Mascarpone cheese is like you took all of your hopes and wishes and dreams and stirred them up in a little tub with some cream and love. I know there are some other supposed “miracle foods,” but this one, this dream cheese, is my miracle food.
I’m quite pleased with the phrase “dream cheese.”
What can mascarpone do for you? Well, for one thing, it can hang out in your fridge for quite a long time without any attention whatsoever, then answer the call of duty at the drop of a hat. The shelf life of most brands is at least a couple of months, so you can buy a tub without any intentions and you’ll surely figure out some way to use it before it goes bad.
My favorite uses for mascarpone are sweet ones: it only takes a tablespoon of sugar to turn it into a decadent but not-too-sweet topping. Try it in tiramisu, layered fruity desserts, as a layer in tarts, and as a casual frosting. I’ve also been known to dollop a spoonful of mascarpone onto creamy polenta with a sprinkling of brown sugar, some chopped, toasted nuts, and a little fresh fruit for a weekend breakfast. One of my favorite savory uses is this spaghetti fennel gratin with roasted tomatoes.
This time, I used lightly sweetened mascarpone to top brownie bites, then I scattered vanilla-candied kumquat slices over the whole works. The brownie department is sweet and dense, with the occasional chocolate chip here and there. The mascarpone layer tones down the overall sweetness, but ratchets up the creaminess and decadence. The candied kumquats provide zing, brightness, and joy.
I added a split vanilla bean to my usual candied kumquat regime, and I’m rather pleased with the resulting flavor, as well as the telltale vanilla bean flecks.
Brownie Bites with Mascarpone Cream and Candied Kumquats (brownie recipe from here)
Yield: approximately 16 brownie bites
Note: you’ll have extra candied kumquats. Put them on your hot cereal, make mixed drinks with them (or just add them to fizzy water), eat them with other desserts, or just sneak them from the container.
For the vanilla-candied kumquats:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
20 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds and seeds removed
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
For the brownies:
1/2 cup butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (you can use all-purpose, but why?)
1 cup chocolate chips (use your favorite variety)
For the mascarpone cream:
6 oz. mascarpone
1 Tablespoon milk (or slightly more)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
To prepare the kumquats, bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Add the kumquat slices, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan, and also add the scraped vanilla bean to the pan. Return the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until it becomes a syrup, about 20-30 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Note: I tossed in a few whole kumquats, just so I could eat them later.
To make the brownies, preheat the oven to 350°. Line about 16 cups in standard muffin tins with paper liners (you may need one or two more).
Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for a couple of minutes (this is to prevent cooking your eggs when you add them). Stir in the sugar, salt, vanilla, and eggs. Stir in the flour, just until incorporated. Pour in the chocolate chips and stir just enough to distribute them.
Scrape the batter equally into the lined muffin tins. Bake for about 15 minutes until the tops are completely set. Cool the brownies in their papers on a wire rack. When they’re completely cool, remove the papers (they were just there to make it easy to get the brownie bites out of the tins).
For the mascarpone cream, whisk the mascarpone with the milk until it is a very spreadable consistency (and add a tiny bit more milk, if needed). Whisk in the sugar and vanilla until smooth.
To assemble the brownie bites, spread a layer of mascarpone cream over each one and arrange a few kumquat slices prettily on top. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Store the extra candied kumquats in the fridge, too.