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Singapore Cooks

Say cheese

Being able to come up with her own baked cheese tarts so she can avoid queuing for them makes Erika Low smile

Just one bite of a baked cheese tart from the popular Hokkaido-based confectionery Bake was enough to get advertising planner Erika Low into the kitchen to try to replicate it.

It was love at first bite when the 24-year-old tried the tart in November last year. However, she was put off by the long queue at Bake's outlet in Ion Orchard.

The alternative? Bake her own.

She says: "Bake's cheese tart is such an unusual treat. Unlike a New York cheesecake, the salty-sweet cheese filling is warm and melts in the mouth."

To get started, she turned to the Internet for a recipe and made some tweaks.

Advertising planner Erika Low uses parmesan and mozzarella cheeses instead of mascarpone and her version is more savoury than sweet.
Advertising planner Erika Low uses parmesan and mozzarella cheeses instead of mascarpone and her version is more savoury than sweet. ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG

  • BAKED CHEESE TART

    INGREDIENTS

    For the pastry

    75g unsalted butter, softened
    65g caster sugar
    30g beaten egg
    1 tsp vanilla essence
    100g cake flour
    10g unsalted butter, softened (for greasing tart pans)
    1 egg, lightly beaten (for brushing pastry base)

    For cheese custard

    250ml water
    220g cream cheese
    15g shredded mozzarella cheese
    15g grated parmesan cheese
    100g fresh milk
    30g unsalted butter, softened
    8g cornstarch
    30g icing sugar
    1 egg
    1/4 tsp vanilla essence
    1/2 tsp sea salt
    2-3 eggs, lightly beaten (for egg wash)

    METHOD

    For the pastry

    1. In a mixing bowl, mix the butter and the caster sugar with a spatula until the sugar is completely incorporated into the butter.

    2. Add beaten egg, vanilla essence and cake flour, and mix until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.

    3. Shape the dough into a ball. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

    4. After an hour, remove the dough from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for five minutes to soften before removing the cling wrap.

    5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. To make bigger tarts, grease two 14cm tart pans with butter. For smaller tarts, grease 12 6.5cm tart pans with butter.

    6. For the larger tarts, divide the dough in half and roll each one until it is 0.5cm thick and about 17cm in diameter. Line the pans with the pastry, trim the excess dough around the pan with a knife and press the edges of the pastry into the pan with your fingers. Use a fork to poke holes on the base of the pastry.

    7. For smaller tarts, roll out the dough until it is 0.5mm thick. Use an 8cm cookie cutter to cut out circles and line the 6.5cm tart pans with them. Trim off the excess dough. Use a fork to poke holes on the pastry base.

    8. To blind-bake the pastry, place a piece parchment paper over the dough and fill with baking beans or uncooked rice. Bake for 15 minutes. Take the pastry out of the oven, and remove the parchment paper and baking beans.

    9. Brush the pastry base with a beaten egg. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until the pastry turns golden brown.

    10. Remove the pans from the oven and leave tarts to cool for 30 minutes. Place a larger plate over the pans to turn the pastry out. Set aside.

    For the cheese custard

    1. Pour 250ml of water into a medium pot set over high heat. Place a metal bowl over the pot, making sure that the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Bring the water to a boil before turning the heat down to medium.

    Advertising planner Erika Low uses parmesan and mozzarella cheeses instead of mascarpone and her version is more savoury than sweet.

    2. Add cream, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, fresh milk and butter into the bowl. Stir the contents with a whisk for about five minutes until the cheeses have melted (above).

    3. In another mixing bowl, sift the corn starch and icing sugar, and mix into the cheese mixture.

    4. Add the egg, vanilla essence and sea salt. Stir the mixture continuously for 10 to 15 minutes until the custard thickens. Remove the bowl from the water bath and cool it for five minutes before transferring the custard into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle.

    5. Pre-heat the oven to 230 deg C.

    6. Pipe cheese custard into the pastry shells in a circular motion until the tarts are filled or spoon the filling into the pastry cups. Brush the top of the filling with egg wash.

    7. Bake for six to seven minutes until the top of the cheese filling turns slightly brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

    Makes two large tarts or 12 smaller tarts, or one large tart and six small.

    Serves 12

For the cheese custard filling, she uses cheaper parmesan and mozzarella cheeses instead of mascarpone cheese to blend with cream cheese. Her version is saltier and more savoury than sweet.

Mascarpone cheese adds richness to the tart and thickens the filling.

To get the right consistency for her version, she adds cornstarch to the cheese custard and cooks it longer, until it becomes thick.

A thick cheese custard is crucial for creating a dome-shaped top when the tarts are baked.

Besides the velvety cheese filling, a crisp pastry also matters. Ms Low uses her fool-proof pastry recipe, one she has used for two years.

She thinks her baked cheese tart is 85 per cent similar to Bake's.

"If it means that I can skip the queue, I am happy with this recipe," she says with a laugh.

She has also created a larger version of the baked cheese tart for family and friends to share.

Besides the tart, she has also replicated other Japanese confections such as the oozy cheese tart from Osaka confectionery Pablo.

Through trial and error and memories of devouring the tart in Japan, she managed to come up with her own version, which has a gooey cheese filling made with meringue, cream cheese and thickened cream.

Her love of Japanese desserts was sparked by a five-month-long university exchange trip to Tokyo three years ago. From hating cream, she grew to love many cream-laden treats there, including strawberry shortcake and matcha roll cake.

"There was so much to eat during my stay there," she says.

Her interest in baking also blossomed and she started to tackle more challenging recipes such as macarons, which require deft whipping and baking skills to achieve.

She lets her imagination run with more than 50 cutesy designs of macarons, ranging from characters such as Chip 'n' Dale and Pokemon, to sushi and retro snacks such as fancy gems biscuits.

Other favourite bakes include choux au craquelin (crunchy cream puff) stuffed with salted egg yolk custard and yuzu chocolate, cupcakes and doughnuts.

She bakes two to three times a week for friends and family. Her father, 65, is a retired engineer and her mother, 55, is a payroll manager. She has an older sister, 29, who lives in France.

Ms Low, who is engaged to a 27-year-old bank management trainee, enjoys baking as it is a "creative extension" of her passion for art and craft.

She says: "I enjoy painting and baking is a way of transferring my designs to another platform. It can be quite therapeutic."

WATCH THE VIDEO

Go to str.sg/4edq to watch home baker Erika Low assemble a cheese tart

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Say cheese'. Print Edition | Subscribe