I love a good cheesecake. I don’t, however, love ALL cheesecakes.
*pauses dramatically for the compulsory gasps of horror*
No, to my mind, if you’re going to elaborate on the indulgent simplicity of flavours such as vanilla or maple syrup, cheesecake needs something sharp to act as a contrast to the richness of the filling.
So I say “Away, foul fiend!” to a whole slew of flavours that, to my mind, shouldn’t be paired with cheesecake, mostly in the chocolate, toffee, Banoffi, caramel, praline range, and “Come to Mama!” to all the tart and sharp fruity flavours. Lemon cheesecake was a long-term favourite, but anything that has a sharpness to it is delicious.
There are two main styles of cheesecake: baked and no-bake. I’ve got several recipes on the blog for various baked cheesecakes but haven’t done a no-bake cheesecake, so here we are.
After a little experimentation, I’ve come up with something that will work for any fruit puree you might have to hand. I’ve used gooseberries, but you could also use this recipe for poached rhubarb, plums, damsons as well as raw fruit purees such as strawberries, raspberries, cherries etc.
Another way you can customise this recipe is by swapping in ingredients that will give a texture that you like. A baked cheesecake is usually rich and dense, whereas no-bake cheesecakes tend to have a lighter texture as they rely on gelatine to hold their shape once set.
The filling for the cheesecake in the photo has been made with equal parts of mascarpone, creme fraiche and double cream mixed with the fruit puree, which makes for a creamy but still light texture. If you prefer a denser consistency, you can substitute cream cheese for the mascarpone or creme fraiche or even both. Quark is a fat-free dairy product, but might take the texture towards a mousse rather than a cheesecake. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course, as long as it’s what you were wanting.
A word or two about gelatine. At the risk of stating the obvious, gelatine renders your dessert off-limits to vegetarians. Whilst this might be your dastardly plan, you can still make this dessert so all can enjoy. Vegetarian gelatine is generally available, but not in the sheet form used in this recipe. You should follow the vege-gel guidelines for blooming and using it in your dessert.
The other thing to bear in mind, whichever form of gelatine you use, is that it’s not very fond of acidity. Using the quantity stated on the pack to set a very sharp, acidic liquid is not going to be as firm as if the liquid is neutral in flavour. You might like the texture, but as a general rule, I would advise using extra gelatine to ensure your dish sets as expected.
For example, the recipe below generated 300ml of gooseberry puree. Normally, 2 sheets of gelatine will set 300ml just fine. I used 4 sheets of gelatine a) because of the sharpness and b) because of the volume of filling into which it was to be mixed. The mixture of creams and cheese is quite stiff when whisked together, but adding the puree slackens the mixture off considerably. Having the extra gelatine in the puree meant that all of the filling set, once it had been folded through.
In contrast, for the gel on the top of the cheesecake, I only used a little extra gelatine, which resulted in a much softer final set.
For leaf gelatine, 1 leaf will set 150ml of liquid. Powdered gelatine and Vege-gel are sold in packets that usually set 1 pint (570ml) of liquid. Weigh the granules and divide by four for an equivalent guideline amount.
Last topic before we get on with the recipe – the biscuit base. You can make this from a range of commercially produced biscuits or make your own. Traditionally the biscuit has been Digestives, but other (British) types include HobNobs, Ginger Nuts, Butter Crinkles, Rich Tea – anything crisp. I’ve even used Doriano crackers (similar to Saltines), which give a deliciously unexpected saltiness as well as crunch.
For this recipe I have chosen to use a crumb of Spekulaas, the traditional Dutch Christmas biscuits. They are definitely crunchy and add a nicely spiced note which complements the gooseberries. Any favourite crisp biscuit can be used, merely bake the dough in its breadcrumb-like state and blitz in a food processor when cooled.
No-Bake Gooseberry Cheesecake
You can use either green or dessert gooseberries for this recipe. Green gooseberries (see photo at the bottom of this post) ripen earliest, and pair very well with elderflowers. You can substitute half the poaching water with elderflower cordial if liked. Dessert gooseberries are sweeter and with a rosy blush which makes for the beautifully coloured topping in the top photo. These quantities makes a large cheesecake, so if that doesn’t suit your needs, consider halving the recipe.
For the base
200g self-raising flour
125g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbs speculaas spice mix – or a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, as liked.
