Mascarpone, pronounced mahs-car-POH-nay, is a silky and sweet Italian double or triple cream cheese made from the cream of pasteurized cow’s milk. Originating in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, it’s best known as an essential ingredient in tiramisu, an Italian coffee and chocolate dessert, but it has it’s uses in savoury dishes as well. Mascarpone has an especially high percentage of saturated fat, which is what contributes to its rich taste and texture.
What Is Mascarpone?
Mascarpone is an ivory-colored, exceptionally smooth, and easily spreadable fresh cream cheese. The flavor is milky and slightly sweet. The rich, buttery texture comes from the high butterfat content which can range up to 75%!
Mascarpone vs. Cream Cheese
Mascarpone has at least twice as much fat as cream cheese, which gives it a richer, almost melt-in-your-mouth quality. You can use the two interchangeably, but there are differences in both flavour and texture. What we recognize as cream cheese tends to be firmer with a tangier flavor while Mascarpone is slightly sweet and silky smooth.
How Mascarpone Is Made
Making Mascarpone is surprisingly easy. Commercial producers use the same simple process you can use at home to make mascarpone, just on a larger scale. Essentially, you add an acid to fresh cream which causes it to coagulate. Once the coagulation is complete, the fresh curds are gently cooked over a steady heat until they reach the consistency of crème fraîche. Unlike many cheeses that rely on the thickening ability of rennet, an enzyme produced in the stomachs of ruminant animals, commercial mascarpone producers use citric or tartaric acid to solidify the cream. Lemon juice works in a home kitchen. After draining the whey, a soft, fresh and buttery mascarpone remains. As a fresh cheese, it can be packaged and distributed immediately.
While mascarpone is readily available in the cheese or sometimes dairy section of your local grocer, the closest cousins to mascarpone are English clotted cream and French crème fraîche. High-quality creamy ricotta (avoid ricotta with larger curds) or the generally firmer American cream cheese can also act as substitutes for mascarpone, although the result won’t be as rich and smooth. To compensate for some of the differences, you can blend the ricotta before you use it, or add whipping cream and/or sour cream to American cream cheese.
Uses of Mascarpone
Mascarpone can be added to both sweet and savory dishes, where it provides a rich and creamy element. It can be used as a substitute to whipped cream to top a bowl of fruit or as a frosting for cakes or cupcakes. Bake it into a cheesecake or swap it for sour cream in banana bread or muffins. For a savory use, add mascarpone to pasta sauce or use it in place of cream in nearly any dish. It can also be used to thicken soups, stuff chicken breasts, and as a bagel spread. Drop teaspoonfuls on top of roasted vegetables or mix it into your scrambled eggs. For an easy dip, whisk fresh herbs and garlic into the mascarpone. Or enjoy a big dollop of mascarpone as a light dessert with a sprinkle of cocoa powder, chocolate shavings, or a drizzle of honey on top. Serve it with fresh berries, figs, or simple cookies. It’s uses are endless!
With mascarpone widely available in grocery stores, it can be your go-to ingredient to make any day feel special. Try out these great recipes that are a few of my favourites!
MASCARPONE AND LEMON PASTA
This recipe can be scaled up depending on the number of people you’re serving (this recipe will yield 4 side servings) and it can also be converted into a main with the addition of chicken, shrimp, or any other protein you choose.
- 1 cup (227g) uncooked pasta
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup mascarpone
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup finely chopped herbs—parsley, basil, oregano
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil to cook your pasta.
- In a small bowl mix together the lemon juice, mascarpone, and salt. If you’re adding a protein to the dish, this is where you would incorporate it before adding the sauce to the pasta.
- When the pasta has cooked according to the package instructions, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
- Put the drained pasta into a large serving bowl and stir in the mascarpone cheese sauce until it is mostly melted into the noodles. If the pasta seems too dry or the mascarpone too thick, then drizzle in the reserved water as needed and stir to smooth the sauce out.
- Garnish the pasta with fresh herbs, black pepper, and sea salt. Serve immediately.
NO BAKE TIRAMISU
No blog about Mascarpone would be complete without a tiramisu recipe! I’ve made this one a few times and it’s easy to do with a great result at the end.
- 4 farm-fresh eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup fresh mascarpone cheese
- 2 cups strong espresso (at room temperature)
- 24 Savoiardi biscuits (or ladyfingers)
- Cocoa powder (for dusting)
- In a medium mixing bowl, beat the yolks with a whisk or electric hand mixer, gradually adding the sugar, until the mixture is thick, fluffy, smooth, and pale.
- Gently fold the mascarpone into the yolks and sugar mixture with a spatula and set aside.
- In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
- Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the mascarpone-yolk mixture, one-half at a time, and set aside.
- Pour the espresso into a wide, shallow bowl or dish and quickly dip several of the Savoiardi into the espresso just long enough to moisten them, but not so long that they grow soggy and lose their shape.
- Arrange the biscuits in a single layer on a serving platter or in a baking dish.
- Top the biscuits with a layer of the mascarpone cream.
- Then dust evenly with some cocoa powder.
- Repeat the layers until your ingredients are used up, ending with a layer of the mascarpone cream dusted with cocoa. As an added bit of flourish, add a few chocolate curls or chocolate covered coffee beans to the top of the dish.
- Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or until well-chilled and firm.
- Serve straight from the refrigerator and enjoy!
It’s important to remember it’s not safe to let this dish sit for a long time at room temperature due to the mascarpone and raw eggs!
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