Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Ying and Yang of the Caribbean: Guayaba y Queso Blanco

It’s quite possibly the world’s greatest combination of flavors: white cheese and guava. It’s like the ying and the yang of the Caribbean world, and it never fails to please. There are several ways you can enjoy this unique combination of flavors, it just depends on how much time and what ingredients you have. My mother vividly remembers eating the simple, yet satisfying hors d'oeuvre at Christmas parties that consists of a Ritz cracker, a slice of white cheese and a slice of guava. It’s a delicious pairing, both for the eyes and the palate. The deep red of the guava heightens the whiteness of the cheese, creating a picturesque image that brightens any spread! Although often associated with Christmas for many Puerto Ricans, these can be served anytime, anywhere and is perfect for a dinner party. There’s no fuss, no mess, and it’s completely delicious.

Now, if you find yourself with a little more time on your hands, or with a craving for sweets that just won’t quit, pastelillos with guava and cheese are a must! Pastelillos are essentially an empanada-like pastry that instead of meat is filled with guava paste and cream cheese. They are almost too easy to make, lending themselves to become addictive. I remember the first time I tried a guava and cheese pastelillo, it was in Kissimmee, Florida, at a local Latino market that sells a variety of traditional Puerto Rican items in their “fast food” corner. My husband Erik and I tried one out of curiosity, and it smelled so good we had to take a bite out of it as soon as we left the store. Needless to say, we completely devoured it before even turning on the car! I was determined to find or make a recipe to recreate the experience, and luckily with my mother’s fond memories of them, and our collective ingenuity, we came up with a simple recipe that won’t leave a Puerto Rican native questioning its authenticity!

Once you try this combination, you’ll understand why it’s so popular in the Caribbean, and why you really need will power to avoid eating too many pastelillos!

For the simple version:

Ritz crackers
White cheese (A Hispanic brand like Cacique is good)
Guava paste (Usually sold at Latino markets and is called Ate de Guayaba)

Cut equal sized slices of the guava paste and white cheese and place atop a cracker.

To make Pastelillos:

8 sheets of puff pastry
Egg wash
Flour (To make the puff pastry easier to work with)
1 package of guava paste
1 bar of cream cheese

Optional: Powdered Sugar

Set the oven at 375 degrees. On a flat surface, spread some flour so that the puff pastry does not stick. If needed, make the puff pastry thinner with a rolling pin (you’ll need some room for the guava paste and cheese to fit). Be careful, however, not to make the pastry too thin. Cut 1/8” inch slices of the guava paste and cream cheese and put a slice of each in the middle of the pastry square. Brush the inside edges of the pastry with the egg wash and either fold triangularly or by bringing each edge to the center. If you choose to fold it triangularly (the shape should resemble an empanada), brush the outer edges of the puff pastry and with a fork press the edges together. This will keep the pastry together and give it that “empanada” look. Once you’ve done this for all 8 pastries, brush the outside with the remaining egg wash and place on a baking sheet. Bake the pastries for about 10-15 minutes, until the outside is golden brown and flaky.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Let cool for several minutes.

These are best out of the oven, but be careful, the heavenly melted mixture inside could be very hot! Enjoy!

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