1 pinch salt
150g cold unsalted butter
50g unsalted butter – melted.
- Heat oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment. A sheet with a lip will help keep the crumbs contained.
- Put all the ingredients except the melted butter into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade and blitz until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
- Tip the crumbs onto the baking sheet and spread out evenly.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Stir the crumb, breaking up any large pieces and then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
- Set aside until cold.
- Pour the cooked crumb into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is of an even and uniform crumb.
- Tip the crumb into a bowl and pour over the melted butter.
- Mix thoroughly until the crumb resembles damp sand.
- Press firmly into your chosen tin. I used my rectangular springform tin (28cm x 10 cm) and pressed the crumb up the sides a little to give a little extra support to the filling, but if you’re confident in your gelatine levels, this isn’t necessary (see photo at the bottom of this post). You might like to line your tin with foil or parchment to help remove once set.
- Chill in the fridge until needed.
For the filling
600g fresh or frozen gooseberries, or other sharp fruit
250g mascarpone cheese
250g creme fraiche
250ml double cream
5-6 tbs icing sugar
4 leaves gelatine
- Put the gooseberries and the water into a pan over a very low heat.
- Cover and allow to gently simmer until the fruit is soft. Stir gently from time to time to prevent the fruit from burning (10-15 minutes).
- Pour the fruit mixture through a sieve. Leave to drain. Keep both the liquid and fruit pulp.
- Bloom the gelatine in cold water.
- Sieve the drained fruit to remove the seeds. You will get about 300ml of puree. If you have extra, set it aside and serve as sauce with the cheesecake.
- Put the puree and bloomed gelatine into a saucepan and warm gently until the gelatine is melted. Taste and stir through just enough icing sugar to make it slightly sweet.
- Set aside to cool.
- Put the mascarpone, creme fraiche and double cream into a bowl. Add 3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar and whip until the mixture is firm. Taste and add more sugar if necessary, but it should only be slightly sweet.
- When the fruit puree has cooled, but is still liquid, fold it into the whipped cheese/cream mixture.
- Taste the mixture to check the sweetness levels and adjust as needed.
- Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared tin. I lined the edges of the tin with acetate which allowed the filling to come up higher than the level of the crust, but this isn’t compulsory.
- Cover lightly with cling film and allow to set in the fridge (2-3 hours).
For the jelly topping
retained juice from cooking the fruit
- Measure the retained juice from cooking the fruit and calculate how much gelatine is required to set it. I set 400ml of sharply-flavoured juice with 3 leaves of sheet gelatine. I like the soft set, but you might prefer something a bit firmer in which case add another gelatine leaf. Stir in enough sugar to sweeten slightly. I prefer to keep the topping quite sharp as it provides a great contrast with the sweet biscuit base and the creamy filling.
- Bloom the required quantity of leaf gelatine in cold water.
- When the cheesecake filling has firmed up, add the gelatine to the juice and warm until the gelatine has melted. Cool slightly, then gently spoon over the cheesecake. Be careful not to pour from a great hight, as you might disturb the surface of the cheese filling and this would make for a cloudy jelly layer.
- Return to the fridge and chill until set, preferably overnight.
Week 5 of Festive Food and it’s a full-on chocolate fiesta, because what is Christmas without some chocolate? A dang-poor Christmas, that’s what it is!
For years, I have resisted making Brownies, because the last time I’d tasted them, they didn’t strike me as anything special. Of course, this was 1987 and I seem to recall that vegetable oil featured rather heavily, so all in all, no wonder.
So I decided to turn my rehabilitation eye on the humble brownie and force it to raise its game by using top quality ingredients and adding a bit of elegance to its appearance.
What I’ve got for you here is the culinary opposite of those shabby specimens of almost 3 decades ago: it is a multi-layered extravaganza of dark 70% chocolate, real cocoa, fresh butter, rich praline, and creamy milk chocolate. Like Cinderella, humble beginnings have been primped and tweaked and slathered in more bells and whistles than a whole troupe of Morris Men (wack-fol-a-diddle-di-do-sing-too-rah-li-ay!).
I’ve made many versions over the past few weeks, but like some glorious cocoa-based Pokemon, THIS is it’s final form.
