Thursday 26 July 2012

Cinnamon-Stencilled Cheesecake

There are few desserts to rival a cold, creamy cheesecake, but everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a Proper Cheesecake.  I like unbaked cheesecakes to be light and rather airy, but in a cooked cheesecake I want an unctuous, fairly dense filling, not too sweet, and a generous crumb base made of plain-tasting biscuits.  This is the ninth and final recipe in a series  for Woolworths South Africa, pantry sponsors of MasterChef South Africa.

My rich and luscious cheesecake, with its whimsical cinnamon stencilling, is unusual in that it has a baked filling and a thin sour-cream topping lightly set with gelatine.  You can, of course, make it without the sour cream topping, but this second layer adds an extra dimension of velvety deliciousness, and it’s essential to create a smooth white surface on which to apply the stencils.

A generous dusting of cinnamon applied over a laser-cut stencil gives
 this creamy cheesecake a whimsical touch.

I used laser-cut henna stencils to apply the cinnamon, which you can find in Asian markets, or order online. If you can’t find them, use an old-fashioned doily, or simply dust the cinnamon lightly over the top of the cake.

This is not a complicated recipe but – like all good food – it takes time and patience to make.  It’s very important to allow baked cheesecakes to chill very thoroughly, for at least 6 hours, so that the filling has a chance to settle and firm to just the right texture. Use a very thick, good-quality plain cream cheese – low fat is fine.

If you'd like to try stencilling other dishes, have a look at my Henna-Patterned Spiced Cream Cheese.

My other MasterChef SA recipes for Woolworths #wooliespantry:

Cinnamon-Stencilled Cheesecake

2 x 200 g packets shortbread biscuits
180 g unsalted butter, melted
3 x 250 g tubs cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (375 ml) caster sugar
3 extra-large free-range eggs
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract or essence
1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) cornflour

For the topping:
1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
1 tsp (5 ml) gelatine
1 carton (250 ml) sour cream
½ cup (125 ml) caster sugar
½ tsp (2.5 ml) vanilla extract
cinnamon, for stencilling

Heat the oven to 170 ºC, or 160 ºC if you have a fan-assisted oven. Break up the biscuits and whizz them to fine crumbs in a food processor.  Stir in the melted butter. Press half the crumbs evenly over the base of a non-stick 24-cm springform cake tin.

Press the remaining crumbs over the inner sides of the tin, gently easing them upwards. Use the side of a small glass gently to flatten the biscuit base, rolling it around in a circle, then stand the glass upright and roll it around the edges of the tin to form a smooth, even wall. Press a fingertip into the right angle formed where the sides meet the base to thin out this corner.  Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling.

Put the cream cheese and caster sugar into a large bowl and, using a rotary beater, whisk until just smooth and combined. Beat in the eggs one by one, then whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon and sifted cornflour. Take care not to over-beat the mixture. If you're a confident maker of cheesecake, you can add all these ingredients to the bowl in one go, (see picture below) and gradually incorporate them into the mixture.

Pour the filling into the crumb crust. Bake, preferably in a bain-marie (see Cook’s Notes) for an hour to an hour and a quarter (this will depend on the efficiency of your oven. It is done when it is slightly risen, pulling away at the edges, lightly freckled with gold, and wobbles reluctantly when you give it a shake). Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the cheesecake cool completely in the oven.  Refrigerate for at least two hours.

To make the topping, put the water in a little heat-proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over it. Set aside for a minute to sponge. Place the bowl in a pot of simmering water (the water should come half-way up the sides) and stir occasionally as the gelatine melts. When the liquid is clear, remove the bowl from the water and set aside to cool slightly. Whisk the sour cream, caster sugar and vanilla together and stir in the melted gelatine. Pour the mixture over the top of the chilled cheesecake and smooth the top.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To decorate, place your stencils in a pattern of your choice over the top of the cake. If they are self-adhesive stencils, place them on the surface of the cake sticky-side up.  Put the cinnamon in a tea-strainer and dust it evenly all over the top of the cake. Gently blow away any excess cinnamon. Slowly peel off the stencils, using a pair of tweezers to lift each one.  Cut into slices using a very sharp knife dipped in hot water.

Makes one 23-cm cheesecake; serves 8.

Cook’s Notes
  • Cooking the cheesecake in a bath of hot water helps ensure a good smooth texture. However, as springform pans have a tendency to leak, make sure to wrap the outside of the tin in several large sheets of tin foil before you place it in a roasting tin half-filled with hot water. Alternatively, bake the cheesecake in a deep glass or ceramic flan dish.
  • This basic cheesecake recipe can easily be adapted.  For a lemony cheesecake, add the finely grated zest of a lemon to the filling.
  • Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature when you make the filling. Cold cream cheese is difficult to whisk until quite smooth, and you may end up over-beating the batter.
  • If you’d like a crust on only the base of the cheesecake, use 200 g of biscuits, and 90 g melted butter, and line the inner edge of the cake tin with a strip of oiled baking paper.
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Monday 9 July 2012

How I styled my cookbook

My cookbook arrived in South African bookshops on Friday (a friend on Twitter tweeted a snap of a pile of books) and I'm quivering with excitement. This afternoon, I'm going to go to my local Exclusive Books so I can lurk - whistling nonchalantly, with hands in pockets - next to the display. I'm hoping to see a shopper pick up my book and browse through it, because I want to see how he or she reacts to to the photographs.

