Photos and Words by Fred Chang
One of the chefs who have inspired my style of cooking is the amazingly resourceful Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in New York. Chef Hamilton’s cooking philosophy is the simple “waste not, want not.” She takes the things that most people throw away, such as fish bones, leftover boiling liquids, expired cream, and finds a place for them in her kitchen and menu. Taking inspiration from that, I have done similar things with my own cooking, utilizing parts like strawberry leaves or apple peels, and finding new and unusual ways to incorporate them into classic or approachable dishes. One such example is my Strawberry Cheesecake Tiramisu.
The traditional tiramisu uses espresso and amaretto to give the ladyfingers or sponge a nice kick. For me, coffee and red berries don’t necessarily play together, so I figured, why not make a tea, using the otherwise discarded strawberry leaves? After doing some research, I found that by drying out the strawberry leaves in an oven, they become perfectly usable in dishes - any toxins or pesticides in the leaves will completely evaporate when they are dehydrated. The flavor of strawberry leaf tea is very bitter and astringent, with just a mild hint of tartness that you would find in an unripe strawberry. Combining that with the green ends that would have also been removed, and the Nordic-inspired elderflower liqueur in place of Italian amaretto, you get a really vibrant and fresh flavor profile that pairs beautifully with strawberries and substitutes the coffee mixture perfectly.
For the cheesecake idea, tiramisu itself is layered with a sabayon-type of mousse made with whipped egg yolks, sugar, and mascarpone cheese. Because I’ve already taken some inspiration from New York, I figured, why not go the extra mile, and do something that is an homage to the melting pot of cultures and ideas? I substituted the mascarpone with the thicker American cream cheese, because it’ll give the tiramisu more body and a stronger cheesecake-type of flavor profile that also pairs well with strawberries.
Finally, the sponge. This is where the dessert can also blur between a tiramisu and a trifle. Tiramisu uses ladyfingers, while British trifles use spongecake. This recipe uses an Americanized adaptation to the traditional French sponge cake, mainly to utilize the otherwise discarded egg whites left behind when making the cheesecake filling. Texturally and flavor-wise, there is no real difference that you can detect when tasting the sponge, once soaked with the liquid. It is light, airy, and fluffy, the perfect vehicle for all of these vibrant, fresh flavors.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil or unsalted butter (melted)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whip egg whites, sugar, extract, cider vinegar, and baking soda into stiff, fluffy peaks. Sift flour into the bowl, and fold in the milk and oil or butter until the streaks in the batter are gone. Pour onto a lined shallow baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes. Once baked, remove and slice cake into long, thin strips, to mimic the shape of ladyfingers.
1 pint fresh strawberries; chopped (save leaves and green ends)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup blood orange juice
1 teaspoon grated blood orange zest
a pinch of salt
Reduce ingredients over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Once the berries have completely broken down and there is no more residual liquid, take off heat and allow it to cool.
2 egg yolks
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
16 oz. cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
In a pan, reduce the sugar and water over medium-high heat. In a bowl, cream the egg yolks and cream cheese with the salt and vanilla. Pour the sugar syrup, once bubbling and 3/4ths reduced, into the egg yolk-cream cheese mix. Whip until stiff and well-combined. Allow the mixture to chill slightly before using.
Reserved strawberry leaves + green ends
1 cup water
1 tablespoon elderflower liqueur
Rinse the strawberry leaves under clean water. On a baking sheet, spread the rinsed leaves and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes; the leaves need to be dried and brittle. Place the leaves and green ends into a pot with the 1 cup of water and reduce to about 1/4 cup of liquid. Strain out the leaves and ends. Allow the mixture to cool completely before adding in the liquor.
To begin, swirl the sabayon with 1/4 cup of the strawberry jam. In either a shallow glass tray or a loaf pan, line all of the bottom with the sponge slices, breaking and adjusting the size of the slices to fit the side of the container. Lightly brush or drizzle some of the soaking liquid onto the sponges. Then spread the jam, and finally, the sabayon. Repeat this until until the container is filled. Refrigerate before serving.