Make Ahead

Savory "Cheese Ball" Pie w/ Lemon Aspic on Thyme Crust

March 15, 2012
0 Ratings
  • Prep time 4 hours
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • Serves 12
Author Notes

I wanted a savory East-Meets-West pie for the after-dinner cheese course with coffee or wine. I decided to make our Grandmother's favorite Olive Cheese Ball for the filling and to flavor the crust like Thyme Crackers. But I needed that 'Wow' factor. A vision of spring-green celery floating in a clear pond filled my head.

Wagashi (Japanese Sweets) are delicate, intricately beautiful individual sweets usually made from sweetened bean paste or a 'seasonal' ingredient, or related to an activity like viewing the cherry blossoms. Some wagashi will be sold for a week or two and then gone until next year, like the cherry blossoms.
Not being a 13th- or 14th-generation wagashi maker, I don't have their secrets. So I experimented with celery coming up with this unexpected shape and decided to float it in a clear lemon aspic.

Yes, that 'Wow' factor, but delicious too!
Added benefits: less calories, less fat and less salt than cheese on crackers or Grandmother's Olive Cheese Ball. —BoulderGalinTokyo

What You'll Need
  • Thyme Cracker Crust (and Yogurt Cheese)
  • 16 ounces (450 g) yogurt (low-fat OK but no-fat doesn't work) or Greek Yogurt
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tablespoons thyme (fresh, if possible)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 Tablespoons cold water, as needed
  • Olive Cheese Filling and Lemon Aspic with Celery
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup green olives with pimento + 8 for decorating (Spanish preferred)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sour cream or drained yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons pickling juice from olives
  • 6-8 stalks celery (uniform size & color, enough to decorate the top of pie after cutting)
  • 10 grams powdered gelatin (2 packets)
  • 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 warm water (about 80? /176?)
  • 1/4 cup lemon liquor (I use homemade but Limoncello is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon light agave
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water (adjust according to your gelatin directions)
  1. Thyme Cracker Crust (and Yogurt Cheese)
  2. YOGURT CHEESE: (if you purchase Greek yogurt, skip this step) Start several hours before making the filling. Line a colander (preferably with stand or feet) with cheesecloth or paper towels. Place colander into a larger bowl. Pour yogurt into the colander, cover with more paper towels or the cheesecloth corners. Put a heavy plate on top. Cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge. Empty the bottom bowl occasionally.
  3. THYME CRACKER CRUST: Preheat oven to 410℉ (210℃) for gas convection. Set other oven to 475℉ (240℃).
  4. Put flour, thyme, salt, pepper, and oil in food processor bowl. Mix. With processor running, add water slowly. (This dough won't make a ball like a dough with butter--which you may use but lower the amount of the salt)
  5. Pat into an 8-inch springform pan. I used an 8-inch because the cheese mixture is less than a regular baked cheesecake would have and I wanted some height to the pie, but there is plenty of dough for a 9-inch pan if you choose.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes (approximately) until golden brown. Tap the top and the crust should be firm. Cool.
  1. Olive Cheese Filling and Lemon Aspic with Celery
  2. OLIVE CHEESE FILLING: Take the yogurt cheese out of fridge and squeeze any additional liquid out. The yogurt cheese should peel away from the cloth or paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Cut cream cheese into eight pieces and put in a food processor bowl with mixer (knife) blade. Cut the garlic clove in half, and add to bowl. Add olives. Pulse until coarsely mixed. Add the yogurt cheese (or Greek yogurt) and egg and pulse again.
  4. Put a little oil on the sides of the pan. Pour filling onto your prepared crust and bake at 325℉ (160℃) for about 35 minutes or until set. (About 30 min. for my convection oven but adjust a little longer for your oven)
  5. Combine sour cream and olive juice. If using yogurt, drain well so it's not too watery. This is not the yogurt cheese, just drained yogurt. Spread over the top of cheese filling. I didn't re-bake because I wanted a 'White' canvas for the celery.
  6. Cool for at least 4 hours.
  7. CELERY: Prepare celery first. Sharpen knife. Try to choose sections of celery that are the same width. Don't use the lower white celery sections. Start cutting from the back of the celery spine cutting almost through, but not all the way through. Cut and count 1-10, slice through on 11. But do what works for you. Put each section in cold water. I cut 25 sections but used 21 (and one eaten because I cut all the way through)
  8. Slice OLIVES in half. I used 8. Depends on your design.
  9. LEMON ASPIC: Squeeze the lemon juice. Strain the pulp out. Sprinkle gelatin powder on warm-hot water and stir until it dissolves. Stir and cool slightly. Add lemon juice, agave, and lemon liquor, stirring. (I didn't want to use zest as it would 'muddy' the aspic, so I added the liquor.)
  10. Decorate the top however you like with the celery and the olives. Celery may have curled somewhat. Position the olives cut side up. Check if pimentos are in place.
  11. Add the cold water to the lemon gelatin mixture. Keep stirring and it will BEGIN to thicken. Being very careful of your decorated pieces on top, pour (or spoon) the lemon gelatin very slowly over the filling to not move the celery or the olives. Be especially careful of the olives, some will float away, so after pouring all gelatin, check your design again.
  12. Cool in fridge for several hours.
  13. TO SERVE: Try cutting along the lines of your design to give the cut pieces the look of Japanese wagashi. See my Photos. Warm the knife to cut sharply through the aspic but not too hot or the aspic will melt. Put on a Japanese music playlist and enjoy those cherry blossoms!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • BoulderGalinTokyo
  • LeBec Fin
    LeBec Fin

2 Reviews

BoulderGalinTokyo March 18, 2012
HaHa, La Bec Fin, you always say the most amusing things. Now that you've said it, yes, they do look like bright green apple Life Savors. It took 2 days to get the right light for that picture. That celery vision floating in my head.

Don't know those movies, after Tues. I'll look into it. No but the plum trees are just beginning. Very cold and snowy winter so blossoms delayed. Last year was so somber after the devastation, I'm planning several parties this spring....pluma, cherries, tulips, and nanohana.
LeBec F. March 18, 2012
boulder, you are somethin', girl! this is so inventive! wait til you hear this>> do you know what I thought i was looking at in the first photo? green life savers!!! i mean, they're shiny, right?! but i finally read on and saw where you were going with this. (But i had to tell you; i thought you'd get a big laugh from it!)

btw, have you ever seen the German film, "Cherry Blossoms?"
One of the most touching films I have ever seen about foreigners in japan. the director did another film about 2 German brothers(opposites) doing a retreat in a Japanese Zen monastery. Wonderful. I guess cherry time is almost there, yes?