FIVE layers – yes, FIVE! Go on, count them! – of indulgence, the textures getting lighter and more luscious as they get higher and higher: from crisp chocolate crunch shortbread, though rich brownie, creamy praline ganache, ethereally light milk-chocolate Chantilly cream and finally, to be topped with shower of real chocolate sprinkles! If you wanted to go all-out, I guess you COULD add a dusting of pure cocoa powder, but that seems a little over-the-top if you arsks me….
If you’re starting to panic about how complicated this all is, stop. It’s not. Yes, there are five layers, but you don’t HAVE to make all of them. The brownie by itself is pretty amazing. Add one or two of the other layers, and it’s a real winner. Pick and choose what you want to make – your kitchen, your rules.
This is a 2-day recipe, so don’t think everything has to be done in one go. The bottom two layers are baked in the same tin, one on top of the other, and the ganache is then poured on top – the first three layers all neatly contained in a single tin – no mess, no fuss. The only other thing to do on the first day is to melt some chocolate in cream. So you end up with just 2 items in the fridge. Simples!
It’s a what-I-call Lego™ recipe, with bits taken from here and there and stuck together to make something new. Bonus: each layer is delicious just on its own:
- Chocolate crunch base – makes fabulously crisp biscuits.
- Brownie – bakes in 15 minutes for a speedy dessert – serve with cream!
- Praline Ganache – once cooled, can be rolled into decadent truffles and tossed in cocoa.
- Milk chocolate chantilly – with just 2 ingredients and a little planning ahead, the easiest dessert of all.
- Real chocolate sprinkles – delicious on bread and butter for breakfast.
You need to start it the day before it is required, because the ganache and the Chantilly must chill overnight in the fridge. Apart from that, it’s very straightforward.
WARNING: This makes a SLAB of brownie, and due to its richness, serves up to 20. If you’re not wanting such a huge quantity, even though it will last for several days over the festive season, consider scaling the recipe down. Also, if you’re thinking this could be regarded as a serving for 1 (which, technically, I suppose it could be), for the sake of your arteries, consider scaling the recipe down!
I make this a pan of dimensions 24cm x 32cm x 4cm. If you haven’t got a tin exactly the same, then just go with what you have – smaller and deeper – or even two small tins – is better, to keep the ganache from overflowing.
Chocolate Biscuit Base
This is a crumbly, buttery shortbread, but with added feuilletine and ground almonds for two different yet complimentary crunch textures. If you don’t have any feuilletine, use a few crushed crepes dentelles or cornflakes.
135g butter – softened
45g icing sugar
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine 
- Line your tin with baking parchment. Leave the edges quite long, so that they stick up well above the sides of the tin.
- Mix the softened butter, sugar, salt, flour, cocoa and ground almonds in a bowl until well combined.
- Lightly stir in the feuilletine. Try to keep the pieces a reasonable size, so that they can still be discerned in the cooked biscuit.
- Turn out the mixture onto parchment and lay some clingfilm over the top.
- Roll the mixture out to fit your tin. The overall thickness should be between 5-8mm thick. You might find it easier to roll this out onto the baking parchment from the tin, then you’ll know exactly where to trim/patch.
- Prick all over with a fork (to keep it from blistering) and place in the freezer to harden for between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes and then set aside to cool. The biscuit will be mostly cooked, and will finish off as the brownie mixture bakes.
Rich Chocolate Brownie
100 g egg yolks (5 large)
125 g caster sugar (to mix with the yolks)
120 g of egg white (3 large)
120 g caster sugar (to mix with the white)
15 g of cocoa powder
60g chopped walnuts (or pecans).
220 g of dark chocolate (I used 70% )
120 g unsalted butter
- Increase the oven heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Mix the egg yolks and sugar until very light and fluffy (10 mins-ish).
- Meanwhile melt butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool a little.
- Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar and beat until stiff peaks.
- Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with the whisked yolks. NB Use a balloon whisk for this – it’s more effective and doesn’t knock out as much air as a spoon or spatula.
- Fold in the butter/chocolate mixture.
- Fold in the walnuts.
- Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
- When thoroughly combined, pour onto the biscuit base in the baking tin.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on how baked you like your brownie to be – I went for 20 minutes, because I like a cakey cake rather than a gooey cake).
- Set aside to cool in the tin.
100g unblanched almonds )
100g caster sugar ) for the praline paste.
