Baked Chocolate Cheesecake, New York Style

Every once in a while you come across a recipe that’s perfect. Just bloody perfect. Well, it is when you hit the Mk IV, anyway. And my New York cheesecake was just that. Or so I thought. Sure, I’ve added a few ingredients, dropped some crystallized ginger into the biscuit base, added half a jar of marmalade in the main cheesecake mix. And yet, I figured it was pretty much spot on.

And then…

“Can you make a chocolate cheesecake?” I was asked. One quick discussion with my technical advisor (my wife, baker par excellence, and source of most of my good ideas) and yes. Yes, I think I can…

You’ll need…

  • 7oz Bourbon biscuits (or as near as you can get, better over than under), blitzed to a fine crumb
  • 3oz butter, melted

Mix those 2 together, press into the base of your 9inch (23cm) spring-sided pan and bake at 180C for 10 minutes.

Then you’ll need 2 bowls. Into 1…

  • 750g full fat cream cheese (2 x 375g pots)
  • 250g ish Marscapone (1 1/2 of the Tesco 180g pots, I can’t usually find them in Sainsburys)
  • 9oz caster sugar (see how I’m mix and matching grams and ounces? It’s the consistency that matters and this works every time)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3oz cocoa powder, sieved to remove lumps.

Mix together the cream cheese, the Marscapone, and the caster sugar. Once you’ve got a nice smooth, even mix, add in the eggs one at a time. Mix thoroughly but don’t over-beat it (that’s one of my notes from the Mk II). Finally, mix through the cocoa powder.

In the 2nd bowl…

  • 300ml soured cream
  • 40g cornflour, sieved

Mix those two together to a smooth blend. Then fold that into the main cheesecake mix.

By about now, the 10 minutes should be up and the base baked. Leave the oven on, you’ll need it in a mo.

Pour the mix into the spring-sided tin, smooth over the top. You should have something that looks like this:

One on the shelf, ready to go.

Into the oven it goes, middle shelf, bake for 45 minutes and this is where it gets techincal…

Switch off the oven, crack the door open a fraction, and leave it to cool down for a couple or 3 hours. Take it out of the oven, run a blunt knife around the inside of the tin to separate it from the metal. Take the spring-side away. Now make the ganache…

Final ingredients:

  • 150ml double cream, heated to near-boiling
  • 140g dark chocolate. Bourneville is perfect, chopped into tiny little bits.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate in a bowl, stir until it’s all melted together, then place the whole thing into a large tub of cold water to cool it down and thicken it up.

Once it’s cooler and thicker, pour it over the top of the chesecake, whack the whole thing in the fridge overnight to chill. This is what turns it from an excellent dish into something truly amazing. Something happens with that overnight chill that gives it a final creamy texture, really finishes the job properly. It’s amazing.

Then cut yourself a slice and enjoy the breakfast of champions.

Oh, yeah.

Harira – Moroccan Chicken Soup

There are about as many variations on this recipe as there are families in Morocco, or so I’m told.  This one came to me through a book on world street food and takes a little preparation – but some of that can be short-cutted if you’re in a rush.

It’s rich, hearty, winter-warming, and I can’t make less than a small vat of the stuff.

Serves a family of 7 comfortably.  If you want to make more, use the quantities in brackets to serve a churchful of hungry lent-lunchers and still have enough left over to feed the family that night and over the weekend to come.  Seriously, I can’t seem to make a small quantity of this stuff.

Quick spin round the ingredients, Clive, then back to me.

  • 1 (2) Medium chicken (1.5kg ish)
  • 2 (8) tbsp butter
  • 2 (8) tbsp olive oil
  • 2 (6-7) large onions, sliced
  • 6 (all the garlic in the house) cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1tsp (4) ground turmeric
  • 1tsp (4) ground cinnamon
  • 2 (8) large, ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 (4) cup dried chickpeas
  • 1 (2-3) cup short-grained rice
  • 1/2 (2) cup plain flour
  • Parsley
  • 2 (6) eggs
  • Lemons

The night before you want to make the soup…

Pressure cook the chicken.  Put in the pressure cooker with enough water to cover, add a carrot (broken into chunks), a quartered onion (skin still on), 2-3 tsp salt and a dozen or so whole black peppercorns.  I like to sling in a teaspoon or so of ground turmeric at this point.  20 minutes on high pressure, allow to cool.  Strain off the stock and keep it, separate the meat from the bones – shred the meat and save that, all the squidgy bits of carcass (including the soft, pressure-cooked bones) can go to the dog.  He’s now your bestest friend in the whole world EVER.

You can shortcut this by buying cooked chicken and using chicken stock you’ve already got, but if you make your own stock you can control the flavours so much more.

