Sunday, March 30, 2014

Strawberry Cream Cheese Panini

My mother used to make us cream cheese and strawberry jam sandwiches.   Made with tightly crumbed white bread, with the crusts cut off and perfectly square,  they added elegance to any child's tea party.  All grown up and more rustic, these strawberry and cream cheese panini provide the same flavorful delight plus a little whiff of spring during March's slow melt into sunnier days.

The filling in our panini is made with frozen strawberries that have been defrosted and macerated with a little lemon juice and cinnamon. Be sure to look for unsweetened strawberries.  You can always add a little sugar or honey if your strawberries are not as sweet as you'd like.  If you are seeing fresh strawberries that have some flavor, go ahead and use those.  The cream cheese is flavored with lemon zest.  A good quality (or homemade) strawberry jam is the only other essential ingredient.

For the bread, use a fairly plain loaf that will not compete with the filling.  Sliced plain white bread is fine and so is brioche, challah, a country loaf or french bread sliced on the diagonal.

We think of these as a daytime snack or breakfast fare, but if you are serving them after dinner try blending a little liquor into the cream cheese or the jam.  If you have some Chambord, creme de cassis or Grand Marnier you can highlight the fruit notes in the sandwich or try something more unusual but complimentary like Drambuie or Amaretto.  You won't need much, just a teaspoon or two.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Panini
Makes 2 sandwiches

Ingredients
3 ounces cream cheese
1 lemon
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
pinch cinnamon
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
4 slices bread
1 tablespoon butter (if using skillet method or panini press allows)

Method
  1. Place cream cheese in a small bowl.  Zest the lemon and mix into the cream cheese.  Set aside. 
  2. Defrost strawberries and give them a rough chop. (You can defrost strawberries quickly in a microwave.  Use half power for 2-3 minutes.)  
  3. Mix in juice of quarter of the lemon (about 2 teaspoons) and a good pinch of cinnamon.  Set aside while you prepare the bread slices.  
  4. If you are using a panini press, preheat it now.
If using a pannini press, follow manufacturer's directions for oiling or not oiling the surface of the bread....
  • Slice the defrosted strawberries and taste one.  Sprinkle a teeny, tiny amount of sugar on them if needed.  Set aside while you prepare the bread. 
  • Spread some good quality strawberry jam on one side; the flavored cream cheese on the other.  Spoon the sliced strawberries over the jam side and cover with the cream cheese side.    
  • Place the cream cheese side down and close the press. Most will beep when the pannini is ready.  Remove and cut in half or in quarters to serve. 

If using a skillet....
  • Place the pan over medium heat. Slice the defrosted strawberries and taste one.  Sprinkle a teeny, tiny amount of sugar on them if needed.  Set aside while you prepare the bread. 
  • Spread some good quality strawberry jam on one side; the flavored cream cheese on the other.  Spoon the sliced strawberries over the jam side and cover with the cream cheese side.  
  • Brush the top with some melted or softened butter.  Place the cream cheese (buttered) side down and cook until browned on that side.  
  • Lightly butter the top (jam side) while the flip side grills.  Flip and cook until browned on the jam side.  Remove and cut in half or in quarters and enjoy. 

Serving suggestion: These really are terrific on their own but if you know someone who loves chocolate, a little bowl of melted dark chocoalte or warm ganache can be served along side for dipping or drizzling.