You know that classic saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" I would like to propose a new version: "When your moronic housemate leaves the freezer open all night, defrosting that beautiful punnet of redcurrants you bought at the farmers' market months ago and were saving for a very special dessert, calm the boiling torrent of rage threatening to engulf your very being and spur you on to unsavoury actions involving placing him inside a large block of ice from which there is no escape, and make redcurrant cheesecake". Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's a pithy enough aphorism to catch on.
This cheesecake might, however. I am always one for looking on the bright side of life, and decided that instead of risking jail for murder, I would instead be glad that I had the opportunity to come up with a culinary use for these redcurrants. I'd always been planning to pair them with peaches, probably in a delicate and elegant French-style tart with pastry cream. However, there was one tiny issue with this: I'd also had a bag of egg whites in the freezer (I am a serial hoarder of egg whites - like a mad bag lady, just with bags containing jelloid chicken amniotic fluid, which - by the way - gains a rather creepy, alien-esque green tint to it the more you put in the bag). The egg whites somehow leaked all over the redcurrants - "zip-lock" bags clearly neither zip nor lock - and so I didn't want to use them raw just in case they were contaminated. They probably weren't. But I don't like the idea of giving my friends food poisoning. They would stop coming round for dinner and then I would have no purpose in life and would probably just cease to exist, disappearing without trace save for a freezer loaded with bags of egg whites.
On my list, then, of desserts involving cooked redcurrants were a peach and redcurrant crumble, a peach and redcurrant cake, and a peach and redcurrant cheesecake. The cake I had in mind would have been very similar to last week's Czech bubble cake, so I thought I'd try something different. The reason I decided on cheesecake over crumble is almost entirely aesthetic: cheesecakes look better in photographs. Tragic, I know. I've reached that awful food blogging stage where the photos are more important than the flavour. (Though they're not, really, because cheesecake and crumble are my two favourite desserts and either would have tasted great).
I make a lot of cheesecakes. To the point where now I don't even need a recipe; I can just go to the supermarket, buy some random dairy products and then combine them in a bowl to make something vaguely edible. This time I went a bit mad with experimentation and ventured into the 'Polish dairy' section of Tesco. I found curd cheese, something I had read Delia raving about for cheesecakes, and also peach-flavoured fromage frais. I wanted fromage frais for the cheesecake as a substitute for the creme fraiche I normally use, but couldn't find the unadulterated stuff. I figured peach would be perfect: all the peach flavour was there already - I was planning on topping the cheesecake with sliced peaches, but an extra layer of peachy goodness couldn't hurt.
Actually, it did hurt. I clearly forgot, in my haze of Polish dairy-related excitement, that I loathe yoghurt and all its manifestations. I told myself that fromage frais is a bit different - it has 'fromage' in the title therefore is really closer to cheese - which I love - than yoghurt - which I loathe to the point where, if I ever need to make myself sick, I just have to put my head inside a suitable receptacle and imagine eating a tub of yoghurt with a spoon. Unfortunately, one of the things I hate most about yoghurt is the artificial flavours you get, and as soon as I opened the peach fromage frais my gag reflex was fully deployed. Undeterred, I put it in the cheesecake anyway, sure that its artificial flavour would mellow out once it was cooked.
Ahem. It didn't. Instead it filled my entire house with the aroma of baking peach-flavoured yoghurt. However, I was still convinced that this hideous sweetness would be offset by the tart currants, so all would be well. The rest of the cheesecake mixture comprised eggs, curd cheese (rather like ricotta but much more dense and crumbly), sugar, a little vanilla extract and a squeeze of honey, along with the redcurrants. It looked beautiful when I took it out of the oven. Or, actually, a bit sinister, like a heavily bloodstained sheet. Having spent the morning in the library reading about bloody beds in Arthurian literature for my dissertation, redcurrant cheesecake may, in retrospect, not have been the best option for dessert.
I was going, as I said, to slice some peaches and layer them over the top. However, I thought the cake looked so nice with its splatters of bright red currants that it would be a shame to cover it up. Instead, I baked some peaches in foil with a splash of sherry and some honey until they turned soft and unctuous. This was a good idea, given the peaches were rock hard, as I expected they would be. Once cooked, however, they turned into fairly satisfactory specimens, and I served them alongside wedges of the cheesecake with a little of their juices drizzled over.
I'd like to try making this cheesecake again. The curd cheese was a bit too crumbly, it turns out. I think I'd go back to using ricotta or cream cheese, because the cake was slightly drier than I would have liked. However, the crumbliness did go really well with the tart juicy burst of the currants. The only issue was the peach flavoured yoghurt; plain fromage frais would have been better, because that faux-peach flavour really was quite overpowering. However, I think that is just my personal preference based on my hatred of yoghurt, because the others who ate the cake said it was really nice. The crumbly cake with the soft peaches is a nice texture contrast, though if the peaches were ripe I would probably have just chopped them and sprinkled them over the surface of the cooked cake. Definitely one to try and improve on, but as it is, pretty tasty. And not bad for an improvisation borne of a cold-storage-related catastrophe.
Peach and redcurrant cheesecake (makes one 18cm cake):
300g cream cheese or ricotta
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp honey
150ml creme fraiche or plain fromage frais (use peach if you like the fake flavour...)
One punnet of redcurrants (or raspberries)
Peaches, to serve
Pre-heat the oven to 170C. Beat together the cheese, sugar, vanilla, eggs, honey and creme fraiche/fromage frais. Fold in two thirds of the redcurrants and spoon into a greased and lined 18cm springform cake tin. Scatter the remaining redcurrants over the top.
Bake for 55 minutes or so until just about set all the way through - the inside should still wobble a little. If it is browning too much after half an hour, cover with foil for the rest of the cooking time.
Remove and leave to cool. Dust with icing sugar to decorate. If your peaches are ripe, simply scatter them, chopped, over the top of the cake. If not, halve them, wrap in a foil parcel with a splash of sherry or white wine and a drizzle of honey, and bake until tender, then serve alongside the cake.