When it comes to cheesecake, the question of whether to bake or not to bake, and which is better, will always divide. I come down firmly in the no bake, no gelatine camp, although I do admit to enjoying a baked key lime pie.
Perhaps my decision is particularly pertinent this week when I have had a couple of baking disasters in quick succession. Firstly, a gingerbread misadventure. I didn’t think this was possible, but have now proved myself wrong. Need to lay off the treacle a bit next time. The second was much more calamitous. Croissants. A twelve hour commitment to Michel Roux for nil return. I know where I went wrong and I will re-visit the subject when I get them right (and when I have the time to try again!).
At the behest of The Man Named Sous, due to the occasion of his birthday, I gave him carte blanche for a menu. Baileys and Malteser Cheesecake was chosen as dessert, to our unanimous delight. His favourite cheesecake, and one of the easiest desserts to make – no baking!
Cheesecake has the unfortunate reputation as being something quite ordinary and often synthetic – or maybe that is more from my memory of the shop bought frozen gelatine-set purple topped things that were around in the 1980’s. Also, despite their long history (reputedly a form of cheesecake was popular in ancient Greece) and varied styles from a diverse array of countries, they still predominate on dessert menus of pubs and chain restaurants much more so than in fine dining establishments. There is some indication however, that this is changing of late. I noticed vanilla cheesecake has been on the menu at Le Champignon Sauvage in Chelmsford, albeit served with less ordinary salted chicory-root mousse.
The Man Named Sous has been quite literally tied to his workshop bench for the last month, with long days immersed in the world of cello – both making a new cello and restoring an old cello in tandem. No small undertaking, especially to tight deadlines.
So, it seemed appropriate that the soundtrack for cheesecake-making should be centred around this most divine of all instruments of the violin family (I know, violinists and violists will argue otherwise). I was reminded of a fantastic concert we attended a few years ago in Selkirk, a friend (and cellist) having invited us to watch Steven Isserlis play with the community orchestra. We had front row seats, only a few metres from Isserlis who gave a mesmerising performance of the famous Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1. Isserlis has unfortunately not recorded this concerto, however, we are fortunate to have a recording of the great Rostropovich playing the piece, written for him by Shostakovich and which he premiered for his friend in 1959. So accomplished and engaging is Slava’s playing of this wonderful concerto, I am listening to it again now.
Of course, that was my memory of what Isserlis played, and I wanted to confirm this with The Man Named Sous. On asking him what Isserlis played that night he replied “A Strad”. Typical cello maker! I suppose it could have been his other cello, a beautiful Montagnana (1740). The Man Named Sous was at that time (as with his current cello) basing his design on this great Italian instrument, so he was very slightly disappointed not to hear the Montagnana played that night.
Ah, there’s few such wonderful memories as music can produce, I digress, so back to the cheesecake.
I vary the base for cheesecakes. I quite like oaty biscuits instead of digestives and often include a smattering of Grape Nuts for crunch. The ratio of cheese to sugar means this cake isn’t too sweet, so add 20g more icing sugar, if more sweetness is desired.
120g butter, melted
300g digestive biscuits, crushed
600g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
300ml double cream, whipped
A small box of Maltesers – about 3/4 of the contents, crushed lightly
25ml Baileys Irish Cream
Cocoa powder, to dust
- Melt the butter in a pan together with the crushed digestives, mixing well until the biscuits have absorbed the butter.
- Press the biscuit mixture into a springform tin. I used a 23cm diameter tin, which gives a relatively thin biscuit base, which I was looking for. Allow this to chill in the fridge for an hour or so.
- Beat the cream cheese lightly, add the icing sugar and Baileys. Whip the cream, although not too stiffly and fold into the cheese with the crushed Maltesers. Spread across the biscuit base and allow a few hours to set.
- Dust with cocoa powder and serve. Eat any leftover Maltesers. Simple as that.