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For The Love of Cheesecake by Joanna Biggers

Writing and recipe by Joanna Biggers // @biggers_kitchen

Illustrations by Rhia Cook // @rhiacookmakes

Cheesecake has long been a winter favourite in my family. It was my grandpa who started it. A love of sugar sandwiches during the war years combined with a dislike for visiting the dentist, meant that by the age of sixty he had very few teeth left - and by the age of eighty, even fewer. Soft foods that didn’t harbour any risk of cracking open a filling became highly desirable and as a life-long lover of biscuits and cream, cheesecake became his long-standing dessert of choice. With his natural charm and skills of persuasion, it subtly began to make an appearance at Sunday lunches and in an astonishingly short amount of time, he had the entire family on board. Thereon in, cheesecake would feature at Christmases, Easters and birthdays too. The days before any family event would involve a familiar ritual of scanning the supermarket shelves for the elusive blackcurrant cheesecake, and smiling in delight when stacks could be found just behind the seemingly more popular strawberry variation.

Since he passed away, I’ve found myself gravitating towards the cheesecake aisle in supermarkets, which always seems to trigger memories of supermarket trips with him as a child. He’d lift me up into those freezer chests and I’d dive down, hands outstretched, carefully securing the desired cheesecake and clutching it in my hands until we reached the checkout and they were numb with the cold. I remember that bubbling feeling of excitement - bringing it back home, watching it defrost throughout the day and finally sitting down together with a spoon in hand, sharing the joy of one of life’s simple pleasures together. I’d copy him by first eating all the sharp, blackcurrant topping, then slowly savouring the filling, before finally enjoying the crisp base with just the slightest remanence of the sugary cream cheese middle on it. My grandma would roll her eyes at this well-established act, preferring to eat her slice the more conventional way.

Now, much older and with a deep affection for being in the kitchen, a new ritual has begun. I make a cheesecake as soon as the weather starts to turn cold, and of course, on December 15th, his birthday. It’s illogical really to make something that is cold and set at a time where warming, cinnamon-spiced pies or homely crumbles are in high demand, but perhaps that’s what makes it all the more special. The cheesecake itself is also a little out of the ordinary I suppose – it’s arguably less trendy then the black-capped, crustless Basque variety. Yet there’s something to be said for the rich, buttery base, the thick, creamy body - so thick you can stand a fork up in it, and the rum infused raisins that bring a warmth to this dessert. Making it, is an act of remembrance; stirring beautiful recollections of indulging in something so intensely decadent and delicious with someone you love. It's also a way of bringing people together and a recipe to ritually welcome back with open arms each year - a bit like a beloved bobbly jumper. It’s knowing that a loved one is never really gone even when they’ve passed on - they are there in the act of sharing food, in the stars at night and in the stories you retell around the dining table through mouthfuls of cheesecake, prompting knowing nods and chuckles from all who surround you.

The recipe

If you’re lucky enough to share this with a grandparent, serve them a generous slice and hold them extra close. And if they are looking down from above, I hope this recipe brings some comfort and that you know how chuffed grandpa Poges would be that you’re taking the time to create his granddaughter’s favourite cheesecake.

The base

Hobnobs. 250g of hobnobs to be exact, crushed with the aid of a rolling pin and a freezer bag and mixed with 80g of melted butter. You want to make sure the biscuits are evenly coated before pressing them gently into the base of a 20-22cm loose-bottomed springform tin and chill in the fridge.

The filling

Start by soaking 160g of raisins in 120g of dark rum overnight. (Don’t skip this step - you want them to be plump and full of booze, trust me).

The next day, soak the 3 gelatine leaves in ice cold water and place 2 egg yolks in the bowl of a

stand mixer and whisk.

Meanwhile, heat 120g of caster sugar and 40ml of water to 121 degrees and quickly pour over the yolks and whisk until they are cool (the fancy term for this is a pate a bomb).

Heat the zest of one orange and its juice and dissolve the gelatine. Pour into the pate a bomb and mix until it's cool but not cold.

Gently beat 320g of cream cheese and add to the pate a bomb mixture - you want to mix this until it’s beautifully smooth.

Fold in 320ml of lightly doubled whipped cream and then the rum-soaked raisins.

Pour into the prepared tin and set in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

Serve yourself a slice and enjoy with a cup of tea or a sherry (I’ll let you guess what my grandpa's choice would have been), before settling in for the afternoon/evening.

Joanna's writing was originally published in our issue on Rituals. Get your copy here:


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