'Wouldn't it be great if some day we could rent a farmhouse, stock it with supplies and cook all week! We'd invite our nearest and dearest, and food-enthusiast friends... ah... the calories,' my friend and fellow cook, Tina, mused recently. Shortly afterwards there's an email from Tina asking me to send the link to a New York cheesecake that I'd shared on Facebook. It was a rather stupendous specimen, I must say, and Tina says she wants to bake it at the weekend, actually so do I. To which we plan a Saturday #bakedate via Skype, Tina baking in her Sydney kitchen and me in Canberra, some 250 kilometres away. What a hoot!
We laugh when we notice we’re both wearing yoga pants, singlet tops and slippers. ‘You’ve gotta be comfy for baking,’ says Tina. I agree. I notice that we have exactly the same granite bench tops. I smile to myself. This friendship and our #bakedate is clearly meant to be.
My mum always said ‘Break the eggs one by one into a little bowl first, you never know!’ says Tina. 'You should see the eggs in Italy,' she says, 'OMG, they are so yellow and the whites are like set jelly… they're just so fresh! With my aunty we’d go collecting mushrooms and then by the side of the road we’d stop at a farmhouse where they were milling fresh wheat into flour. We’d get home and my aunt would make fresh fettuccini with the fresh flour and fresh mushrooms.' Sounds wonderful, no?
'Look at the size of this egg,' I say to Tina, holding it up to the screen! I crack it open, 'Oh wow, it's a double yolker too.' Even though it's the fifth egg, I add it for good measure.
Tina’s cousin, Maria, arrives and there are quick introductions… ‘Nice to meet you!’ Before too long, Maria is making espresso… (I can hear the machine in the background and ask, 'Where’s mine?!').
'I’ve got a really big tin here,' says Tina, 'It’s round and biiiiig, I’m using that so that it doesn’t touch the sides.' And then with the whirring of both electric mixers and my wind chimes outside, we’re away. ‘Tina, I’m loving this…. it’s good fun,’ I say. Tina laughs. We chat non-stop about the weather, the morning’s food shopping, our gardens, tomorrow’s lunch of asparagus and strawberry salad, and the possibility of making Yorkshire pudding in the future (‘Peter is good at that,’ I say). Then we joke about cholesterol levels that might increase due to the quantities of cream cheese and sour cream we’re using! 'Ah, who cares, life is too short,' I say.
I smile to myself as Tina starts singing. I tell her, ‘We should be playing music.' We note that we both enjoy sunny weekend mornings and the sound of music in the home.
There’s silence for a time as we both have our heads down to add the last few ingredients and work on the final stages of the mixing process, and then… ‘Oh, the ribboning is beautiful,’ Tina exclaims with delight as she pours her mixture into the prepared tin. Her tin is much larger than mine, so I wait to see the level of the mix. 'Can you see?,' she asks, holding it up towards the screen. 'Yes, I can'. It's safe to pour my mixture into my tin.
‘I’m putting all lick-able things straight into the water,’ says Tina… ‘Don’t you want to taste it?’ I question. ‘Little do you know, I have been,' she laughs. (That’s good, as I’ve been doing a fair bit of tasting too, ssssh!).
‘May the force be with you,’ Tina declares as she places her cake into the oven. 'Ciao, ciao, let’s ping each other in an hour or so,' I say. We go our separate ways, both pottering around the house and garden, but still keeping one eye on the cheesecakes in our ovens.
An hour and a half passes quickly and we check in again. Tina says her cheesecake was quite high, but now it's tilting on one side. We laugh together about it being lopsided, Tina says she might end up with the 'cheesecake Tower of Pisa'. Mine has risen up beautifully, but suddenly has a dip in the centre. 'It's like a big souffle,' says Tina. There's a short discussion about whether we should sprinkle a little nutmeg or cinnamon over the top after baking for more flavour (in the end, we decide not to). We both reduce the oven temperature by a few degrees to make sure the top of the cheesecake doesn't burn, and then we sign out again.
Half an hour later we're back in the kitchen, agreeing that it's time to check on things and then we both carefully insert a knife into the middle of our cheesecake. Both come out clean. Both cheesecakes look superb. 'Yay,' we exclaim joyfully. There are smiles all round. The cheesecake #bakedate has been a success. It's time to remove our cheesecakes from the oven and allow them to cool. Tina is expecting half a dozen visitors later in the day, who have been invited to sample her cheesecake. Peter, our neighbours and I are looking forward to tasting my cheesecake too.
When the moment of truth comes, we exchange 'Mmmmmm' tweets via Twitter. Nothing more needs to be said.
Tina and I decided to reduce the quantity of sugar (I used vanilla infused raw caster sugar), and we also agreed to use light/low fat sour cream and light/low fat cream cheese. One of my eggs turned out to be a small double yolker, but I still used all five eggs (six in fact), hence my version of the cheesecake is more golden in colour than Katy’s. I’ve also added more lemon juice to the recipe, for extra flavour.
NEW YORK CHEESECAKE*
5 large free-range eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (2 x 300g tubs) light sour cream, at room temperature
4 x 250g (4 x 8-ounce) packets light cream cheese, at room temperature
100g/8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
scant 3/4-cup raw caster sugar
2 tablespoons maize cornflour or cornstarch
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
Juice of half a lemon
2 heaped teaspoons finely chopped/grated lemon zest
Butter a 20 or 26cm+ (10-inch) springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper, allowing the paper on the sides to come up well over the top. Wrap a double layer of heavy-duty aluminium foil tightly around the outside bottom and sides, crimping it around the tin (this will stop water from seeping into the tin when it goes into the bain-marie). Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C/300 F/Gas mark 2 and place a rack into the centre position.
Break the eggs into a cup one by one and then tip them into a large mixing bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat them with the sour cream until well combined.
In a separate large bowl, fold the softened cream cheese into the softened butter with a spatula, and then beat with a mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually add this to the egg-sour cream mixture and then beat until smooth. Next, beat in the caster sugar, cornflour, vanilla, lemon juice and zest. Beat well for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is smooth.
Pour into the prepared springform tin. Now place the tin into a deep roasting pan which is large enough to prevent the sides from touching. Place into the oven and pour in enough hot tap water to reach halfway up the sides of the springform tin.
Bake for up to two hours, or until the cake is light golden in colour and a butter knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Keep an eye so that the top doesn’t over-brown.
Remove the cake tin from the water bath and carefully take away the foil from the outside of the tin. Allow the cheesecake to cool down in the tin at room temperature. Then, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Unclasp the springform sides of the tin and remove the cake from the base. Carefully transfer it to a large serving stand or platter. Serve with fresh berries, dusted with icing sugar. Serves 12.
*Recipe originally adapted from Jim Fobel's Old-Fashioned Baking Book and blogged by Katy at For a Hungry Soul. It has been reproduced here with Katy's blessing. For Katy's baking notes, please pop into her blog post.