Heart-Leaving? Coeur à la Crème with Strawberry, Balsamic & Black Pepper Sauce

I was trying to listen to my heart, figuratively speaking. I assumed that I'd know the right door to choose when the time came---but I was starting to doubt it would be so simple.
However, I was distracted by my actual heart which was wriggling and sloshing under my ribs, restless from the two glasses of Chardonnay and the two packs of Smarties I'd gulped earlier that evening in an attempt to recover from the day. Lying awake in a vast hotel bed, my mind wandered from heart to heart.
First, I had the memory of sticking my finger down into a sheep's heart in 7th grade science ...the stiffness and the smell eclipsed by the frustration of not being able to sense the interior landscape no matter how deep I shoved my finger.
Next, I had the image of the poppy illustrations in my ex-uncle's 1956 Atlas of Anatomy...a simple, palatable map with a color-scheme taken from Superman's closet.
And then my mind turned to my cupboards full of heart-shaped bakeware: muffin tins, ice cube trays, pancake shapers, fried egg corrals, poached egg cradles, sugar stencils, cookie cutters (in 14 different sizes)...
Finally I thought of the artist commissioned hearts that dot San Francisco. Before I drifted off to sleep, I had one of those surprise--->clarity--->relief moments, like when you are scouring the house for your keys, totally sure they must be tucked in the couch, and then finding them in your pocket. Like traveling all over just to find yourself at your front door.

I spotted a Strawberry Shortcake Good Humor bar at a gas station in Napa and felt inspired to make something creamy and red. Coeur a la Creme sounds awfully fancy, but it's pretty much a no-bake cheesecake without a crust. I've seen recipes using different cheeses, sweet or savory. I went with mascarpone and riffed off a Gourmet recipe. The topping is sweet, despite the vinegar and pepper. It would also go well with a more savory dish, if you have extra (which you won't). You do need a special hole-y mold, however, that allows the whey to drain away, condensing the cheese into a heart. A coeur a la creme mold may be one of the few frivolous heart-shaped things I don't have--read my note in the recipe if you don't have one either.

Coeur A La Creme with Strawberry, Balsamic, & Black Pepper Sauce

  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 C whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar, sifted

For strawberry sauce:
  • 2 C strawberries
  • 1 3/4 C sugar
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • scant 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepperdot of butter to ease the foaming

Cheesecloth, 1 large or 4 small coeur a la creme molds
* * You can buy these perforated ceramic molds at Sur La Table and the like... but I made my own by reshaping a disposable mini-loaf pan using a cookie cutter as a guide. Then I poked some holes in the bottom. I've heard of people using a plastic heart-shaped candy container. You could also forgo the heart-shape and make Lump A La Creme by lining a colander with cheesecloth.**

Slightly dampen a piece of cheesecloth and line the mold or molds.

Beat the mascarpone, 1/4 C of the cream, vanilla, and lemon juice with an electric mixer. Chill.

In a separate bowl, whip the other cup of cream and powdered sugar until it forms peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the chilled cheese, one third at a time. Gently spoon into the cheesecloth lined molds, tap gently to release bubbles, and fold the hanging cheesecloth over the top. Place on a dish or tray and refrigerate for at least 3 hrs.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Trim the berries and quarter them if they're large. I left some small ones whole. Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan (I find a wide enough one speeds things along), stirring often. Simmer until thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool completely then chill.

When ready to serve, unfold the cheesecloth from the top of the mold. Invert mold onto a platter. Hang on to the cheesecloth while pulling up the mold. Smooth the top and carefully peel away the cheesecloth. Spoon topping around plate.