Labneh Cheesecake with Roasted Apricots, Honey, and Cardamom
Source: Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, Falastin
Cheesecake is not, traditionally, a dessert eaten in Palestine, but all these ingredients are: the labneh and filo, the nuts and floral orange blossom. The base was Noor’s idea; blitzing up the sheets of filo to make crumbs. Mixing this with the nuts calls baklava to mind. The result, we think, is distinct and special.
Playing around: Rose water or vanilla extract can be used instead of the orange blossom water, if you like. If using vanilla in the filling, use 1½ tsp of vanilla paste or the scraped seeds of half a vanilla pod, in addition to the vanilla extract already there. Lots of other fruits—stone fruits or otherwise—work as well as the apricots here; peaches, plums, cherries, and even strawberries. As always, with nuts, other nuts can be used apart from those we suggest. Brazil nuts or macadamia nuts both work in any combination in the base; just keep the net weight the same.
Getting ahead: If you are making your own labneh (which couldn’t be easier; it just requires getting organized a day ahead), it needs to be made one to five days before using. To get the 2 cups plus 2 tbsp/500g of labneh called for, you’ll have to start with 3½ cups/840g of Greek yogurt, mixed with ¾ tsp of salt. The cheesecake is best baked the day before serving, so that it can chill in the fridge overnight. The apricots are best roasted and put on top of the cake on the day of serving. Once assembled, the cake is best eaten the same day.
Serves 10 to 12
5 sheets good-quality filo pastry (about 4 oz/110g)
6 tbsp/90g unsalted butter, melted
⅓ cup/40g walnut halves
½ cup/60g pistachios
1½ tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup/50g sugar
10 cardamom pods, shells discarded and seeds finely crushed in a mortar and pestle (or ¾ tsp ground cardamom)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp flaky sea salt
2 cups plus 2 tbsp/500g labneh (see headnote and separate recipe)
2 cups/500g ricotta
1 cup/200g sugar
½ tsp flaky sea salt
2 eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tbsp orange blossom water
1¼ tsp vanilla extract
1½ tbsp cornstarch
¼ cup/75g honey
2 tsp orange blossom water
2½ tbsp orange juice
6 cardamom pods, shells on, seeds roughly bashed together in a mortar and pestle
12¼ oz/350g ripe apricots, pits removed, each cut into 6 wedges
A small handful of mint leaves (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Grease and line the base and sides of a 9-inch/23cm springform baking pan and set aside.
To make the base, lay out one sheet of filo on a clean work surface. Measure 2 tbsp of the butter—this will be used for brushing the sheets—and set the remaining ¼ cup/60g aside for later. Brush the filo sheet with butter until well coated, then top a second sheet. Continue in this fashion until all the filo and butter have been used up, finishing the last layer with a coating of butter. Transfer the filo stack to the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes (or longer) before breaking apart into large shards. In two batches, place the shards in a food processor and blitz for about 10 seconds, to form fine crumbs. Place in a medium bowl, then add all the nuts to the processor. Blitz for about 20 seconds, until fine but not powdery. Add the nuts to the filo along with the flour, sugar, spices, salt, and reserved ¼ cup/60g of butter and mix to combine. Tip the mixture into the base of the prepared baking pan and press it down firmly and evenly so that the whole bottom is covered. Bake for 12 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
To make the filling, combine the labneh, ricotta, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for just a few seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs, egg yolks, orange zest, orange blossom water, vanilla, and cornstarch. Mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes, to combine.
Pour the filling into the cake pan. Bake for 60–70 minutes, or until the cake is beginning to take on some color around the edges but still has a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature for 1 hour before refrigerating for at least 4 hours or (preferably) overnight.
On the day of serving, preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the honey, orange blossom water, orange juice, and cardamom pods into a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Cook for 4–6 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced by half and is beginning to form a thin syrup. Spread the apricots out on the prepared baking sheet, on their sides, and drizzle with half the syrup. Bake for about 8 minutes, turning the apricots over halfway through baking, until completely softened but still retaining their shape. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 30 minutes, until completely cool.
Just before serving (or up to 1 hour, if you want to prepare ahead), release the cake from its pan and transfer to a round serving platter. Top with the apricots—there should not be any overlap—and drizzle with the remaining syrup. The bashed cardamom pods can be used for garnish as well—they look nice—but these are not to be eaten. Scatter with the mint leaves, if desired, and serve.
Reprinted with permission from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography copyright: Jenny Zarins © 2020.