Down the Tracks
On a recent visit to my hometown I had some time to visit the county seat and walk around the courthouse square. For a full morning I lingered, retracing my steps and stirring memories. I walked through the courthouse and around the square where I took my driving test in my aunt’s car when I was sixteen. Not far beyond was the street where one of my best friends lived and where I met my first boyfriend.
Across from the courthouse I visited the County Historical Society, then browsed through the shops along Main Street. I took pictures and admired a few architectural details that had escaped my attention as a child. I studied the railroad tracks in the middle of Main Street, a feature of interest both then and now. I looked down the tracks to where they curved out of town and into the distance, wondering at all they had carried to and from this small town as I hoped for a train to pass by.
All Things Old are New Again
Of course many things have changed. The dentist office at the end of the street is gone as is the five and dime where I shopped for treasures and Christmas gifts as a child. In the place of those offices and shops I remember, others have sprung up or moved in, including art studios and gift shops. There is even a nice local bookstore and coffeehouse where I browsed through books in search of local history and color.
I found one or two books of interest and as I concluded my purchase I noticed the gift items near the cash register. There I found a collection of vintage silver flatware stamped with whimsical phrases from Sycamore Hill. Not only were these nostalgic spoons, forks and spreading knives tempting period pieces on their own but they were adorned with the object of my ultimate weakness, the printed word. After looking through the entire collection I found my favorite, a small butter knife with the words “spread the love” stamped on the blade.
The Spice of Life
When I got home I searched for a recipe to feature my Sycamore Hill spreader. The one I came up with also has its origins in an earlier time and place. It is based on a recipe I cut from a magazine shortly after I was married. Back then I thought of it as a simple reference to Cheesecake, a dessert I had just discovered and loved to make.
I adapted the original recipe here to spice things up a bit and to add a personal stamp: one of my favorite artisan chocolates, discovered since I moved to Tennessee. A little brown sugar along with Olive and Sinclair’s Mexican Style Cinn-Chili chocolate bar adds an appealing hint of heat to the velvety cool cream cheese. (Feel free to experiment with your own favorite flavored chocolate or simply use an equivalent amount of chocolate chips.)
No baking is required here. The ingredients are simply mixed, then molded and chilled. Adorn with a dusting of spiced cocoa powder and chocolate curls. Add a side of ginger snaps or shortbread cookies and you have a pretty deconstructed cheesecake to share with friends.
Spread the Love!
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup mini chocolate chips
Seeds from ½ vanilla bean (or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
4 ounces chili flavored chocolate
Chocolate curls (for garnish)
Spice (cinnamon, coffee, red pepper……)
Line a mini-loaf pan (or another small container or mold of a similar size) with plastic wrap. Set aside.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or double boiler. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the melted chocolate, brown sugar and vanilla seeds (or extract). Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
Add the mini chocolate chips and beat just until combined.
Smooth the mixture into the prepared mini-loaf pan (or other mold) being careful to push it into the corners, filling the whole area. Smooth and cover the top with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least several hours or, preferably, over-night.
When the mixture is chilled through, carefully remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Remove the cream cheese mixture from the pan using the plastic wrap lining to gently lift it out.
Invert the molded cream cheese mixture onto a serving plate. Dust the top and sides with cocoa powder, if desired, and with a pinch or two of spice (cinnamon, ancho chili powder and/or instant coffee powder). Top with chocolate curls.
Serve with ginger snaps or shortbread cookies.
Note: I think this would make a nice dessert to share as couples after dinner. Instead of using a small loaf pan to mold the cream cheese mixture divide it into two or three smaller bowls, teacups, cupcake tins or other molds. To serve, invert one mold per couple onto a small serving plate and surround it with the cookies. You could also add another topping, if you like; maybe candied ginger pieces, fruit salsa, slices of fresh fruit, fruit paste or jam, or toasted nuts. Place the serving plate between each couple and enjoy at your leisure with a cup of coffee or a dessert wine.