I shan’t write too much intro here, because things are hard at the moment and I’m feeling a little quiet. I’m in England for my dad, who’s ill, my dear old dad who I love so much I feel a physical pain every time I think of him. We should be cooking and eating together (me cooking, him eating). I wanted to make him bomboloni from the book and watch him dribble custard down his front. I wanted to sign his copy and for him to say he’s proud of me (he repeats this like a mantra), and he knows just where I get ‘it’ (whatever it may be) from because it must surely be from him (‘it couldn’t possibly be from Your Mother’). This with a wink and a grin.
Instead I feel uncharacteristically sad. Sad and cold and flabby and lifeless as a leftover pancake, the last one-too-many, because he’s been ill since Easter now, and it just seems to go on. Like being under an incessant small grey rain cloud. The English weather is providing a perfect pathetic fallacy.
It’s a difficult time to promote a book with all the vim (a dad word) necessary. But then the book is also about the restorative power of food, specifically of sweets, so it seems only appropriate that I drag myself into the kitchen to make some, in a bid to dispel the stubborn rain cloud and make things seem a little brighter.
I made this cheesecake which is both rich and light and bright ruby-red with raspberries (a fruit I miss in Sardinia) and a whiff of rose. I have, for some reason, been anti cheese-cake for many years. I thought it was too mouth-cloyingly sickly. Too creamy and too intense. I love the base, of course, because it is basically butter and biscuits, and how can you not love them, but the cheesy bit used to overwhelm me a bit. Then, this year, prompted by Italian friends who sing the songs of cheesecake I rediscovered it for myself. I put two recipes for cheesecakes in the book. And then I made this one, which is a sort of Italian/American hybrid, I guess, in that it uses part ricotta and part Philadelphia, which has become easy enough to find in Italian (and Sardinian) supermarkets. Using mostly ricotta means that it is wonderfully light rather than overpowering, in that magical way ricotta has of making everything it is baked into a beguiling and contradictory combination of moist, fluffy, creamy, dense and light. Creating your own biscuit base also works brilliantly, I add some almonds for extra texture and nuttiness, and it is not too buttery but wonderfully crisp; Goldilocks- balanced. The raspberry topping is fresh and sharp, a quick jam/compote lifted by a little rosy perfume. Raspberries work so well with roses, the heady perfume being grounded by the berries’ tartness and their flavour of wine of summer rain.
A really lovely cheesecake, to lift, plump and fluff the spirit, and stop me being a damp squib, as dad would say.
I hope things are sunnier with you.
For the base:
120g plain flour
60g caster sugar
40g flaked almonds
A good pinch of salt
For the filling:
300g cream cheese
Pinch of salt
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tbsp cornflour
For the raspberries:
80g sugar (add more if your raspberries are very sour)
Juice of 1 lemon
A few drops of rose essence
Preheat the oven to 160.
Grease and line a 9 inch cake tin with removable base.
Blitz the ingredients for the base together in a processor until you have a fine crumb (or rub the butter in by hand as if making a crumble. The almonds will break up sufficiently between firm fingers).
Using the back of a spoon press this mixture over the base of the tin to form and even, flat layer.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden. Remove and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile make the filling. Blend the cream cheese, ricotta, sugar, salt and blitz/whip until smooth.
Mix the cornflour with the zest and juice of the lemon and stir well to dissolve. Beat this into the cream mix, then beat in the eggs one at a time until smooth.
Pour the filling over the baked base and then place in the oven. It will look very loose, but don’t worry, all is well.
Cook for 50 minutes, then turn off the oven, leave the door open and leave the cheesecake to cook gently in the residual heat for another 50 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool for at least 1 hour before serving.
For the raspberries:
Cook the raspberries over a low heat with the lemon juice and sugar for about 8-10 minutes until you have a loose jam.
Remove from the heat, ladle off a spoon of juice and add it to the cornflour. Stir well until the flour dissolves and then return to the pan and stir over the heat for a minute or two. (the cornflour makes the raspberry mixture thicken without you having the reduce it down and cook out all the fresh flavour of the raspberries)
Remove, decant and cool. Stir in the drops of rose essence (if you like! It’s also very good kept simply raspberry). Then top your cooled cheesecake and serve, with added rose petals if you wish.