Home, hearth and baked cheesecake
05 Feb 2011
IN my book, for a story to have a happy ending, it should start with the words “cream butter, sugar and eggs”. My mom is an excellent cook and baking seems to connect me with the happiest days of my childhood. It only takes a whiff of vanilla essence and I’m back in my childhood home in my mom’s kitchen. She was always whipping something up, everything was homemade and everything was good. That, and we went to boarding school where the food was swine before pearls or something like that.
I suppose we disconnect from these things as we grow up into serious adults.
I certainly did. It still astounds me, and more so my family, that after three-and-a-half decades of utter indifference, I now find myself collecting and reading recipe books. I have become a devoted disciple of Nigella Lawson, which in the past I’d probably have considered anti-feminist. I now love shopping for chocolate morsels and ground almonds. How so, you ask? Of course, it did all start with a man (gasp!) How many good stories don’t? A man and his children. And now that I finally have someone to cook for I’ve developed a love for the kitchen — better late than never. To me, that is the key though, the need to nurture and nourish those you love.
The way to a man’s heart is said to be through his stomach, and wholesome homemade food, cooked with generous helpings of love, seems to go down well in my home, where I’m outnumbered three to one by men. If I really want to please my husband, I bake him a cheesecake.
Baking remains one of the greatest acts of faith. Cooking allows meddling, adding, heating and reducing, etc. but when baking you follow the rules, do what you must and then wholly and entirely bequeath your product to the culinary gods, at Celsius or Fahrenheit, and let fate run its course. Of course, baking can be disappointing, but it can also be hugely rewarding. The baked cheesecake is the most humble and understated of cakes, yet it yields the most satisfying texture and flavour. And after a relentless search, I now stick to a hand-written German formula for perfect pleasure. Your men will thank you for it.
Please note that the original recipe yielded two cakes. I don’t cook with scientific accuracy — rather with reckless abandon — so my translation and my measurements are not exact. This cake has no base, just a sprinkling of semolina. Also you will need Vanillezucker, which is simply a jar of castor or icing sugar with a vanilla pod snipped into it, the whiff of which will surely lift you when you’re feeling down.
This cake will rise beautifully and then slowly settle right down. That is what is meant to happen, so don’t despair. This is a cake for eating, not for looking at.
500 g (2 tubs) of cream cheese (creamed cottage cheese is just as good)
3 eggs (separated)
60 g butter
100 g castor sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar (alternatively a teaspoon of vanilla essence will do)
3 tablespoons of custard powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
Juice of half a lemon (or a big squirt from the lemon juice bottle)
2 tablespoons of semolina for dusting the greased cake tin
• Preheat the oven to 160°C.
• Cream butter, sugar and egg yolks.
• Gradually add the cream cheese.
• Add vanilla sugar, custard powder, baking powder and lemon juice.
• Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the mixture.
• Sprinkle the semolina into a 23cm greased tin.
• Bake for about 50 minutes.
• Allow the cake to cool completely before negotiating it out of the tin.
Published in The Witness on Saturday, 5 Feb 2011