If you ask me, there are three broad categories of strawberries: there's the tasteless stuff you get in supermarkets during the winter months, force-grown in greenhouses, watery and slightly sad. There's the seasonal shop-bought berries, much more perfumed and meaty but still somehow lacking. Then there's the stuff you grow yourself. As anyone who's been lucky enough to have a bit of gardening space knows, nothing compares in taste and sheer glee to that red, intensely perfumed berry you've plucked yourself.
I wish I could say I used berries from my own garden in this cheesecake but between the magpie's big appetites and my own, I could never hope to collect enough fruit demanded by this recipe. Nevertheless, when it comes to using strawberries in baking, few things can top a strawberry cheesecake. This baby uses them in three ways: cooked strawberries are added to the batter, their juice strained and turned into its jelly mirror and fresh strawberry slices decorate it. As with all lovingly prepared cheesecakes, this recipe is a slow one, requiring a waterbath, cooling in the oven and at room temperature and then in the fridge. But it's well worth the effort.
For the strawberry mirror:
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp kirsch
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp unflavored gelatin
- 500g of strawberries
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 cups water
For the cheesecake:
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 160g digestive biscuits
- 750g Philadelphia cream cheese (3 boxes), at room temperature
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 cup strawberry puree
Plus fresh strawberries to decorate
1. Start by making the strawberry juice and strawberry puree to be used in the batter and strawberry mirror. Combine the strawberries, water and sugar in a medium saucepan and mush up the lot with a potato masher to get the juices flowing. Place over low heat and summer slowly for 10 minutes. Pour the juice through a very fine strainer or a cheesecloth. Do not press down and let the juice drip down slowly - this may take 1-15 minutes. Reserve the juice and 1/2 cup of the strawberry puree.
2. Start the cheesecake: preheat the oven to 165 degrees. Fill a roasting tin with water about half way and place it in the oven to create a lovely waterbath for your cheesecake to boil in. Pulse the digestive biscuits in a food processor until you get fine crumbs then drizzle in the slightly cooled melted butter. Pulse again until the mixture resembles wet sand. Press into a 9" springform tin using the bottom of a ramekin or your fingers. Pop the base in the fridge while you prep the cheesecake.
3. Beat the creamcheese on low speed until just creamy. Add the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time, until just combined. Stir in the vanilla and reserved strawberry puree. Remove the tin from the fridge and wrap VERY well in kitchen foil. Pour in the cheesecake mixture, gently set the tin in the waterbath, and bake for 45-55 minutes, checking the cheesecake after 40 minutes. If the cheesecake is mostly set but still a bit wobbly in the middle, turn off the oven and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for about an hour with the door ajar. Remove from the oven and cool completely but DO NOT UNMOULD.
4. To make the strawberry mirror:: fill the sink or a large bowl with ice water. Place lemon juice, kirsch, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft. In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of strawberry juice to a simmer; pour over gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve the gelatin. Place the gelatine mixture bowl over the bowl or sink of ice water and stir until the mixture is syrupy and just beings to thicken. Once it's thickened, pour over the unmoulded cheesecake and chill. Once the strawberry mirror has set a bit, but not completely, sink strawberry slices into it - or wait until it's completely set and serve with fresh strawberry slices.