Gooseberry, elderflower and amaretti cheesecake

The combination of gooseberry and elderflower, as any Sauvignon Blanc fan should tell you, is a brilliant one. But whilst you will see lots of reference to the two together, the reality is that the overlap between their respective seasons is actually quite short.

You may have taken advantage of the excess of elderflowers already this ‘summer’. If not, you’ll need to soon – the sprays are turning yellow and starting to drop. On the other hand, it is quite early for gooseberries and I have certainly not seen any in the shops yet.

Last weekend, however, I was fortunate to be visiting my parents and found that (a) there was still an abundance of elderflower at the back of our garden and (b) our always reliable gooseberry bushes were leaden with fruit and needed to be relieved of their plumpest ones. A week earlier and none of the gooseberries would have been ripe enough. A week or so later and I’m not sure how many elderflower sprays will remain.

Fools and crumbles are the obvious options, but I fancied neither. If I hadn’t wanted an immediate hit, I would have made some of this wine (I’m hoping Dad has done the honours we’ll have some firewater for later in the year). Instead, I decided to merge the coolness of the fool and the crunch of a crumble and make some individual cheesecakes (non-baked – I’m not a fan of those).

It took a bit of tinkering, but I was happy with the eventual result. And I think a cheesecake is a great use of the two ingredients: a sharp but floral coulis on top; a tangy, cold and creamy middle; and an almondy biscuit base. What’s not to love?

I used 8cm x 3cm ring moulds (egg poaching rings work too), but you could always use those glass Gü pots (they’re 7cm in diameter) and get a few more portions out of the recipe below. Equally, you could work out the volume of a larger, sprung cake tin, do a bit of math, and put one big job together. Just make sure it’s well refrigerated – there’s no gelatine in this, so it needs to be cold.

If you are lucky enough to have access to early gooseberries and late blooming elderflowers, then do take advantage. If not, keep an eye out for gooseberries anyway, and slip in a glug of cordial when you cook them. A recipe for the cheesecake is below the picture.

Look out for Sunday’s ‘Summer Recipe Special’ edition of the Observer Food Monthly magazine, both in print and online. Not least because you can nominate your favourite restaurants, shops and, umm, blogs for the OFM 2012 awards (or just click through here).

gooseberry and elderflower cheesecake

Gooseberry and elderflower cheesecake

Makes 6 individual cheesecakes using 8cm rings

For the coulis (will yield c.600g)

  • 900g gooseberries
  • 8 elderflower sprays of elderflower
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 8 leaves of lemon balm (optional)

For the cheesecake base

  • 110g crunchy amaretti biscuits*
  • 35g unsalted butter, melted

*You could use oaty biscuits (preferably hobnobs), and if you are doing a large cheesecake, I suggest you do. Crushed Amaretti biscuits give a lovely flavour and are delicate, but you might want more structure and strength in a bigger cake.

For the cheesecake

  • 100g double cream
  • 50g Greek yoghurt
  • 150g of gooseberry and elderflower coulis
  • 200g cream cheese (Philadelphia or own brand similar)

For the topping

  • c.300g coulis

Rince the elderflowers gently and also the gooseberries. Place the gooseberries in a thick bottomed saucepan or casserole dish, add the sugar, stir to distribute the sugar evenly and fit the elderflower sprays (whole) in amongst berries. Add lemon balm leaves if you have some handy. There is no need to top and tail the gooseberries.

Place the pan over a low heat and slowly cook the contents until juices start to appear. Stir to make sure none of the berries or flowers are catching on the bottom and place a lid on the pan. Cook for around 15 minutes or until the fruit is soft and bursting. Remove the (now relatively sorry looking) elderflower sprays, and cook the gooseberries for a little longer so that you have a thick liquid. Pass this through a fine sieve, using the back of a wooden spoon to speed proceedings up. You will have around 600g of coulis (which is more than you need,  but any extra will be lovely on your muesli with a bit of yoghurt). Let this cool and then place in the fridge.

If you are using rings, use your finger to rub a little bit of sunflower oil (flavourless) around the inside. This will help you remove remove the cheesecakes from the moulds when you serve them. If you are using Gü pots, don’t bother.

Crush the amaretti biscuits, mix in the butter, and use the back of a teaspoon to press into each ring or pot to about 4mm high. Compress the mixture and then chill in the fridge whilst you mix the cheese and cream. (If you are using individual moulds it will be less stressful placing these on each serving plate from the start, rather than trying to transfer them from another dish.)

Whisk the cream to the ribbon stage by hand with a hand held balloon whisk (there’s not much quantity and you’ll over whip with a machine). Ribbon stage means if you drop a line of cream across the bowl as you whisk, that line still just remains on the surface of the cream. Stop as you see these ribbons and definitely at the point you feel the cream start to catch and pull away from the bowl with the whisk. In a separate mixing bowl, quickly beat the cream cheese till smooth with a wooden spoon or spatula. Fold in the puree. Then fold this into the cream.

Place a couple of spoons of the cream mix into each of the moulds, making sure the cream fills all gaps and levelling out as best as you can with the back of a spoon. Leave about 3mm from the top of the moulds for the coulis. Place in the fridge for about an hour or until it is starting to firm up. Add about 50g of coulis to the top of each mould (or as much as you wish). Level off and then chill the cheesecakes for at least 4 hours, ideally more. Making the dessert the day before is fine (though there is less danger if you are serving them straight from Gü pots or similar).

When you wish to serve the cheesecakes, carefully lift the moulds up. Keep the ring even and let the combination of gravity, and the fact the base will be sticking to the plate help you slide it off.