Friday, 16 December 2011

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake... a homage

Chill winds channel themselves down the Bosphorus with eye watering coldness as I stand to watch the darkening horizon, the saffron sunshine descend to pumpkin hues as the day dwindles and the night finally begins; to see houses and streets light up across the straights from Europe to Asia; to hear the Muezzin’s fervent call to prayer. Here and there birds flutter from minaret to minaret, shocked into flight by the speakers: chaos, confusion and organised prayer; beautiful, spiritual and magical... and gin, the irreverent glass of gin clasped to my freezing hand, a blessed shot of warmth (you had to go and spoil it Lou!)

Chinking wine glasses bring me out of my reverie. I am not in the cold night air of Istanbul, I am in the warmth of Kopapa in similarly chilly weather, but the complex flavours that flutter on my palate have taken me somewhere else for a fleeting moment as one spice and the next reveals itself, opens up. It is the Panna Cotta hinting at the mystic east: delicious memories, delicious food: so many subtleties and nuances. I decide there and then to recreate this in my own way, to salute the chef, to pay homage in a... well, a cheesecake actually (...and again!)

The flavour I am looking for needs to reflect the amber sun, the blend of essences to take me back to that moment again, but at the same time as this is cheesecake the spice needs to come through the cheesy creamy vanilla quite noticeably (topped with that you also have to think about the base, gingery but not overwhelming, as ginger is).  

I am taking my basic cheesecake mix from Leith’s Bible, changing it, adding to it, and then getting downgraded by my tutors at Leith’s for it, but any well practiced recipe for a baked cheesecake will do (let me know). Here’s what I have come up with:

12 digestives (6 ordinary and 6 Duchy Original Stem ginger)
50g melted butter (more or less depending on how much will set your base/bases)

155g ricotta
100g marscapone cream
5 Tablespoons pumpkin puree (from a tin, or roasted with caster sugar in chunks and forked)
1 egg plus 1 yolk
3 drops vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon caster sugar

3 Star Anise
2 Cloves
1-2 teaspoons grated orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pre heat the oven to 150C.

Start with the base:

Get a pack of Duchy Original Stem Ginger biscuits 6 should be fine, plus 6 ordinary digestives. Crush them in a bag with a rolling pin or the back of a pan until they form crumbs. Pour the crumbs into the bottom of your tin. I experimented with ginger snaps but these don’t crush well and you have to use a food processor, however, DON’T use a food processor in this case as the digestives turn to a ‘dust’ and will create a greasy base. Also, try not to over crush as you want a textural mouthful when you bite into this (am I demanding? Am I?!)

Next melt the butter and pour over the crumbs. The aim is to set the base without the ‘free radicals’ (to use a phrase) but to avoid greasiness. Press the crumbs firmly into the base of your tin with the back of a wooden spoon.

Put the tin in a preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until cooked (and it starts smelling so good you want to wear it) and solid enough not to move, or fall apart when the cheese is poured on top of it.

Meanwhile, with a pestle and mortar, crush the dry spices until powdery enough to pass through a sieve (guests and loved ones will thank you for it if you do!) trying to ensure all the spices are used and that there are no large lumps (hence the sieve).

In a separate bowl mix the cheeses, add the pumpkin, the vanilla, the spices and sugar. Taste again, as the pumpkin is light but should have some flavour coming through. Adjust accordingly. Finally, add the egg and extra yolk.

Pour the mix onto the cooked biscuit base and return to the oven to cook for a good 30 minutes or until it has the slightest wobble when shaken (this may take a bit longer as pumpkin is quite watery so be patient).

Remove the cake from the tin and allow it to cool.
Freezer squashed but the idea is there... surely?
So, the result? Elements of vanilla, pumpkin and Star Anise teased the tongue; strong ginger flavours that might have overwhelmed had I not frozen mine two weeks earlier and which mellowed it (I used 12 Duchy biscuits) gave a spicy kick to the softer, sweeter top. The lightness of the cake and the softness of the mousse meeting the crunch of the biscuit base definitely provided a contrast; the cake was rich but still foamy light to the palate (a good vanilla ice cream definitely helps, maybe washed down with a Cointreau!)

In all, did I get the full Bosphorus feeling, the sense that I am back there, in Istanbul, watching the sun set and listening to the sounds of the exotic and mysterious? Well, perhaps not there exactly, more airport terminal than full city experience I think, but it was fun. Thank you for the inspiration Kopapa, I salute you... Merry Christmas

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