The cheesecake challenge
Twas the day before my son’s first school fete, and I had one chance – and one chance only – to whip up a perfect lemon cheesecake to donate for sale. I’ve never made a baked cheesecake before – what could possibly go wrong? Yes, I could have opted for something tried and tested, but then a) I would have had nothing to post about and b) I wouldn’t have been able to use up that packet of Granita biscuits that I bought for a bargain price a while back and has been taking up valuable pantry space ever since. So, cheesecake it was.
My first step was to grease a springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper. I remembered a nifty trick I once learned for easily lining a round base without having to worry about tracing and cutting out circles. I simply cut off a square large enough to cover my base, removed the base, turned it upside down and covered it with the baking paper, then clipped it back together again, ensuring that the groove was locked into the right spot. With this method, you don’t even have to worry about trimming the edges as they’ll help you lift out the cake later. Genius, I tells ya. I was already winning and I hadn’t even started cooking yet.
Next, I put a whole packet (250g) of Granita biscuits (any plain, sweet bickies will do) into a food processor along with 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger, and pulsed until crushed. I then added 125g of melted butter and processed until it all came together. I was then supposed to press the crumb mixture into the base of the tin and two-thirds of the way up the sides. Alas, I read this a bit hastily and missed the last half of the step, just pressing it into the base. (I didn’t realise until it was far too late and much angst ensued, but at the risk of killing the suspense, my cheesecake didn’t collapse in a heap. The baking gods were smiling. Phew, eh?!) I bunged my base into the fridge for 30 minutes while I got on with the cheesy bit.
I then preheated my oven to 180 degrees C. (Anyone know where to find the degree symbol on your keyboard? Someone? Anyone? Speak now or forever have to read it in full.)
Using an electric mixer, I beat 500g of cream cheese and 3/4 cup of caster sugar until creamy. Whoa nelly, that’s a lot of cream cheese. While my tastebuds were a bit miffed that they would never get to sample this baby, my thighs let out a silent prayer of gratitude. I then added three egg yolks (saving the whites for later), 1/2 cup cream, 2 teaspoons vanilla essence, 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest and 1 teaspoon lemon juice and beat for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. It looked splendiferous.
I then had to give my beaters a thorough
lick wash, before beating my egg whites in a clean, glass bowl for 3-4 minutes until stiff peaks formed. Look at that peak. Stiff as. Such pride.
Using a large metal spoon, I gently folded the whites into the cream cheese mixture. A bit more angsting took place as I debated internally where to draw the line between combining well and not over-mixing.
Finally, I spooned my (hopefully correct) mixture into my (definitely incorrect) base, smoothed the top and baked for 35-40 minutes, until my cheesecake was a lovely pale golden colour and just set in the centre. I let it cool before taking it out of its tin and transferring it delicately 0nto the bottom of the cake box, before carefully sifting icing sugar over the top.
And then, the real challenge began as I tried to work out how to put the cake box together. Minutes passed, tabs were inserted and outserted, sweat was formed. I eventually realised the box was upside down. I may have sworn. I transferred delicately again and spent another several minutes painstakingly removing wayward crumbs and icing sugar remnants from the bottom-that-was-now-top. More tab-fiddling ensued. Damn you, cake box! At last, success.
After an overnight stay in the fridge (it needs to be in there for 6-12 hours), it was time to take my cheesecake to the fete to set it free to its new owners. (After first placating my husband, who thought I was making the cheesecake for us and was rather miffed that he wouldn’t get to sample any.) Bye cheesecake. I hope you were yummy.
Verdict: Despite the absence of a taste-test, I’m scoring myself a win.
Lessons Learnt: Read instructions carefully. Properly prepare family members that the delicious-looking cake you are making will never cross their lips. Work out how to put cake box together before placing cake on it.