Friday, November 24, 2006


My favourite ever cheesecake was on the menu at a hamburger restaurant in Exeter. It -- the cheesecake -- had a crunchy, chocolaty base and a lemony, mousse-like topping. It probably came out of a packet.

Nothing I have eaten since has quite matched that ideal. You might point out that what I am after is not proper cheesecake; and it is fair to see that the heavy, mouth-coating variety is not so much to my taste. Nevertheless, I have tried making what is sometimes known as "New York Cheesecake", with mixed results.

Nigel Slater has a recipe of this kind in his Kitchen Diaries. You make it in a springform cake tin placed in a bain-marie, wrapping the tin in a double layer of foil to keep out the water. Alas, I failed to do a proper sealing job. We ate a soggy base -- a dispiriting thing in a cheesecake. The topping was very nice, though.

I tried another version, from Olive magazine (a delicious lemon mousse from which has featured here). The base included hazelnuts as well as biscuits and butter; the topping featured a lot of cream cheese (900 g), with sour cream, eggs, flour, and vanilla essence. Olive did not recommend a bain-marie. It suggested a cooking time of about 40 minutes at gas mark 1 (140 C). The centre of my cake was not nearly ready by then; it was still liquid after an hour and a half. After another quarter of an hour it was wobbling, and I felt confident that it would set once cooled.

The centre of the cake was light and fluffy, but the rest was rather dense. A bain-marie -- sealed by a competent person -- might have helped to protect the perimeter of the cake and to spread the heat more efficiently.

Olive tells you to put the base into the oven first to help it to firm up; but I am not sure that oven heat has that effect. Better, surely, to put the base into the fridge, or even into the freezer. We ate some of this cheesecake, because of my bad planning, four hours after I had cooked it. The biscuit and hazelnut mix was soft, but crunchier when we ate the leftovers the next day.

I am not sure what proportion of butter to biscuit produces the crunchiest result. Some recipes give 1 g of butter to 2 g of biscuit; others, a 1:3 ratio.

I still like the inauthentic cheesecake in my book. But I may have found one -- it has mousse in the title -- that comes even closer to reproducing my experience of long ago. I shall keep you posted.

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