Valentine Cheesecake

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I’ve become a bit of a dab hand when it comes to cheesy Valentine’s bakes.  I recently made this loaf cake for work but couldn’t stop there so kept going with this Pistachio, Pomegranate and Clementine cheesecake.  The swirly heart pattern is achieved by dotting blobs of pomegranate coulis on top of the cake, then pulling a cocktail stick through them.  It’s a lot easier than it looks, but you will need a pipette or a syringe to get really exact dots.  You can, of course, omit the hearts and simply serve the coulis on the side- also delicious.  These gorgeous shots are courtesy of Faith Mason – photographer extraordinaire.  

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Pistachio, Pomegranate and Clementine Cheesecake

You will need:
200g digestive biscuits, blitzed to a fine crumb
100g unsalted butter, melted
75g shelled pistachios, finely chopped
2 pomegranates, juice only (try my stain-free method in step 2)
2 tsp cornflour dissolved in 4 tsp water
100g icing sugar, plus extra to taste
4 gelatin leaves
300ml double cream
300g cream cheese, room temperature
zest and juice of 2 clementines

20cm loose bottomed cake tin
One plastic pipette

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Method:

 1. Mix the biscuits, butter and pistachios until well combined.  Pack firmly into a loose-bottomed cake tin, spreading out with the back of a spoon so that it is evenly distributed and coming slightly up the sides of the tin.  Chill until needed.

2. To extract the juice from the pomegranates, split one open then place in a large bowl of water.  Working under the water, separate the seeds from the hard skin.  Any bits of white pith should float to the top, making them easy for you to discard.  Drain the seeds and sort through to remove any extra bits of pith.  Repeat with the second pomegranate then place the seeds in the bowl of a mixer and blitz briefly.  Strain the juice  into a saucepan.  Add the cornflour in water and sift in a few tbsp of icing sugar, to taste.  Gently heat until you have a thick, but still drizzle-able coulis. Allow to cool completely.

3.  Meanwhile, soak the gelatin leaves in a small bowl of water for 5 min.  Pour the cream into a pan and bring to a simmer then remove from the heat.  Squeeze any excess water out of the gelatin leaves and add to the warm cream, stirring until dissolved.  Allow to cool slightly.  Beat 100g of icing sugar into the cream cheese along with the clementine zest and juice.  Add the gelatin cream along with 3tbsp of the pomegranate coulis and beat until smooth.

4.  Pour the cream cheese mixture into the biscuit base. You are now ready to decorate- hope you have a steady hand! Starting in the very centre of the cake, use the pipette to dot tiny circles in a spiral motion all the way around the cake.  I let my dots get bigger as I worked my way around.  Finally, starting in the middle again, use a toothpick to pull through the dots in continuous line- try not to lift your hand up if you can help it!  You should end up with a spiral of little hearts.

5.  Cover the tin with cling (be careful not to touch the top of the cake!) and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, until set.

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Further experiments with gluten and wheat free baking

Baking without wheat or gluten is pretty difficult, almost impossible.  This is because the protein is, quite literally, the glue that gives dough its elasticity, which helps it to rise properly and give it a bready texture.  Without any of those factors, how on earth do you bake?

I’m fascinated by this question, not least because I enjoy a culinary challenge and love the chemical and physical process of baking, but also because I’m interested in recipes for healthier snacks for all.

Now, I’m not quite naive enough to make the leap from gluten-free to health in one fellow swoop.  No matter how little gluten a piece of cake may contain, it isn’t going to be any healthier if it’s full of sugar (or sweeteners and chemicals, as is the case with many gluten-free products).  But there are certainly wheat-free alternatives that will do you more favours than plain flour, such as rice, spelt, maize, potato, buckwheat (which is confusingly related to the rhubarb family and actually has nothing at all to do with wheat), oats ad so on.   Not least because they keep you fuller and are kinder to you.  

This recipe, although very sweet (you’ve got to start somewhere…), is a foray into this challenging world.  It’s from the March/April issue of Jamie’s Magazine (as a side note, I hope you’ve got the current Jubilee special issue in which I assisted in the styling for some of the back page, week-by-week recipes). To make it vegan, you could use vegan chocolate. 

Blondies with Bitter Chocolate

You will need:

150g gluten-free flour
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
200g soya yoghurt
1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped or 1 tsp essence
2 tbsp honey
250g light brown sugar
200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C and line a square brownie tin with parchment.

2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

3.  Combine the yoghurt, vanilla and honey in a larger bowl and add the sugar, mixing well.

4.  Fold the dry ingredients into the larger bowl and then add the chopped chocolate.

5.  Pour the batter into the tin and spread out evenly with a knife.  Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes until the blondie is firm and brown.  Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan.  Cut into 12 pieces and serve straight away. 

Peanut Butter and Sea Salt Cookies

This is a sad post.  A post about loss.  For despite doing my uttermost to ration my wonderful Fleur de sel de Guérande, party favours from a wedding in Brittany last year, the last bag has finally run out.

Fleur de sel de Guérande is the creme de la creme of salt.  It is painstakingly hand-harvested all along the coast of Brittany, but most notably in the small town of Guérande.  The bags we were generously given were filled with slightly grey-ish crystals that had a really intense, sea-breeze flavour.  Not the kind of stuff you would waste throwing into a pan of boiling water for pasta and the like.  

I decided to bid the last flecks a final farewell by casting them in a starring role in these peanut butter cookies.  The result is a wonderfully salty-sweet treat.  The recipe is originally from this year’s March/April issue of Jamie Magazine in a feature on gluten-free and vegan baking, beautifully styled by Laura Fyfe

So, yes, this recipe is, in fact, gluten-free and vegan.  A first for this blog, I believe. However, I decided to drizzle a bit of really dark chocolate on a few of the cookies, which obviously makes them decidedly not vegan, although you could, of course, use a non-dairy substitute.  

Salty Peanut Butter Cookies

You will need:
300g spelt flour (I used wholemeal)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
250g chunky peanut butter (I’ve always got a jar of organic, no added sugar stuff on standby so that’s what I used)
250ml maple syrup (golden will work too)
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
sea salt flakes
100g dark chocolate 

Method:

1.  Line a baking sheet or tray with parchment.  Combine the flour, bicarb and fine sea salt in a bowl.

2.  In a larger bowl, stir in the peanut butter, maple syrup, olive oil and vanilla until well mixed.

3.  Pour the contents of the first bowl into this mixture and stir until just combined.  It should be quite a dry dough.   Put the mixture into the fridge for an hour or so to chill.   Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. 

4.  Give the mixture a stir before dropping onto the baking sheet in rounded tablespoonfuls.  You may need two baking trays or to do them in batches.  To create criss-cross designs, flatten with a fork in opposite directions.  

5.  Bake for 10-11minutes until golden but still gooey.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. 

6.  For plain cookies, simply sprinkle with sea salt.  If you would like to make the chocolate version, simply melt the chocolate in a bain marie or microwave before liberally strewing/flicking over the cookies in a zig-zag fashion (make sure you aren’t wearing anything too precious), then sprinkle with sea salt as above.