Dissolve the 1/2 cup plain flour in a cup of water and leave it to stand overnight.  Not found a way to shortcut this one.  Answers in the comments below, please!

Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with water until they’re about 3-4cm under.  They’re going to absorb the water and expand, so check on them and make sure they’re still covered at some point.  You can bypass this by using 2 tins of chickpeas as they’re pre-soaked for your convenience.

The Main Method

Big, deep, pan.  We’re talking stock pot, jam pan, that sort of thing.  Well, we are if you’ve quadrupled the ingredients.  You can probably get away with something smaller, but not a lot.  Heat the butter and oil, fry the sliced onions and garlic until soft and translucent.  Add the turmeric, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and diced tomatoes.  Simmer this until it reduces to a gorgeous thick sauce.  Smells fantastic at this stage.  Add the drained chickpeas, rice, chicken stock.  Simmer until the chickpeas are cooked through.  This takes about an hour, less if you’re using pre-soaked chickpeas.

If it starts to stick and looks really gloopy, add more stock.  The final consistency is pretty thick and sticky, but you want to serve it by the bowl, not by the slice.  It’s amazing how much liquid the rice soaks up, so just keep adding a cup or 2 of stock as required.  Each time you add stock, check the seasoning of the mix.  Chicken is remarkably bland, it’s amazing what a pinch of salt and a grate of pepper will do.

2 man job, this stage.  One to stir, one to pour.  First, pour in the flour and water mix into the soup in a thin, steady, stream.  The second person at this stage is to keep stirring to ensure it’s thoroughly mixed as it’s added in.  If you can persuade them to keep stirring for the next 15 minutes, go for it.  Otherwise, dismiss them for now, but let them know they’ll be needed again in a quarter of an hour.  Stir frequently throughout the next 15 minutes.

Add the shredded chicken meat back in, mix thoroughly, give it a couple of minutes then take it off the heat.  Chop the parsley, add and mix.  Finally, beat the egg and get your assistant back.  Just as with the flour, pour the beaten eggs into the soup, stirring all the while.

Last, but not least, juice the lemons and stir the juice in.

Serve with chunks of fresh bread.

You can adjust and adapt this recipe with whatever you happen to have on hand.  Got a load a lovely, fresh, chillies?  Add them in!

Slowly, slowly, roasty ducky (or goosey, or both-y)

There’s something wonderful about the slow cooking process that takes a simple little bit of meat and turns it into something amazing.  Just look at Lechon!  Or to the humble jerk chicken!  This duck/goose recipe is closer to jerk chicken in technique yet keeps the simple flavours of the meat and the rosemary front and centre – no Habanero heat to blow your head off.

This is a Slovakian recipe, lovingly transcribed from her parents’ cookbook (or, more likely, memory) by Lubi, once our au-pair, now living happily in Dundee.  We were served this when we visited her family in Slovakia, and have had it for our Christmas meal two years running.

For 7 hungry people, you will need…

1 duck and 1 goose.  You want birds that have lived and that have built up a lovely layer of fat.  None of these skinny-arsed ducks you usually find in the supermarket.  Ask your butcher.  If you don’t have a butcher, find one and ask them!  You really can’t beat having a tame butcher you can ask for the right meat at the right time – and one that won’t bat an eyelid when you’re asking for trotters to make the jelly for a pork pie or blood to put in a sorpatel.

Salt, pepper, rosemary, watercabbagebread.

Begin by jointing the bird/s, salting the meat generously and leaving to stand for 12 hours or more.  Overnight is perfect.

Next day, oven to 150C, wash the salt off, place the portions on a baking tray skin side up.  You can use a baking tray or a big, shallow pan with a lid if you’ve got one.  Sprinkle of salt, generous grate of pepper, sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary.

Add ~0.5l water to the pan.  Lid on (or cover loosely with foil), into the oven for 1.5 hours.  Relax.  Chop some cabbage, knock back the bread you started earlier in the day.  Read a chapter or 3 of London Falling.

After 1.5 hours, foil/lid off, jack the oven up to 250C, give it 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin.  You can do this under the grill if you like.  Cook the cabbage now.

Serve with freshly steamed cabbage and freshly baked bread.  Thick slices of the stuff (the bread, not the cabbage), drizzled with the salty, peppery, herby fat left over in the cooking pan.

Both times we’ve done this for Christmas we’ve had the same genius idea – there’ll be some meat left over for rissoles the next day.  And both times we’ve been wrong.  Somehow, even if there’s some left on the tray after everyone’s finished, you find yourself wandering past and picking off just one more little piece.  Just one more.  My, but this is tasty, even when it’s cold.  And before you know it, it’s all gone.  And you’ve got to figure out what you’re eating on Boxing Day after all.

And if I’ve got anything wrong, Lubi, please let me know!