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Asheville Trip To Foodtopia Part 1

Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake

Update: check Todd and Diane’s Part 1 here. Amazing!

One of the first things I did when I got back from Asheville, NC was to email Jael and Dan Rattigan from The Chocolate Lounge and beg ask them to share a recipe, any recipe, from their outstanding repertoire. So happy they sent the one for their Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake (see end of post). Most delicious thing I have had in terms of cheesecakes. Really.

We were in NC to discover the Foodtopian Society of Asheville and we all fell in love with the pair, the minute we walked into their shop. Proof? We told Dodie (Super Mistress of Organization – Tourism Office PR Manager) that we had to take Brian, Todd and Diane there as soon as they’d arrive. Great chocolates, cakes, great photo opps, etc…Yeah, truth is we wanted more. More chocolate, more cookies and more of Jael and Dan. A couple of us even went back a third time and will have a post up soon.

Even though I have spent the last week being wined and dined by the wonderful chefs and artisans of Asheville, I did work very hard (smile and beg a lot primarily) to get you some of the dessert recipes I enjoyed on the trip. As a chef, I know it is no small gesture to part with one and I greatly thank the chefs who shared their creations with me and now you. This is one more example of the generosity of the artisan food crafters we have encountered.

As Diane mentioned one day, these people, restaurant owners, chefs, farmers, cheese makers, bakers, never talk about themselves. They talk about their crop, their product, how it evolved and how they evolved with it, not the other way around. They listened, they laughed, they patiently answered our questions, shared their knowledge and passion. We all took home different views and feelings from this trip I am sure, except one common trait uniting food professionals and food bloggers: we are passionate about food. We are all very tuned in to all of this so I think it was a pretty easy group to talk to but I know that they would have said and done the same for newbies to the concept of locally grown foods.

The Mighty Team

But who are these fellow food bloggers I keep mentionning? Let me tell you, I felt I had been a little sign that read "for good Kharma" when meeting them last week. Each of us had a little/lot of something to share and discover and oh my! Can we talk! And eat! And photograph! I have certainly made new friends, fell in love with the world again but dang country for being so wide! France is as big as Texas – a trip cross country is done in half a day! Yep, until I find a better way and until we meet again, I’ll just keep on reading their blogs.

From left to right: Alison at The Humble Gourmand, Brian from The Food Geek, Tami from Running With Tweezers, Diane from White on Rice Couple, Jaden from Steamy Kitchen and Todd from White On Rice Couple. Truly, honestly, amazingly, funny, smart, down to earth, talented and all around good people to be with. (And no, I am not saying that just because I can’t remember certain moments where lots of wine was poured and realised there might be video to remind me why.) On a side note, Tami works as a food stylist and you can guess that we were glued to her stories and experiences. Looking forward to taking her up on her offer to see her in action!

It's A Blogging Thing

As soon as we had checked in at the hotel, we were off for a little walking tour of Asheville complete with a few gourmet samples and later on dinner. It hit me as we sat down at The Laughing Seed for a tasting of locally brewed beer that I was among hardcore food bloggers like me: listening with both ears, shooting with both eyes (one on the camera, one checking out the aesthetics around), all senses working like mad to capture it all. Having been to Asheville before, I can vouch that The Laughing Seed’s popularity is justified: great food, great kitchen staff, fresh ingredients and minimal fuss. Love this place and I was so happy to go back!

Inside Grove Arcade

Top left photo courtesy of Alison at The Humble Gourmand.

A little walk through Grove Arcade revealed more than just a "little walk": indoor fresh markets, specialty cheeses and honeys, cute little shops of all sorts. And then we entered Jael and Dan’s shop. We could have stayed there for hours. They are genuinely good artisan chocolatiers. Conversation flowed, questions arised and were patiently answered. They are so passionate and knowledgeable about their truffles making, very easy to listen to and get inspired by. Especially when Dan kept passing the chocolate covered roasted hazelnuts around. And they have coffees, amazing hot chocolates and a plethora of baked goods too! More on that with the Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake recipe.

At Zambra

Left picture courtesy of Alison from The Humble Gourmand.