My Nougat & Ice Cream Cake with Hot Raspberry Sauce.
Image by Michael Le Grange © Random House Struik 2012

A great deal of thought went into producing simple, beautiful, mouth-watering images for the book, and in this blogpost I'll tell you how we tried to achieve this. (And you'll find more behind-the-scenes snaps from the shoot here.)

 Michael Le Grange's photograph of my Lemony Green Beans
with Aïoli. Click on the image to see a full-size version.
Image © Random HouseStruik 2012. Bowl by David Walters.
I've written before about why I opted for a professional photographer to tackle the images for the book. I knew the instant I saw Michael Le Grange's portfolio that his photographs of my food would be beautiful, but the prospect of creating a cohesive theme, mood and 'look' for my cookbook gave me some sleepless nights.

 I don't have much professional experience as a food stylist, but I was determined to do the job myself because it was the only way, I figured, that I could have complete creative control over the way my food was displayed on the page. 

What was crucial to me was that the dishes looked like my home-cooked food: in other words, what I'd put on the table in front of you if you came over to my house for lunch or dinner, or what you'd see if you were hanging over my shoulder as I cooked.

Something else that was important to me was absolute simplicity: in each photograph, the food itself had to be the hero. A clean, simple, pared-down look was essential if the food was to 'pop' from the page, fresh and colourful and glistening.

I wanted the food to 'pop' from the page.
Current trends in food photography favour what I call a 'sophisticated rustic' look - weathered wooden boards, worn cloths and cutlery, old or vintage props and much visual emphasis on the ingredients used to prepare the dish.

While this type of 'under-styling' is beautiful and inspiring when carefully done, I knew it wasn't right for my book.

I wouldn't bring a cracked dish or peeling board to my table, or scatter peppercorns or rocket leaves on the tablecloth, and I have a horror of serving dishes encrusted with baked-on dribbles.  (This caused much hilarity during the shoot. "But it looks real, Jane-Anne," cried the book's designer Bev, every time I got my knickers in a knot about a fleck of brown on the edge of a casserole dish, or a wrinkle in a napkin. "Don't make it look too perfect, or people won't want to try the recipe!")

Choosing props - and deciding what to leave out.
Napkin by Emma Wyngaard
My preference was to use the plainest plates and white linen throughout the book, but in the end Bev and Michael convinced me that a few rustic 'prep' shots featuring actual (dented and blackened) baking trays would not be the end of the world.

We also used several wooden surfaces for the photographs, which I reluctantly agreed to on the condition that they looked clean and scrubbed, with no peeling paint or encrusted cracks.

For plates and serving dishes, I turned immediately to my uncle David Walters, who is among South Africa's preeminent master potters.  In his studio in Franschhoek, Dave produces wheel-thrown porcelain, specialising in smoke-fired ceramics and fine dinnerware. In recent years, he's specialised in producing bespoke dinner services for local restaurants, which he designs in consultation with chefs. Dave cheerfully allowed me to raid his studio and gallery, and also offered to custom-make any ceramic item I needed for the shoot.  His exquisite porcelain plates, bowls and platters, with their fine detailing and delicate glazes, added a special elegance to the photographs, and I'm so honoured to have collaborated with him on this project.

For cutlery, I looted the silver canteens of my relatives and some friends. Much of the silverware in the book comes from Norway, because my Norwegian granny made it her habit to give her grandchildren one or two knives, forks or spoons for every birthday as they grew up.  Other pieces come from my great-grandmother, and the silver goblet in the soup chapter is a trophy my grandfather won in a hurdles race in the 1920s. It's been fun seeing my mum and sisters paging through the book and saying, 'Oh, I remember that spoon!' and 'There's granny's silver jug!

Christmas and Christmas Flowers
The Norwegian silver pattern I chose as a small girl.
All the linen and damask in the book comes from my collection, and my mother's, and some of the cloths were embroidered by my granny. For the occasional coloured napkin, cloth or place mat, I turned to my friend Margie, who has inherited a selection of fine Provençal linen from her mother-in-law.

Finally, some styling notes about the food itself.  I'm not a fan at all of 'doctoring' food for photographs. If food is photographed fresh, and uses top-quality ingredients, there really is no need to glycerine it, or stuff it with tissues, or resort to similar such subterfuge. (And it must be said that tales you hear about food being polished, varnished and coated with engine oil are largely wild exaggerations. I'm not saying this doesn't happen - food photographed for packaging shots and adverts often demands intensive care -  but most stylists like food to look fresh and natural, and will use tricks of the food-styling trade only when strictly necessary.

  In one photograph, I deployed a hat pin to attach a stubborn herb leaf, and in another I used super-glue to reattach a flower-head that had fallen off. Other than that, the only other tweaks were a light spritzing of water to some of the salads, and painting on more pan juices when the gloss had evaporated from meat dishes. The ice creams, shot in mid December, were a challenge, but split-second timing and buckets of ice prevented any camera disasters.

My grandfather's hurdling cup, and his son's bowls, with my 

All the fresh herb garnishes came from my herb pots (I sowed handfuls of seeds six weeks before the shoot started, and once a week after that).  Tiny herbs wilt quickly in the heat, and look limp taken from supermarket packets, so it was a real bonus being able to pick them straight from the pot.

All in all, styling my own cookbook was an enormous  challenge, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. And if I'm dissatisfied with any one picture (there are a few I'd tweak if had to do it all again) I have no one but myself to blame.

Preparing a table shot for the photograph opening the Salads chapter.
Scrumptious: Food for Family and Friends is published by Random House Struik and is available at Exclusive Books.

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