My youngest son and I love Ricardo’s café, especially their beautiful cheesecake spheres. One day, as he poked about in his apple cheesecake, admiring the apple caviar and white chocolate and gel coated sphere, he wondered if Ricardo’s could make cheesecake that looked like a bunch of grapes… (and bless him, he suggested it to one of the staff, then for the next few weeks, wandered in regularly to stare hopefully at the display to see if his suggestion had been created yet).
This made me think, could I make something like that? After many, many weeks, my efforts to create something that resembled a bunch of grapes has left me truly in awe of chefs who develop ‘molecular gastronomy’ recipes (that are both edible and presentable). Making grape gel-coated cheesecake balls that looked like grapes was really challenging fucking tedious in my tiny domestic kitchen. I prefer simple recipes and have put off writing this up for ages, because it was so damn complicated! It was trying to do this that inspired me to learn reverse spherification.
Reverse spherification works best if the material is a cream consistency when poured into the sodium alginate bath, as surface tension creates the spherical shape. It won’t work if it is too thin or too thick. I added gelatine to the cheesecake mixture before making the spheres so that they would set as they chilled. The resulting spheres from this recipe are quite light, with a panna cotta set to them and they tasted just like cheesecake. What I had wanted to do was create a cheesecake sphere with grape coloured gel ‘skin’ on the outside. But the way reverse spherification works is that the gel coating is formed from the sodium alginate bath, so mine was always clear. In hindsight, I should have incorporated the purple grape juice into the cheesecake.
Finally, I made my bunch of grapes by resting the spheres on a bed of macerated grape jelly, which was very sweet, so I made a salted caramel ‘sand’ to balance the sweetness. I used white chocolate to make the stems (I thought it went wonderfully with the cheesecake and grape, but for some it might be sweetness overload)… I’m working on this concept. Stay tuned for updates.
Cheesecake grapes on salted caramel sand
It is recommended to use cheesecloth to strain the grape juice, rather than a sieve, otherwise the resulting juice will be quite cloudy.
- 400 g purple grapes
- 100 g caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Purple food colouring (or mix together blue and red)
- 3 gelatine sheets
- Lightly blend the grapes.
- Heat the grapes, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan until boiling, then simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally so that the grapes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Sieve into a bowl (using fine sieve and cheesecloth). To ensure the juice is as clear as possible, allow it to drip through the cheesecloth by gravity (do not force it through).
- Make up to 300 ml with water.
- Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes then gently squeeze out water and add to the grape juice at 40 °C and stir until dissolved.
- Pour into dish and allow to set before gently macerating.
Cheesecake grapes using reverse spherification (makes about 50 spheres)
- 125 g cream cheese
- 70 g caster sugar
- 125 g thickened cream (35% fat)
- 100 g sour cream
- 2 gelatine leaves
- 4 g Calcium Lactate Gluconate Powder (optional)
- Sodium alginate waterbath (0.5 g per litre – see here for instructions)
- In a saucepan over a low heat, mix cream, sugar and sour cream and simmer until sugar is dissolved.
- Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Add cream cheese, mix using hand blender, blend until mixture is fully incorporated, smooth and has no lumps.
- Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for five minutes, squeeze out water, then melt in a saucepan over a low heat before mixing through the cheesecake mixture.
- Add calcium lactate gluconate and stir through. Technically, you shouldn’t need to add extra calcium, as there should be enough in the dairy from the cheesecake mixture, but I find the gel is stronger and spheres form more quickly with a bit of help from the added calcium.
- Proceed immediately to make spheres with reverse spherification.
- Prepare a sodium alginate bath, cover and allow to settle in fridge for 1 – 24 hours.
- Once the solution is clear, allow to come to room temperature.
- Set up a bowl of fresh water next to the sodium alginate bath.
- Fill a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon with cheesecake mix, wipe the bottom of the spoon, then carefully pour out right over the surface of the sodium alginate.
- Spheres will form as the liquid penetrates the water bath due to surface tension. Allow the spheres to fall to the bottom, before gently stirring to ensure all surfaces get exposed to the sodium alginate solution.
- You may need to ‘help’ them to sink with some gentle agitation.
- Leave the spheres in the sodium alginate for a couple of minutes to form a solid gel membrane and ‘set’, then carefully remove with a slotted spoon and rinse in the water bath.
- Scoop spheres out of the water bath to a clean container.
- Store the cheesecake balls in the fridge for at least 4 hours to allow the gelatine to set (I macerated the balls in left over grape jelly, though some of the cheesecake will leech out).
Salted caramel sand
- 100 g thick salted caramel
- 100 g Marie biscuits
- Combine ingredients and lightly blend to make a coarse powder.
- Refrigerate until needed.
Now, I was wanting to use tapioca maltodextrin to make the caramel sand, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $50+ on a 1 kg bag to use less than 100 g for a recipe. I think it would be cool to do that, but the texture of this is quite good.
Tempered white chocolate
- 100 g white chocolate, 35 g of it grated
- Place 65g of the chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Ensure the water does not touch the bottom of the double boiler or the chocolate may overheat and lose its shine and smoothness.
- Melt the chocolate until the temperature reaches 40°C – use a cooking thermometer.
- Remove the chocolate from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate; stir with a spatula from time to time.
- Keep stirring the melted chocolate until it cools down to 25°C and return to the heat stirring gently until the chocolate reaches 28°C.
- Once the chocolate is smooth and shiny, spoon into piping bag fitted with narrow opening and pipe onto baking sheets to form thin threads to act as stems and to make lattice shapes.
Bringing it all home (to assemble)
- Place ¼ cup of caramel sand on a plate.
- Top with some tempered white chocolate lattices.
- Carefully place 6 to 10 cheesecake balls with the grape jelly into the shape of a bunch of grapes.
- Finally, add some more white chocolate to make the grape stems and to decorate.