Looks like summer is coming very quickly. Before the trees have had time to grow out all the leaves, actually. The landscape is still a bit bare here and there: the woods are starting to dress up with a huge variety of green shades. There are many types of trees, which you don’t notice in winter, but are bound to in Spring or Fall. On Sunday we took advantage of the weather and had a barbecue in our garden with a few friends. We grilled German bratwurst and krakauer from the market, Pakistani chicken kebabs (courtesy of this book), Moroccan beef kebabs (courtesy of this other book), mushrooms skewers, and zucchini. We also had a considerable amount of cold pils. It was our first barbecue here, and we really enjoyed sitting out in the sun, even though in the end all of us – most people grown up in warmer climates than Germany – were quite dizzy from the excess of heat. You are just not used to it any more after four solid months of snow. So for the dessert we moved back to our flat. Time to blink my eyes, and the cheesecake I had prepared was gone.
Almost five years ago – take or leave a few days – I was living in a lovely town by the sea, which I still miss quite bitterly. Most of the things in my life have changed since then, most of them I’d say for the best, some not yet. One of the things that did change definitely for the best is that I fell in love. We have been living together ever since and it has brought such huge joy to my life. Our relationship was from the beginning also related to sharing food – as was bound to be for me. He was an acquaintance of mine who happened to be visiting there, and of course I invited him at my place for dinner. I was not trying to seduce him or anything – even though he’ll claim the contrary – I basically have been inviting any decent person I know over for dinner since I have a house of my own. Anyway, we chatted over a few beers looking at the distant sea and enjoying the sun; I prepared homemade pasta e ceci while we kept on chatting, and then we shared a bavarese di fragole I had prepared the day before. It was fresh and smelled of spring. Basically it was love at first sight. A few days later, he was praising me, and my bavarese, to a friend of his. This person had a few reasons to be jealous – just to name one, she works in one of the best pasticcerie I have ever tried – and snapped back, bavarese, what kind of cake is that?!? So old fashioned, so boring, so unappealing. Try this cheesecake instead.
Well, she was right.
I still love bavarese di fragole, but this cheesecake, it is just perfect.
notes: it takes a few minutes to assemble the cake, but it does take a long time to cook it and it has to be served very cool, so be sure to start in time (better the day before). This recipe is not guaranteed to be crack safe, so if you are concerned about a few cracks in your cheesecake, I’d choose another recipe. However if this does not scare you, I think this combination yields a particularly pleasant consistency. You can top it more or less with what you want, but I really liked this strawberry topping with the delicious local strawberries I bought from the farmer’s market. The agar agar is there because I am playing around with it quite a lot lately, but if you are not confident, substitute with one gelatine leaf, soaked in cold water, melting it in the boiling syrup.
2 packs (350 g) cream cheese (eg Philadelphia), full fat
220 g double or whipping cream
5 medium eggs
180 g castor or granulated sugar
grated zest of half an orange
pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 cups crushed butter biscuits or digestives
100 g butter, melted
500 gr regular looking strawberries + about 200 gr very ripe ones
50 gr sugar (can be more if your strawberries are a bit tart)
150 gr water
1/2 teaspoon agar agar, ground (or 1 gelatine leaf, see notes)
Crush the biscuits using a pestle and a mortar (or a large bowl). Add the melted butter and cover a 24 cm round spring tin with them. Mix the filling ingredients (you can whizz or blend them together if you are lazy enough) and pour them in the prepared base. Bake in the oven at 140 degrees for about 1 hour 1/2, until the center is set. The cheesecake might rise slightly towards the end.
Let the cake cool then set in the fridge. About half a day before you want to serve it, prepare the topping: choose the ripest strawberries, cut them in small cubes, and put them in a pan with the sugar. Dissolve the agar agar in some of the water, then add it with the remaining liquid to the strawberries. Let it cook over high heat, taking off the foam when it forms so that your jelly will look transparent. When the liquid is very red and the strawberries area bit melted, take off from the heat and let it cool. In the meanwhile arrange washed and cut strawberries on top of the cake. Sieve the strawberry syrup and pour it over the strawberries. It will set a little when it cools.
Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.