Besides German bread and white asparagus, quark is probably the food Germans living abroad crave the most. Quark was the first real food my parents fed me as a baby so it was only natural that I’ve been on a quark quest since I came to America almost 20 years ago.
During the first few years after I moved here quark was nowhere to be found. In my German cookbook, which was first published in 2004, I included a recipe for quark made with rennet. Like other formulas for homemade quark it is a lengthy process and the quark does not hold up well in baked goods.
Since then, quark, both imported and domestic, has popped up here and there but it is still not widely available in the United States – and expensive, unless you don’t mind spending $11 for a pound of quark that goes into a German Käsekuchen (cheesecake). Ricotta and cottage cheese are not good alternatives, they are too gritty even when blitzed in the food processor and they lack the creaminess of quark.
But thankfully Greek yogurt has come to the rescue for all of us quark lovers, flooding the dairy shelves of virtually every supermarket. There are many different brands, and compared to quark Greek yogurt is reasonably priced. It works great in baked goods, both in cake and pastry fillings, desserts and in my favorite low-fat sweet or savory pie crust called Quark-Ölteig in German (find my recipe here).
Most German baking recipes call for Magerquark, which is low-fat quark with less than 10% fat. Yes, that is considered low-fat in Germany! Theoretically you could use 2% Greek yogurt but I find that 0% Greek yogurt works best.If you want your Greek yogurt posing as quark to be really firm, put it in a colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth, place the colander over a bowl, cover it and drain it overnight in the fridge. Or, if you don’t have enough space in the fridge, or to speed things up, spread the Greek yogurt on paper towels. They quickly absorb the whey and when they won’t absorb any more, repeat this with new paper towels until the consistency is so firm that it holds together and you can pick it up it with your hands.
But make sure to place the yogurt only on paper towels, it won’t stick to them but it will stick to your countertop and make a mess. Draining or drying Greek yogurt considerably reduces it. If you start with 3 to 3.5 cups you’ll have about 2 cups of really firm quark-like substance afterwards.Generally I don’t bother draining the Greek yogurt; I have baked the German cheesecake above many times with Greek yogurt straight from the fridge and only discard the whey that has formed on top.
However for the cheesecake with fresh juicy peaches I baked today I wanted the quark to be really dry and firm so that the filling wouldn’t get soggy. Taking the draining detour was worth it, the filling came out great.
And I had no difficulty getting the cake photographed by my husband who takes all the photos for this blog. Since he was first introduced to quark with herbs at breakfast on a trip we took to Berlin, he has been a quark lover too.
1 cup (150 g) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (75 g) sugar
A pinch of salt
5½ tablespoons (75 g) cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups (500 g) drained 0% Greek yogurt (starting with 3 to 3.5 cups [750 to 850 g] and drained as described above)
2 eggs, separated
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
¼ cup (35 g) cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons (200 g) heavy cream
3 ripe but firm peaches, preferably freestone
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
- For the crust, put the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and butter in the food processor fitted with a metal blade and process to a sandy consistency. Add the egg and process until evenly mixed and the dough holds together in a ball. Wrap in plastic foil or place it in a container and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes to 1 hour. To speed this up, you can also place it in the freezer.
- Line the bottom of a 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan with baking parchment and grease the sides.
- Roll out the dough to a 10-inch (25 cm) circle on wax paper and place it in the springform pan. The dough is rather soft and if it tears, just patch it back together. Distribute the dough evenly using your fingertips and form an even 1-inch (2.5 cm) edge all around. Prick the dough several times with a fork.
- Bake in the preheated oven on the second rack from the bottom for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C).
- For the filling whisk the Greek yogurt with the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla until smooth. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they stand in stiff peaks. Wash and dry the beaters of your mixer and in a separate bowl whip the cream until stiff. Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the whipped cream with a spatula, then gently fold this into the Greek yogurt mix.
- Spread half of the filling over the cooled crust.
- Peel the peaches. If they are ripe you can remove the skin without blanching them beforehand, otherwise dip them in boiling water for a few seconds, then peel. Cut the peaches in half and remove the stones. Place the peaches cut side down into the filling and gently press them down. Cover with the rest of the filling and even it out with a spatula.
- Bake in the preheated oven on the second rack from the bottom at 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) for 75 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in the oven with the oven door slightly open for 15 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely in the springform pan. Gently unmold the cake from the pan and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cutting.
Makes 12 to 16 servings