Those of you who are regular readers of this blog would know that I’m a very instinctual cook. I disregard both measurements and recipes, and tend to rescue my food from the oven by sight, smell and touch rather than adherence to cooking times. I used to view this ‘freestyle’ cooking ability as a strength; something born of experience and personal creativity. Last Friday, I definitively changed my mind.
Let me take you on a little trip down ‘memory lane': it was 11:00am on a cold-but-clear Friday morning. The sun was high in the sky, casting shadows across the coffee table as I tapped out answers to emails on my laptop. I coughed, watching steam rise from my coffee cup as my eyes flickered absently across the computer screen. In approximately 19 hours, four men would be arriving at my door to eat a pork belly roast in honour of William, a friend of ours who’s leaving Australia for good this coming Thursday. I wanted to create something delicious for dessert; something meaningful, indulgent and worthy of the occasion. For some reason I decided upon cheesecake. Specifically, lemon cheesecake, as a tribute to William’s uncanny ability to eat three of my glazed lemon muffins in two minutes (yep, true).
As you can probably imagine, I’ve got my own ideas about making cheesecake. I’ve made quite a few before, all successful, but… well, as I was seeking perfection I made the unusual decision to follow a recipe.
After a few clicks through various websites, I chose this one from taste.com.au. Now, if you inspect the link you’ll see that this recipe isn’t actually for lemon cheesecake; however, I was sold by the convincing user reviews. I figured I could add in some homemade lemon curd and all would be dandy, right? So, I set to work: snap, melt, blend, press. Refrigerate crust. Check recipe. Shake, measure, blend, stir. Fill chilled crust. Looking good. Now, lemon; let’s dollop in some lemon curd. Raspberries? Yeah. Top up with vanilla filling. Check recipe. Oh no.
I stared at the beautiful, glistening cheesecake on the bench top. It looked perfect; dense and creamy, with a crisp biscuit crust and smooth vanilla filling. But… I’d forgotten the eggs. And the recipe called for three.
I stared dismally at the cheesecake, my brain ticking over possible solutions to the ‘egg problem’. The preheated oven creaked menacingly as I mentally berated my poor ability to follow recipes. Any sane cook would have placed the cheesecake in the refrigerator to firm up overnight, as without eggs, it would have worked perfectly in its unbaked form.
Me? Hah. Well, my stubbornness kicked in. I rummaged through a drawer for a flat, wide spoon before attempting to skim off the top layer of vanilla filling. I chucked it back into the blender, cracked in an egg and… soon it resembled a vanilla milkshake. I added in a little more sour cream then poured it back over the cheesecake base. I hoped for the best.
Oven opened. Cake went in. Heart sank. I waited, hoping that my cheesecake might at least be a little bit better than my husband’s favourite packet abomination from White Wings.
Fast forward three hours. The cheesecake had baked and cooled for two hours before emerging from the oven. It looked fine. Good, even. The milkshake layer had set nicely; it was glossy and crack-free with the slightest bit of wobble in the centre. The crust had a lovely golden hue.
But still… I had no idea how the egg-free layer turned out. I placed the tin in the refrigerator, covered, to set overnight. I then washed up, broke a glass, lost a hairpin in the remaining sour cream and saturated my shirt. I decided that I should just go back to bed. So I did.
The next day, the cheesecake emerged. It was decorated, served and eaten. Yes, you’ll get to see how the cake turned out… after reading the recipe. I’ve posted in full as it should have been; my modifications are mostly in italics, including the addition of lemon curd, fresh berries and dollops of frustration.
- 250g packet plain sweet biscuits (I used Arnott’s Marie)
- 125g butter, melted
- 2 x 250g packets of full-fat cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup white caster sugar
- 3/4 cup full-fat sour cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
- 3 eggs (I used one)
- 3/4 cup lemon curd
- 1/4 cup raspberry conserve
- 200g (about 3/4 punnet) fresh strawberries, washed
- 200g fresh raspberries (not frozen, or they’ll leak juice all over your cake)
- mint, to serve (optional)
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f. If you have a fan-forced oven, use 140 degrees C/280 degrees f). Grease and line a round 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, then set aside.
In a food processor, process the biscuits until they reach breadcrumb consistency. Add in the melted butter and process until just combined. Press the mixture over the base and sides of the pan, leaving a 2cm gap from the top. Use the base of a glass to press over the base and sides of the pan for a firm, smooth consistency. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, processing until just combined (omit this step if you are Laura). Pour half of the cheesecake mixture into the prepared pan. Top with half of the lemon curd and a few teaspoons of raspberry jam. Swirl to create an even distribution.
Bake for 60-65 minutes (40-50 minutes if you’ve made the two layers as I did; the base cheesecake layer doesn’t need baking) or until just set (the centre should still wobble slightly). Allow the cake to cool in the oven for two hours with the door ajar. When sufficiently cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Release the sides of the springform tin. Carefully lift your cake from the base and remove the baking paper. Transfer to a serving plate.
Warm your remaining lemon curd in the microwave for about 15 seconds, or until it’s spreadable. Carefully cover the surface of your cake with the remaining lemon curd (emphasis on carefully, as the surface of the cake may be a little delicate). Refrigerate whilst you prepare the berries.
Slice your strawberries into quarters, then place them in a bowl. Melt the rest of the raspberry jam (until slightly warm and pourable, not hot and bubbling) then combine it with the berries, stirring until each piece of strawberry is coated and glistening. Pile the strawberries onto the centre of the cake, adding the fresh raspberries and mint, if desired.
So. The verdict: absolute, unexpected, gloriously delicious success! The cake was creamy, smooth and perfectly set, with a gorgeous layer of fresh lemon curd and raspberry jam in the centre. The textural difference between the top and bottom layers of cheesecake filling actually worked well; the upper layer was pillowy soft and light whilst the bottom layer was dense, creamy and decadent.
The boys who tasted it said that it was reminiscent of a lemon meringue pie mixed with a cheesecake and a Victoria sponge. Strange but entirely accurate. William was altogether pleased (he laughed when we recalled the muffin story. Ah, memories).
I love it when disasters redeem themselves (but I still need to learn how to read recipes).
*If you’d like to reproduce my accidental cheesecake triumph at home, I’d suggest dividing your whipped (eggless) cheesecake filling into two halves. Pour one half over your refrigerated crust, then top with lemon curd and raspberry jam. Return the other half to the blender with one egg. Blend until just combined, then pour over the rest of the filling. Bake as instructed.