You CAN buy praline paste ready made, but it’s generally made with hazelnuts and is therefore not as delicate a flavour as a purely almond praline paste.
115g praline paste
345ml double cream
285g dark 60-70% chocolate
2tsp vanilla extract (optional).
- Make the praline paste, or see footnote  below:
- Put the almonds on a baking sheet and put in the oven.
- Turn the heat to 160°C, 140°C Fan and let the nuts toast for 15-20 minutes.
- Put the sugar into a pan over medium heat. Allow the sugar to melt and become golden brown. NB Do not stir, as this will cause the sugar to crystallise. Swirl the sugar around the pan.
- Put the toasted nuts onto some baking parchment or a silicone mat, and pour the caramel over them.
- Leave to cool.
- Cut the praline into pieces and blitz it in a food processor to ‘breadcrumbs’.
- Keep the machine running and eventually (5 minutes or so) it will turn into a paste, as the oil in the nuts is released.
- Weigh out the quantity you need. Any remainder will keep very well in a sealed box.
- Chop the chocolate and add to the praline paste in a bowl.
- Heat the cream to just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
- Leave for 5 minutes. This waiting time allows the heat of the cream to act on the chocolate and allows it to melt gradually. Vigorous stirring immediately after adding the cream will just create and trap air bubbles and spoil the finish of the ganache.
- Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
- Stir in the vanilla, if using.
- Pour onto the cooled brownie in the tin. It will have sunk a little in the middle as it cooled, but I like also to press the edges down a little, so that the ganache sets as an even layer across the whole brownie. Just press the raised edges gently with the flat of your hand until the surface seems level., then pour over the liquid ganache.
- If you’re having the ganache as the final topping – and it does set to a beautifully glossy finish, you’ll want to try and get rid of as many of the air bubbles as possible, so that the surface is smooth and shiny. To do this, lift the tin about 10cm off the kitchen counter and drop it onto the worktop. Repeat 3 or 4 times. You will see the bubbles rise and burst through the ganache. This dropping will also help level out the ganache. You can also jiggle the tin from side to side to ensure the ganache has got into all the nooks and crannies.
- Allow to cool on the side, before covering lightly with foil and putting it in the fridge to set. If it’s still warm when you cover it, you run the risk of droplets of condensation falling onto the ganache. Clingfilm is an acceptable alternative to foil, if you can ensure it doesn’t touch the ganache, as this would spoil the mirror finish.
Milk Chocolate Chantilly
This is a fabulous concoction to have up your sleeve. Once prepared, it has the texture of mousse, but without the fuss of either gelatine or whipped (raw) egg-whites. Great for vegetarians!
400ml whipping cream
200g Milka milk chocolate
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl.
- Heat the cream until just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
- Leave for 5 minutes.
- Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
- To ensure that the cream and chocolate are fully combined, you can, while the mixture is still hot, BRIEFLY whisk it with an immersion blender – no more than 4 or 5 quick pulses.
- Allow to cool.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.
You can, of course, serve this as a traybake, with or without the chantilly cream, but it is so rich, and looks so pretty when you can see all the layers, I really recommend portioning it out neatly in either squares or fingers.
- Remove the tin of brownie from the fridge. The Ganache will have set to a lovely smooth and shiny finish.
- Take hold of the parchment and lift the whole thing out of the tin and set it on the work surface.
- Slowly peel the parchment away from the sides.
- Cut up the brownie. This might seem a little over the top, to have a section devoted to cutting up a tray bake, but having gone to so much effort, a little care to ensure beautifully smooth slices like the one in the picture is time well spent.
- Have a large, sharp, smooth knife to hand. A serrated knife won’t give you the sleek, smooth edge required.
- Also have a jug of very hot water and a clean tea towel.
- Have a board/serving dish for the slices of brownie, and a side plate for the offcuts and trimmings.
- Hold the blade of the knife in the hot water for a few seconds, to heat up. This will allow it to cut through the ganache cleanly.
- Dry the blade thoroughly with the tea towel.
- In one smooth movement, trim one of the short sides of the slab, to reveal the layers.
- Put the trimmings on the side plate.
- Wash the knife blade clean. This removes all crumbs and traces of ganache, which would spoil the clean cut surface the next time you made a cut.
- Repeat – heating/drying/cutting/washing the blade clean – until all four sides have been trimmed.
