The Vanilla Question…continued

Okay so it seems that one really can’t just put up a picture of a baked cheescake and expect to get away with it. So here’s the recipe. Now please stop throwing sticks at my windows.

This is actually all that's left of the cheesecake...seriously.
This is actually all that's left of the cheesecake...seriously.


150g unsalted butter (cold, cut into blocks)
1 packet of digestive biscuits
115g caster sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour
500g of low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature (two tubs)
250g of full-fat cream cheese (I used Philadelphia, but if that’s a little extravagant then totally use something else)
2 large free-range or organic eggs
100ml of cream
1 cup of sparkling water
2 vanilla pods (cut in half lengthways and the seeds scraped out (or of course 2 caps-full of vanilla essence))
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

What to do:

Empty the packet of digestive biscuits into a largish bowl, add the butter and then crush the two together until they’ve combined to form a roughish paste.

Rub an oven-proof dish or baking tray with a little butter so that the bottom and sides are greased up nicely.

Press the biscuit/butter mix onto the bottom so that it makes an even crust and bake in an oven on about 180 °C until it’s browned, then remove and set aside.

Get another largish bowl (or just wash, dry and re-use the one you used for the biscuit base – don’t ever say I’m not looking out for your washing up) and combine the sugar and cornflower. Add the cream cheese and whisk it until it combined with the sugar and has started to take on a really smooth, almost velvety texture (if you do this by hand – prepare to seriously break a sweat). Then add the eggs, and continue to beat.

Now, this is the delicate bit: add about a third of the cream and continue to beat until it’s all in there. Then add about half the sparkling water and – you guessed it, continue to beat. Then another third of the cream, beat, the rest of the water, beat, the last of the cream. Beat.

Finally add the vanilla seeds and zest, give it a final beat and then empty the mix onto the biscuit base.

Bake in an oven pre-heated to 200 °C for about 45 minutes. Check to see if the sides of the cheesecake have set (they should be slightly pulling away from the sides of your baking dish) and then let it cool for about 3 hours or so.

I’m impatient, so I put it in the fridge for about an hour or so.

The old stuff still works…

The Oven had fought off all-comers for his spot in the sun.
The Oven had fought off all-comers for his spot in the sun.

I am the proud owner of this ridiculous piece of 70s kitchen equipment called The Little Lovin’ Fan Oven. Because apparently no other colours existed in the 70s, its colour-scheme is various shades of brown and other brown, it’s built to survive nuclear fallout and consists of about one moving part. It was given to my parents as a wedding present and, when they got divorced was handed down to me (well, more accurately… I stole it. I was a student and we’ll take anything that isn’t actually made of poo or welded to the ceiling, as any bar-owner in Grahamstown will tell you). The most amazing quality of this hunchbacked cooking throwback, is that even though it’s been glued back together more times than a Morningside housewife’s sex-toy, it still works (much the like the Morningside housewife’s sex-toy – again, only one moving part…). Not only does it still work, it kicks the ass of just about every piece of cooking equipment I’ve ever owned and possibly will own in the future. This rather belabored point is meant to go some way to show that, apart from having some seriously questionable ideas about personal grooming, those guys from 40 years ago had fairly good ideas about what works when it comes to kitchen machinery. Apparently their ideas of what to do with that kitchen machinery haven’t lasted with similar grace and hardiness.

I guess one likes to think of food as some sort of constant. An unchanging thread that currently links us as humans across the world, but backwards and forwards across time as well. The thing is that food is as subject to trends as anything else – perhaps even more so. Remember the Great Sundried Tomato Craze of the mid-90s? Our current obsession with pomegranates? “Fusion” Food? And now, Organic everything? It was watching those two teletubbies from Masterchef rather scornfully ridicule some poor well-intentioned contestant who wanted to stuff an aubergine, proclaiming that “we” stopped doing that in the 70s. This annoyed the hell out of me, because I suddenly realized that the fickle ridiculousness of “fashionable” food is threatening to leach the fun and universality out of what should be a purely pleasurable past-time without any exception (so how about you take that snot-faced attitude and go lick the ceiling of a bar in Grahamstown, Masterchef Morons, because I know for a fact that, with cavalier disregard for what “we” do, I stuffed the crap out of a tomato the other night and it was bloody delicious,). What we see as completely natural and almost universal food combinations can almost completely disappear in the space of a decade, and even the more ‘universal’ combinations are for the most part, incredibly recent ideas. Medieval cooks had very few of the spices, herbs and condiments that we take for granted today. Food was often not salted, it was packed full of honey and more often than not drowned in pastry and cloves to disguise the fact that the meat was more often than not on the wrong side of ripe. No potatoes, no rice, no tomatoes. Lots of bread, lots of cheese, lots of mushrooms, lots of pigeons, squirrels, lots of grouse, pheasants, partridge, chickens, ducks and geese.

Actually, that sounds very similar to a meal I had in Krugersdorp once.

Was *everything* is the 70s about sex?
Was *everything* is the 70s about sex?

How we approach and think about ingredients changes all the time, depending on fashions, world social trends and the inventiveness of a few famous restaurateurs and TV chefs. The thing I struggle with is trying to decide if I want to listen to that rather small group of “foodie elites”. On the one hand it’s nice to be exposed to fresh ideas and new directions, but on the other hand, dammit – if I want to have a fondue, then I’m fucking going to have one, and Gordon Ramsey can go jump up his own bum. Possibly the only way to do it would be to start a restaurant that specializes in dishes that have gone out of fashion. The centrepiece of the menu? Chicken Kiev. Starters of Prawn Ritz and little cubes of gelatin with ham in them will definitely be on the cards. Fondue? Certainly. Medieval grouse pie? Sure thing. Steak Flambe! Salads packed full of sundried tomatoes, Rice pudding, Black Forest Gateau, and entire trays of things that can be stuffed with other things.

It’s time to be deliberately untrendy, to cook and eat what we like and not to worry that the food police are looking over our shoulder all the time.