We spent the last weekend in Edinburgh with my goddaughter and her parents. Friends from college days who, having actually put their money where their mouths are, and produced a real live human baby, I now deem impossibly grown up.
I left London the week before, confused as to why I was stressed and a bit sad. I’d quit the job that made me miserable, I’d overcome the slipped disc that had threatened to ruin my summer. But as I sat on the train up to Newcastle, I was hopelessly anxious, unable to settle. I was supposed to be enjoying my freedom, I was expecting some kind of energetic lease of life, instead I sat wanly, gazing out of the window, at the coast I loved so much. Newcastle came and went in a haze of writing deadlines and a short spell of tonsillitis.
As my train pulled into Edinburgh, the sun came out. And I started to relax. It’s hard to be sad or anxious when a 1-and-a-half year old is feeding you strawberries upside down, or dancing to Pingu, or joyfully trying blackcurrant jam for the first time, or shouting ‘MORE BUTTER’ at breakfast time. We drank tea and talked and walked and talked some more and I began to think slowly, cautiously, of a life beyond London. On our last night, we ate shakshuka, made by Ellie, which felt absolutely right.
So when I arrived back in London, I needed strawberries, even if they didn’t come from determined-bordering-on-forceful toddler hands. And that’s where this cheesecake was born. I wasn’t in the mood for faffing about with waterbaths and enrobing springform tins in multiple tinfoil jackets. And the idea of eating something straight out of the fridge, was too tempting, so a no bake cheese-cake was the obvious choice.
This is, actually, (finally, eventually, after much recipe testing, and one example of what I will kindly call ‘deconstructed cheesecake’) quite an elegant pudding: the base is paler than normal, thanks to the Nice biscuits for the base, as sometimes digestives or gingernuts can be a little overbearing with more delicate flavours, and the hint of coconut is really great with the strawberry and elderflower. The cut strawberries peek out handsomely above the base, reminiscent of a very rustic Fraisier, and bring interest to what can otherwise feel like miles of creaminess. I’ve cut back the sugar often found in cheesecake recipes, because I find it oversweet, and I wanted the slightly bitter grassiness of the elderflower to shine through. The triumph, though, is the jelly: bright, refreshing and cardinal red, it is the essence of summer, with just enough sugar to stop it being wincingly tart.
Note: You may see that the photographed cheesecake is not in fact made to the dimensions below; that one is a half-size cheesecake, but the recipe below is for the full-size. If you want to go for a more modest size, this is one of those recipes that scales up or down brilliantly, so simply halve the ingredients and use a 10cm tin.
It goes like this:
Strawberry and Elderflower Cheesecake
Makes: 1 20cm cheesecake (comfortably feeds 6)
Takes: 30 minutes
Bakes: 6 hours (chilling)
For the base
160g Nice biscuits
90g butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing
For the filling
150g double cream
150g cream cheese
80g caster sugar
3 leaves of gelatin
60ml elderflower cordial
For the jelly
60ml elderflower cordial
2 tablespoons of sugar
1.5 leaves of gelatin
Small handful of strawberries, to garnish
1. Blitz the biscuits in a food processor, or place them in a sealed freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin. Mix in the melted butter until it resembles wet sand. Grease a 20cm cake or pie tin with a removable bottom with a small amount of vegetable oil. Press the buttery crumbs down into the mould, packing them tightly in an even layer, using the back of a dessert spoon. Freeze for ten minutes.
2. Halve the strawberries, and cut off the curve at their widest point, so that they have a flat bottom. Place them along the edge of the tin, touching, with the cut halves touching the tin.
3. Bloom the gelatine for 5 minutes in cold water. Meanwhile, heat half of the cream in a small saucepan; do not allow to boil. Squeeze out the water and place the gelatine leaves in the warmed cream: it should dissolve immediately, but a stir will help it on its way. Allow to cool just to room temperature. Place the rest of the cream, all of the cream cheese, the elderflower cordial, and the sugar into a big mixing bowl and combine. Add the gelatine-cream and combine. Pour over the base and strawberries, and jiggle to level. Cover with clingfilm, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
4. Heat the strawberries with the sugar and elderflower cordial. When the sugar has dissolved, cook for 10 minutes. Strain the juice from the strawberries and return the juice to the heat. Bloom the gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes, then squeeze out excess water and add to the strawberry juice. Cool to room temperature and then, removing the tin from the fridge, pour the jelly directly on top of the cheesecake filling. Cover with clingfilm, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
5. Remove from the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to unmould. Run a knife around the edge of the tin, just to release the jelly. Place the tin on a small mug and push slowly but firmly, and the cheesecake should come out of its tin relatively easily. Move to the plate on which you want to serve, and arrange sliced strawberries in an attractive pattern.
6. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
We ate this thinking of Edinburgh and Òrla, but the pudding itself needs nothing else alongside it. A generous wodge plus a pudding fork, is a pretty perfect summer pudding.