix them as thoroughly as you can (you want to break the butter into a lot of tiny pieces which would melt once the baking started).
Add the flour and work it by hand in the previous mix, trying to have it evenly moistened.
Gradually blend in the water (to be able to form a ball with the pastry), and knead it quickly.
Wrap the ball-shaped pastry with cling film and refrigerate for about an hour.
At the same time you put the pastry in the fridge, take out the cheese from it to allow it to return to room temperature before using it.
When the resting time of the pastry is over, take it out of the fridge too and allow it to stay at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before rolling it out, otherwise it would be too hard.
Divide the ball of pastry into two even parts, and put them cut size down on a floured work surface, giving them as much as possible a round shape.
Roll them out very thinly (to a thickness of about 2 mm : you should see your fingers through it, as on the picture below) ; to do so, the best method consists in turning the pastry of one quarter each time you pass the rolling-pin.
Cut out two 8-inch / 20 cm diameter discs, as well as if you’re using ready-made pastry.
Line the tins or whatever dish you’re using (greased if needed) with the pastry discs and even their edge by running a knife along the rim of the tins, eliminating excess pastry. (As I said above, with the small gratin dish I used another time, I cut the pastry about 1-inch / 2-3cm under the rim to make it roughly similar in size to that of the regular cakes.)
Preheat your oven to the maximum (240-250°C /470-475° F for me).
Squeeze out the remaining liquid of the cheeses by wringing firmly the cloth. The cheeses should look quite dry then.
In a bowl, mix the drained cheeses together by fork, then weigh out 250 grams and transfer them to a mixing bowl.
With the few tablespoons leftover, you might make a dip to your liking ; I combined them with some olive oil, minced sundried tomato and rosemary (no added salt is needed), which makes a good side for spring or summer aperitifs.
Whisk the cheese with 80gr sugar and possibly a little milk if the cheeses have turned too dry and hard to mix.
Mix in the egg yolks and potato starch, smooth batter.
Whip up the egg whites, add the remaining 20 gr sugar once they’re stiff and keep beating until they look silky, like Italian meringue batter.
Add them carefully to the batter and mix, making sure they’re evenly distributed.
Place the pie pans over a baking tray in order to have them moved more easily. Pour the batter carefully into them, trying to fill them to the brim.
Smooth out the top, delicately, then put into the hot oven. Make sure to aereate well the room, by using your kitchen range hood if any or opening the windows (that is why spring is a good season to make this recipe ;) ).
As soon as a deep dark crust has evenly formed at the surface (about 20 mns for me), cover the cakes with a sheet of foil. But put it quickly, avoiding to have the oven wide-open if possible : you do not want the nicely leavened cakes to collapse !
Lower the temperature to 180° C/350° F and bake for 30 mns more, or in order to reach 50 mns of total baking (I’d add 10 mns if using a larger and/or deeper pan).
Wait for the cakes to cool completely in the oven (without opening it), then unmold them.
You’ll need some more patience, since the cakes have to be refrigerated overnight (or at least a few hours) to be the best.
Cut into parts and enjoy !
You might store them in the fridge for a few days, if only you can keep yourself from eating them straight away ;)
Doesn’t it look better than New-York cheesecake ?