We had dinner reservation at Zambra and we kind of reluctantly left The Chocolate Lounge. Little did we know what awaited us at this tappas restaurant. The decor is as luscious as the food and at the same time comfortable and never intimidating, much like the plates that Executive Chef Adam Bannasch and his staff prepared. Jaden recognized right off the bat that portions would have to be somewhat downsized or we wouldn’t be able to make it through this 8 course meal. Me? You can’t ask me that question at the beginning of a meal! Of course I am going to say "bring it on!". Even with a small downsizing we still ended up rolling out of the restaurant in a certain food haze (or was it the sangria?). Content. Fresh, local and innovative food. Everything well balanced and perfectly executed. And that dessert! Most tasty fruit soup paired with an outstanding basil ice cream. Perfect balance of sugar and herb. Adam, anytime you feel like coming this side of Southern, I’d be happy to take you around our own restaurant gems!

As you can see, we were off to a pretty good start! We went back to The Chocolate Lounge with Brian, Diane and Todd the next day. Within a few minutes we were sitting with some tasty French press coffee and one of the best slices of cheesecakes I have ever had. I am not just saying that. I am not one to like fruit and chocolate, especially berries and chocolate, and I am not the best advocate of cheesecakes in the world. But this? This is something I would want to eat everyday. This Mousse of Strawberry Cheesecake not just "strawberry cheesecake". Run. To. Make. It.

I leave you with this fine introduction and recipe they wrote while I prepare part 2 of this trip. Trust me it gets even better!

At French Broad Chocolate

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake, from Jael and Dan Rattigan.

Serves 12

The best time of year to enjoy this cake is when strawberries are in season, so it can be garnished with fresh berries. however, you’ll see that the puree is made from frozen berries (because the freezing and subsequent thawing releases the juice from the berry’s cells which were ruptured in the freezing process), so enjoy any time of year, and try the same recipe with a seasonal, locally-available fruit of your choosing!

Other ingredient notes: choose ingredients with the same care and attention you would use to pick a babysitter for your kid. dessert is serious business! we use all organic dairy, free-range local eggs, organic sugar, and a highly aromatic vanilla extract. as for chocolate: the ganache topping only uses 4 ounces, so get a couple bars of something you would enjoy nibbling, preferably with a fruit-forward bouquet to complement your berries!

Strawberry puree:
10 oz. frozen strawberries
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Almond crust:
2 cups whole raw almonds
2 oz soft unsalted butter
3 T sugar
¼ t salt

Strawberry cheesecake:
1 lb. cream cheese, room temp
1 cup (7.5 oz.) sugar
3 large eggs, room temp
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
12 oz sour cream, room temp
2/3 cup strawberry puree

Ganache topping:
4 oz. chocolate (50-55% cacao mass is best), finely chopped
4 ½ oz. cream
½ large egg (beat 1 egg, weigh it, and use half)

Prepare the strawberries:
Thaw strawberries and strain out the juice completely (reserve pulp, should be about 5 oz). Place juice in a small saucepan and, at a simmer, cook down to a third of original volume. (you should start with about 5-6 oz, and end with 2 oz.) Add sugar to reduction and stir to dissolve. Mix juice and pulp together with lemon juice.
blend in food processor or with immersion blender.

Prepare the crust:
Preheat oven to 400F and position a rack in the center.
Pulverize almonds, sugar, and salt in food processor until crumbly. Add butter and pulse to combine. Press into bottom and sides of 9” springform pan (2.5” tall)
bake 15-20 min, or until deep golden brown. Set aside to cool while you make the cheesecake.

Prepare the cheesecake:
Turn the oven down to 350F.
Beat cream cheese and sugar until very smooth (3 min) in a stand mixer at medium speed using the whisk attachment.(yes you read right. It gives the cake that mousse quality). Add eggs, 1 at a time, scraping bowl and beating after each just until smooth. Add vanilla & salt and beat until incorporated. Beat in sour cream. Beat in strawberry puree. Wrap the pan with the crust in a double layer of aluminum foil.
Pour batter into crust. Place in water bath (hot water) in a larger oven proof pan
bake 45-55 min.

