I’m not entirely sure when I came up with this madcap idea. Not the gooseberry cheesecake; that was a truly inspired idea. (More on that in a bit.) No – when did I decide that it would be okay, in my mid-thirties, to follow a mad foodie dream? I’ve begun taking orders for cupcakes over at my cupcake-making business and now I’m launching my own food blog. What on earth is going on?
I’ve admired food blogs from afar, but I never thought I’d actually be a food blogger some day. I just adore food, and am passionate about its origins. I love feeding people, and I love eating good things that make me happy. I suppose it was inevitable, really.
The other day I happened to chance on these gorgeous plump gooseberries sitting cheerfully in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket I shop at, and I bought them without really thinking about how I was going to use them. At first I was going to make them into jam, but then I decided that was too boring. No. I was going to make them into a cheesecake. I’m not sure if gooseberry cheesecakes have been done before, but this is an original recipe, tried and tested in my kitchen, and consumed – unsurprisingly, given that it tasted so good – in less than 24 hours.
This cheesecake will serve eight people if you’re being really generous with your servings. If you’re being a tad stingy, it will serve even more.
Recipe: Awanthi Vardaraj @ Sybaritic Pleasures
Photographs: Awanthi Vardaraj
For the base:
1 packet of sugar biscuits (I used Britannia’s ‘Nice Time’, which is a sugar-showered coconut biscuit; when you blitz the biscuits in the processor you should have 2 cups of biscuit crumbs.)
1/3 cup melted butter (I used unsalted butter.)
For the filling:
210 gm gooseberries
210 gm sugar
1 cup water
1 stick of cinnamon bark
For the topping:
350 gm cream cheese (I made my own; more on that at the end.)
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1) Top and tail the gooseberries. Put all the ingredients for the filling in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or pan. Place on the stove and heat very gently. Stir from time to time, taking care to not bring the mixture to a boil. Allow the gooseberries to stew in the sugared water for half an hour. I placed a disc of baking paper on top of the water to ensure that the gooseberries remained submerged inside the liquid.
2) Meanwhile, melt the butter for the base and blitz the biscuits in a food processor until you have coarse biscuit crumbs. Combine the crumbs with the melted butter and press the crumb mixture into the base and up the sides of a 20 cm dish or pan. Chill the base for half an hour.
3) Remove the gooseberries from the stove after half an hour or when you are able to use a spoon to push through the flesh. Remove them from the hot liquid with a slotted spoon and place on absorbent paper. Preserve the sugared water, but discard the cloves and the cinnamon stick. When the gooseberries have cooled slightly, they should now be soft enough for you to pit them by hand. Discard the pits.
4) Put the gooseberries in the food processor along with 1/2 cup of the sugared water and blitz until you have a smooth and creamy filling.
5) To make the topping, combine the cream cheese and the condensed milk in the food processor and blitz until smooth and combined.
6) Take the base out of the fridge and spread the filling on gently. I didn’t spread it right to the edges but stopped just before.
7) Pour the cream cheese mixture on and spread evenly. I used a palette knife to make it look as smooth as possible. Pop the cheesecake into the fridge to set.
1) I make my own cream cheese. I always have. I think it comes from growing up in a small town in the back of beyond in South India in the eighties, when you would honestly get _nothing_ but the most basic things. So my grandmother and my mother (the women who inspired me to become as passionate about food as I have done) got into the habit of stringing up thick home-made yoghurt up in sheets of muslin in order to make their own cream cheese. I would watch the whey drip from the strung up yoghurt with fascination and impatience; at the end of that process, I knew, was another process that was a lot more fun – using and eating that gorgeous cheese. So I don’t give the products that are available readily now (including various international brands of cream cheese in tubs) a second glance. I prefer making my own. Besides, you can save the whey and use it for other gorgeous things, and even drink it; it tastes delicious with a pinch of salt and a few crushed mint leaves.
2) I saved the sugar syrup that the gooseberries stewed in. I intend to make gulab jamuns later in the week (they’re a very delicious Indian dessert), and the sugar syrup will come in useful. Even if you don’t intend to make gulab jamuns there are several other uses for your sugar syrup. You can use them in many cocktail recipes, or even store it in the fridge and use it to sweeten your coffee, tea, and lemonade.
3) The tartness of the gooseberries complement the sweetness of the cream cheese perfectly. But what I was surprised about was that the biscuits I chose (sugar and coconut biscuits) were perfect with the gooseberries as well. I know a lot of recipes call for basic biscuit crumbs, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other biscuits, because, as you can see, it pays off!
Sadly, at this point, although I had a perfect cheesecake, technology failed me. My beloved camera is out of action at the moment (and has been for several months) but I thought I could rely on my trusty little point-and-click. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t recharge the battery and I was left with two options. I could either drive to my mother’s house (ten minutes away) to borrow her camera _or_ I could ask my neighbour Latika if I could borrow hers. While I was debating what to do, I had a ‘phone call from Latika asking me if I wanted to come over. She’s a single mum and she was apparently free of her charges for a few hours. I had a brainwave.
‘Why don’t you come over? I made gooseberry cheesecake! We could have coffee’, I tempted.
‘Ooh, sounds good’, she said. ‘I’ll be there in a second.’
‘Okay. Er. Can you bring your camera?’ I asked hopefully.
Clearly she thought there was nothing the matter with my request. She acquiesced, and arrived shortly with her point-and-click. So I was able to fiddle with it and set my shots up (a tad fussily, I must admit) while Latika waited patiently. Once I photographed the cheesecake, we set about eating it. Latika made a few appreciative noises as she dug in and didn’t protest as I helped her to another piece. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any more.
‘How is it?’ I asked.
She grinned. ‘Awesome’, she replied.
I beamed. What really is awesome, I mused later as I cleared away, is being able to feed people. There’s nothing quite like the shared love of food – and there’s nothing quite like sharing food. It brings people together in the best possible way.