Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
There's more to cream cheese than cheesecake filling. I prefer to use it in other dishes because its dense richness, high fat content (at least 33 per cent) and mild flavour make it a versatile ingredient. In Japan, it's mixed with salted fish (or squid) guts to use as a spread on crackers (it's far more delicious than it sounds); it makes an excellent, easy-to-roll dough for sweet and savoury tarts; it thickens and enriches cream sauces; it's good when beaten with sugar and egg to make a filling for strudel and Danish; and it's an essential ingredient in the Jewish pastry known as rugelach.
This is a recipe I've been making since my days as an apprentice pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, in the United States. Back then, we made the dough in large batches and baked it as needed.
Don't be surprised at the scant amount of jam, nuts and chocolate used in the filling: these pastries need just a small amount of each.
Unlike most pastries, which taste best fresh, rugelach are even better if they've had a little time to age: I like to bake them the day before I serve them.
250 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
250 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened, cut into chunks
25 grams icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
200 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for rolling
50 grams cake flour, sifted
For the filling and finishing:
About 60 grams good-quality jam (I like raspberry or apricot)
30 grams granulated sugar mixed with ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
About 50 grams bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
About 50 grams pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted, then finely chopped
1 egg, whisked with 10ml milk
Thoroughly combine the plain and cake flours. Use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese until soft and smooth. Add the butter, icing sugar and salt and beat until light, scraping the bowl and beaters several times. Stir in the vanilla extract, then add the flour all at once and mix until combined, scraping the bowl and beaters as needed. Wrap the dough in cling-film and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Divide the dough into six even portions (about 125 grams each). Knead each portion until malleable then shape it into a flat disc. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each disc into a circle that's about 2mm thick. Spread it with a very thin layer of jam then sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar, chocolate and nuts. Use a pizza wheel to cut the circle into six or eight even sectors. Roll each sector tightly from the outside edge towards the tip then shape it into a crescent shape, making sure the tip is tucked under the bottom so it doesn't unroll. Put the rugelach onto a tray lined with baking paper. Very lightly brush the top of each rugelach with the egg, then sprinkle with a little of the cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown, fragrant and firm to the touch. Allow them to cool before serving. If you plan to serve them later, pack them into an airtight container.
Linguine with smoked salmon and cream cheese
This is a very rich, indulgent dish I make on the rare occasions that I have an overabundance of smoked salmon. I like to add the chunks of cream cheese towards the end of cooking the dish, so they turn into small, half-melted blobs, instead of incorporating completely into the sauce.
If you want to make a more healthy version of this calorific dish (although it's never going to be anything a cardiologist would recommend), add cooked vegetables, such as petits pois, sugar peas or sliced asparagus spears.
150-200 grams linguine
20ml cooking oil
½ a small onion, thinly sliced
100 grams cream cheese, cut into small chunks
150 grams (or more) thinly sliced cold-smoked salmon, torn into small pieces
A little finely grated lemon zest
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a skillet, add the onion and cook over a low flame until soft and translucent. Add the cream and bring to a simmer then turn off the flame. Keep the sauce warm until the pasta is cooked.
When the linguine is al dente, ladle off about 150ml of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta in a colander then immediately put it into the skillet. Add about 50ml of the pasta liquid to the skillet and cook the ingredients over a high flame, stirring frequently. Cook until the pasta is lightly coated with the sauce; if it seems dry, add more pasta water. Add the cream cheese and black pepper, and some salt, if needed. Stir to combine then remove the pan from the heat. Gently stir in the salmon and lemon zest, then serve immediately. Serves two.