5-10 min before cheesecake is done, make ganache topping:
Boil cream. Pour over chocolate and let sit a minute. Whisk gently until chocolate is melted and smooth. Gently whisk in egg. Spread over hot cheesecake (careful, and don’t pour it all in one place as cheesecake is fragile). Smooth out the top. Bake 12-15 more minutes until ganache is set along the sides. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack, with a large mixing bowl over the pan (to cool slowly). When it reaches room temp, refrigerate. Chill 8 hours before unmolding. To unmold, run a thin blade knife around the cake pan sides. Remove springform. Gently slide cake onto serving plate. Store covered in refrigerator.
it’s easier to cut the cake if you heat the knife. run it under very hot water, then dry it. Slice!

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Fee ist mein Name July 1, 2009 um 8:24 am

Looks like real fun!

Simo July 1, 2009 um 8:52 am

Un capolavoro!

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf July 1, 2009 um 9:23 am

Wow, sounds and looks like a fantastic experience and delicious adventure !! Thank you for begging–I mean, asking– for the recipe above. 😉 Mmmm!! Can't wait for part 2…!

onesilentwinter July 1, 2009 um 9:36 am

Sounds like it was wonderful! Your pictures are great! one shold never opne there computer at 5 am and see the word "truffle" dangerous day ahead:)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) July 1, 2009 um 10:27 am

Asheville is one of my favorite US cities; it's the right scale and has a lovely pace about it. When I was there two years ago, I also ate at Zambra and had a tapas meal in which there were only high notes. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Zoe July 1, 2009 um 12:08 pm

So lucky to have spent a weekend with such talented people! Looks delicious as always.

Abbey July 1, 2009 um 12:09 pm

Asheville is one of the coolest towns on the planet! I lived in North Carolina for four years (grad school!) and drove out to Asheville a number of times and always had a blast (and amazing food, too). Did you get a chance to visit Malaprops book store? Or how about The Chocolate Fetish, home to some of my favorite truffles… mmmm 🙂

Sunshine July 1, 2009 um 12:17 pm

That looks amazing! I'm going to save this recipe for Valentine's Day next year.

La Table De Nana July 1, 2009 um 12:21 pm

The photos are delightful and the cake looks amazing.I will make this!

Cannelle Et Vanille July 1, 2009 um 12:21 pm

oh i was so excited to read about your trip! i keep hearing such wonderful things about asheville and these photos are magical. thank you for sharing with us!

Julia @ Mélanger July 1, 2009 um 12:36 pm

Can I just say those stores look amazing? Great photos, of course. And what a wonderful experience.

Oceanside Creations July 1, 2009 um 1:03 pm

Sounds like a fabulous trip! I adore those fortune cookies along with everything else. Delicious pictures!

Dodie July 1, 2009 um 1:30 pm

You (and Jael from The Chocolate Lounge) make yummy sweet treats look so easy and chic! I'm totally inspired…but will soon be faced with the inevitable reminder that I stink at following recipes. A girl can dream, though…

veron July 1, 2009 um 1:40 pm

I'm already talking to the Hubby about taking that drive to Asheville, it's 6 hours from Richmond but then again I'd do anything for foodtopia! Talk to you soon ;).

Snooky doodle July 1, 2009 um 2:07 pm

Ok I can say it I m jealous! What a nice experience. Wonderful photos. That strawberry cheesecake is droolworthy 🙂

Erin July 1, 2009 um 2:25 pm

Sounds like you had a fun trip! We're about an hour and a half away from Asheville so I'll have to check some of these places out!

Sherida July 1, 2009 um 2:26 pm

Oh, Helen. What a beautifully written and photographed blog post. You make me feel like a tourist in my own town! I'm so glad you came, and I had the opportunity to meet you.

Valérie July 1, 2009 um 2:46 pm

Are those… coloured fortune cookies? They look so cute! It sounds like you had a great time!

Thank you so much for sharing the cheesecake recipe!

white on rice couple July 1, 2009 um 4:19 pm

Gorgeous!!! Wow, I feel like I'm there again, but soooo missing the first day!! Thank you for sharing this amazing trip again and re-creating the fabulous cheesecake!
We soooo want to return……next week? 😀
diane and todd

Nico July 1, 2009 um 4:29 pm

Thanks for sharing this experience!!! I'll try the cheesecake, that is for sure.

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog July 1, 2009 um 4:43 pm

How fun and wonderful photos more delights there!

The chocolate strawberry cheesecake must taste absolutely divine 🙂



Paula Maack July 1, 2009 um 5:05 pm

What a beautiful adventure! And new friends, too!! YAY!!! 🙂

Wish I were there with you guys!

