Cheese the one
I must confess I always hated cheesecake. I have a distant (no doubt buried) and traumatic memory of eating a shocking lemon version as a child. Cue 2 decades of total cheesecake refusal and a longstanding phobia of lemon and dairy products in desserts.
After some much needed time to heal, and becoming a chef, I've eventually been able to open my mouth to such things. I had never even entertained the idea of eating a lemon meringue pie until forced to make one early on whilst studying at Leith's. It was delicious, of course, and now a certain someone gets a super fancy lemon meringue tart every year on her birthday, which I look forward to as much as she does!
And at my last cooking job before I started Breadren, we used to make these baked vanilla cheesecakes which led me to realise that maybe cheesecake wasn't so bad after all. Particularly a lightly cooked, silky smooth baked vanilla number. That's always been my go to (and only) cheesecake recipe - it's such a classic and goes well with so many different garnishes.
That said, I still cannot (and will never) eat lemon cheesecake.
So, it's time for a Breadren-stylie baked cheesecake, inspired by the Middle East, only because I'm currently totally obsessed by labneh - a Middle Eastern creamy cheese made from straining the whey out of yoghurt. Really this cheesecake exists because I am trying to find ways to eat more labneh. Labneh.
Completely unintentionally it's also ended up gluten free and free from refined sugar... a happy accident based on the wonderful tasty companions we chose for the cheese - honey, figs & nuts.
Recipe (8 inch round)
100g ground pecans
100g ground walnuts
45g melted unsalted butter
A pinch of salt
150g creme fraiche
150g clear honey (use something tasty!)
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla paste or the seeds of 1 vanilla pod
6-8 ripe figs
2-3 tbsp honey
A few chopped pistachio nuts
1. First line your springform tin with parchment paper on the bottom and a separate collar inside (lightly grease it first to help the paper stick to the sides)
2. Make the base. Preheat the oven to 160C. Combine the ground nuts and salt in a bowl. Add the melted butter and mix to make sure all the nuts get mixed through the fat. Tip into the prepared tin, spread evenly over the bottom and press to pack down and even out. Bake for 12-15 minutes to set and toast the nuts. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
3. Make the filling. Put the cornflour and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Add a couple of teaspoons of the labneh and beat to combine with the vanilla and flour. Now add the rest of the labneh, creme fraiche and honey. Mix until just combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing each one in fully before adding the next. Pour into the cooled tin.
4. Turn the oven down to 150C and bake the cheesecake for 40-45 mins, until starting to puff at the edges but with a slight wobble in the middle. Allow to cool fully at room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate for a few hours.
5. For the figs - preheat the oven to 200C. Trim the tip of the stalk off each fig, then sit upright on a chopping board. Cut through the middle but don't go all the way down, so it's in two halves but still attached. Turn the fig 90 degrees and repeat the cut so your fig is cut in quarters that are attached at the base. Do this for all the figs, place them on a baking tray lined with parchment, and drizzle with honey. Roast for 6-8 minutes until starting to brown, but still holding their shape. Leave aside to cool.
6. Once the cheesecake is chilled, remove from the tin and place on your serving plate. Pile the figs in the middle, and drizzle over any honey / juices left in the tray. Scatter over a few chopped pistachios and enjoy!