- Divide the trimmed brownie slab into fingers. My suggestion is for fingers no larger than 10cm x 3cm.
- Carefully place each cut slice onto the board/serving dish.
- Remember to clean your blade after each cut, and every serving will be perfect.
- Prepare the milk chocolate Chantilly cream by whipping it with either a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, or a hand mixer. The setting power of the milk chocolate means that the cream will hold its shape like whipped double cream, but be altogether lighter. NB Be careful not to over-whip the cream – it will take only 1-2 minutes of whisking to thicken up.
- Pipe the cream onto your brownie slices. For the pattern in the picture, I used a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle to form ‘kisses’ in rows. Feel free to choose both a different piping tip and pattern.
- Sprinkle real chocolate sprinkles over the top to finish.
 http://www.souschef.co.uk is a great online resource for praline paste, feuilletine etc.
Many moons ago, I lived in Edinburgh for a time, very close to a great little deli. It was there that I first discovered Millionaire’s Shortbread – traditionally sold as a wonderfully decadent slab of shortbread, covered by a thick layer of caramel and finished off with a chocolate-based topping. Since then, I have sampled it all over, with varying degrees of enjoyment. If one layer isn’t quite right, it can spoil the whole indulgent experience. The shortbread might be too dry, or too cakey or too crumbly. The caramel might be too sweet, too solid, or too runny and if the topping is made from something merely ‘chocolate flavoured’ – then there’s definite disappointment ahead, not to mention all the ‘snack malfunctions’ that might occur, leaving you with a devastation of crumbs and caramel tumbling down your front.
The solution would seem to be to make it yourself – however that too is fraught with difficulties. Quite apart from all the possible pitfalls mentioned above – using pure chocolate for the topping isn’t the solution either, as I learned when I made some for visitors a while back. After lovingly making the caramel from scratch and then spreading the top with a thick layer of the finest chocolate, I decided to cut it at the table for maximum effect (Attention-seeking? Moi?). Well it certainly made an impact, but not in the way I had hoped, because as I plunged the knife into the (thick and now quite solid) chocolate layer, the knife stuck firmly and took the whole slab of chocolate with it, thereby forcing the entire caramel layer to squidge out the sides and drip onto the table. Awkward.
Anyhoo – enough of the preamble. Here’s my solution to all of the above problems. Mini shortbread cups you can eat in just 2 bites, filled with caramel and just drizzled with melted chocolate. Great for the school fete bake stall too!
Millionaire’s Shortbread Cups
75g icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
230g plain flour
1 x 397g tin of Nestle Carnation Caramel
100g plain chocolate – 70% cocoa for preference
Pestle or some other round-ended item
- Blitz shortbread ingredients in food processor until they come together in a ball. The dough will be very soft.
- Divide into balls weighing 15g. This is not as fiddly as it sounds, as long as you have a digital scales – you soon ‘get your eye in’ on the size required, and then it’s only a matter of trimming excess dough if necessary.
- Put one dough ball into each of the well-greased mini-muffin cups and press it to the sides. Handy Tip: I use the rounded end of my pestle to just press down onto the ball – and it’s so soft it moulds to the muffin cup with one simple movement. Prick the bases with a fork to keep them from rising during cooking.
- Put muffin tray into the freezer for 15 minutes, to firm up the dough. This will help it hold its shape when put into the hot oven.
- Heat oven to 160C Fan.
- Bake on bottom shelf of oven for 10 minutes. Turn pan, then cook for another 10 minutes or until shortbread is browned. NB Don’t take the pan out too early, or the bases will not be cooked.
- If the shortbread has risen too much, while its still hot, use your pestle to press down firmly to re-form the cup shape.
- Cool the shortbread for 5 minutes, then ease the cups out of the pan and set to cool on a rack.
- When the shortbread has cooled completely, tip the caramel into a bowl and beat briskly with a fork until smooth.
- Put a teaspoon of caramel into each cup. Be careful not to overfill the cups – you want the caramel level with the top of the biscuit – it really is a very scant teaspoon.
- Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a ceramic or glass bowl.
- Heat in the microwave in bursts of 30 seconds, stirring after each turn.
- Spoon the melted chocolate into the piping bag, snip the end (if using a disposable bag) and drizzle zigzags of chocolate over the cups.
Makes about 40 mini-cups
Cost: £4.05 (July 2011) – 10p a cup!