The cheesecake looks and sounds marvelous. Thank you for sharing, Helen. And, for doing such a gorgeous job of it, as always!


~ Paula

Sunshinemom July 1, 2009 um 5:08 pm

I love the crust!

Char July 1, 2009 um 5:14 pm

sooooooooooooooooo beautiful – I know you had an amazing time and the photography is just gorgeous

Theresa July 1, 2009 um 5:20 pm

Oh, you are making me want to jump in my car and drive to Asheville RIGHT NOW. My husband and I went to Asheville for our honeymoon, then went back the following year too. We just love it there. Our favorite restaurant it there, but I won't say which – I'm curious to see if you foodies made your way there. But can you believe I've never been to the Chocolate Lounge?! You better believe I'll be going there next time I'm in Asheville!

swifty July 1, 2009 um 5:27 pm

what size spring form pan?

Helene July 1, 2009 um 5:51 pm

swifty: it's in the recipe text.

Risa July 1, 2009 um 6:05 pm

Your photos are incredible. This seemed like a great trip.

Jen Yu July 1, 2009 um 6:09 pm

Such a lovely account of the trip! I especially love it because I didn't have to endure East Coast humidity. That's a fair trade, right? I endure the cold to bring you Colorado, you endure the humidity to bring me the South? 🙂 Very happy you met T&D, two of my favorite bloggers (and let's not forget about YOU too!). All of these gorgeous photos really distract me from that amazing cheesecake hee hee.

featherbed July 1, 2009 um 6:16 pm

yummy yum!!!

MyKitchenInHalfCups July 1, 2009 um 6:19 pm

We have friends in Asheville but have never visited them there, never been there.
You certainly have me drooling and champing at the bit to go.
What a really wonderful time!
Now to give a study to this cheese cake. I've come to understand your "OK" feeling about cheese cake so this seems like it must be in an ultimate category.

Nutmeg Nanny July 1, 2009 um 6:38 pm

Everything looks great and I love the recipe:)

Sarah Easterling July 1, 2009 um 7:27 pm

I live in Asheville, I'm a friend of Dan and Jael, I own a business 2 blocks away from the chocolate lounge and around the corner from Zambra and I used to manage the Laughing Seed. I love your blog and read it regularly, so I'm feeling a lot of hometown pride that you visited our little town and enjoyed it so much!!!

The Prudent Homemaker July 1, 2009 um 8:43 pm

I printed it out, and the strawberries (and some home-grown blackberries) are thawing.

Kind of bummed that if I make it today it won't be ready until tomorrow. . . I always forget that about cheesecakes. To soothe my tastebuds a little, I ate a few frozen blackberries and a few bites of chocolate. I think I'll go back to some more chocolate while thoseberries thaw . . .

I'm excited because I have EVERYTHING on hand except the cream–but I have evaporated milk, and I'll be using it instead (I adore cream, but I make do with what's on hand).

And, I still don't own a food processor, so I'll use my hand chopper for the almonds and I'll mix in the butter by hand; probably with a pastry blender.

While I'm waiting for this cheesecake, I'll probably make a plum tart for tonight with the green plums I just picked from the garden today. I had never seen green plums until I was on the bus in France one day, and a woman had a bag of them with her. I remember asking her what they were, and if they weren't ripe yet. Green Gage plums are self-fertile, which makes it easy to have only one plum tree in your garden.

Annie July 1, 2009 um 9:35 pm

There is a reason we moved to Asheville and you named many of them just in your post.

simply hue July 1, 2009 um 10:24 pm

Wow, beautiful beautiful post, Helen! I love the large images, the gorgeous architecture, and of course the food photos. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

defientchef July 1, 2009 um 11:24 pm

Ive always wanted to go to Ashville. I'm only 2 hours away from there but for one reason or another have never made it. Guess I'm just gonna have to make a weekend trip soon.

dessert girl July 1, 2009 um 11:24 pm

I love those colored fortune cookies!

Engineer Baker July 2, 2009 um 12:46 am

Oh. So. Jealous. That all looks absolutely amazing! I love going places where people care that deeply about what they make, bake, cook, or craft – that sort of passion is wonderful. And the cheesecake recipe definitely bears a second look – yum!

Helene July 2, 2009 um 1:14 am

Theresa: not sure when your honeymoon was, but The Chocolate Lounge is less than 2 years old. Something to explore on a returning trip maybe?

Valerie and Dessert Girl: the fortune cookies are not cookies, they are foam and contain bath product from Bath Junkie.

Thank you everyone! Go run make thaht cheesecake now!

Ria Mathew July 2, 2009 um 4:55 am

Lovely pics Helen and that cheesecake is to die for!! Yummy!

Kitchen M July 2, 2009 um 5:21 am

Wow, what a beautiful place! I've never been to NC, but if I ever have a chance to go, I will keep this place in mind. 🙂

Thanks for giving us a virtual tour of Ashville. It's fun to read a post like this every once in a while.

Jo July 2, 2009 um 5:34 am

I definitely have to try this recipe since my other half is a sucker for anything that's spelt CHEESE! The pairing of strawberry and choc is divine – just like the cake and clicks.

Su July 2, 2009 um 12:09 pm

Realizas un trabajo fantástico!!

Un saludo

Lori July 2, 2009 um 12:32 pm

Chocolate lounge? OMG- this person was a genius that thought of this name. Instead of location, location, location. He or she hit it all with the name!

Anita July 2, 2009 um 12:50 pm

Thanks for getting the recipe and the lovely chefs for parting with it. Looks like you had a great time!

Fl. July 2, 2009 um 1:26 pm

hey, i'd just popped by to say i think you bake wonderful things, and that your pictures are really exquisite.
i know you get that really often, but i think you really do deserve all those compliments 😀

Manggy July 2, 2009 um 2:15 pm

I am an absolute SUCKA for these food trip pics… I can't help it, I love living vicariously through you guys. Love the Fresh Quarter- so cute! 🙂

Eléonora July 2, 2009 um 7:11 pm

Et sorry de mon billet copier-coller avant un grand départ. Il y a des préparatifs et je suis trop prise par le temps. Je n’allais pas partir en vacances sans vous faire un petit coucou quand même. Je sais que pour la plupart vous n’aimez pas ( bisous, bisous, bisous ). Alors un grand merci pour tout ce que vous m’apportez, merci de votre fidélité et merci de vous connaître. Je vous souhaite de bonnes vacances et je vous dis à bientôt avec plaisir.

Simones Kitchen July 2, 2009 um 9:43 pm

That sounds like such a fun trip. It must be great meeting up with all those likeminded people! Looking forward to part 2!

eatme_delicious July 3, 2009 um 3:09 am

Thanks for getting this recipe and posting it for us! 🙂 It sounds delicious. I'm really confused about this foodtopian society. It's not a festival/once a year thing, right? Is it a certain area of the city?

Divina Pe July 3, 2009 um 8:01 am

This is a lovely website. The desserts are gorgeous.

Deanna July 3, 2009 um 11:01 am

The chocolate shop looks amazing – that would be a dangerous place for me! I love the photo of the covered cake stands…and I can't wait to try the cheesecake using red raspberries!

Patricia Scarpin July 3, 2009 um 2:24 pm

Helen, I have made only one cheesecake so far, in my entire life – I think I should make more, don't you? 😀
These look like the perfect excuse!

Parisbreakfasts July 4, 2009 um 12:37 pm

Major YUM!
Food trips are the BEST!!
Even better vicariously

Dolcienonsolo July 4, 2009 um 7:32 pm

Che meraviglia…

zee July 6, 2009 um 12:40 pm

I love love love the pictures !! Especially the chocolate truffles and everything in the Chocolate Lounge.. Mmmmm, makes me drool here.. Sorry, can't help it.. 🙂

Pooja March 17, 2012 um 12:45 pm

Hi..I tried making this cake..unfortunately the cake got stuck in the springform just didn't come out! Sad, but I think we will have to eat it through the pan. I wonder Helene, did you also have a difficulty in taking out the cake? Moreover, it doesn't have a texture of a's sticky and gooey…just not what I would have expected out of a cheesecake

Helene March 17, 2012 um 2:39 pm

Pooja: nope, no problem at all. Check that your oven temperature is correct with a separate thermometer and that there is not a cold/hot spot situation happening there.

statelysweets August 28, 2012 um 2:43 am

Wow! Kind of like a strawberry charleston chew… only better!
Thanks for the amazing recipe!

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