There’s a nip in the air today. An icy draught has been blowing up from the bottom of the stairs, freezing our feet, and it smells like woodsmoke. Little boys like nothing better than running around and yelling on autumn days like this, so we’ll be off to the park in a few minutes. Just as soon as we’ve finished making pumpkin cheesecake.
Because making pumpkin anything should be an autumn staple, and I wish it were done more often here. As it was, I had to stake out Waitrose yesterday evening for canned pumpkin – the only place in Reading that sells it, as far as I’m aware – and screamed when they had six whole cans. I bought three. You have to be prepared.
This is a Hummingbird Bakery recipe, and I was intrigued as soon as I found it: cheesecake? Really? I’ve never attempted baked cheesecake before – giving the cheesecake a water bath has always seemed intimidating, not to mention overly personal. But I love both cheesecake and pumpkin flavoured things, so was ready to take the leap.
The base is buttery, cinnamony, nutmeggy digestive biscuits. You crush them either in a blender or with brute force (I chose the latter), mix in the butter, cinnamon and nutmeg, and press into a springform tin. That goes into the fridge for half an hour to cool. Meanwhile, you preheat the oven and get on with the glorious cheesy topping.
The topping is cream cheese, sugar, a surprisingly large dumping of cinnamon, three eggs (which I suppose necessitate the baking), and finally the canned pumpkin. I’m used to seeing canned pumpkin filling pies or colouring muffins, so had forgotten that without any of this deliciousness it is bright orange and decidedly unappetising. After a good whisk, though, the mixture is creamy and lightly coloured, and looks yummy.
Now for the water bath. I wrapped foil around the base of the cake tin and got out my only roasting tin to fill with water. Here’s where I ran into trouble: first, my roasting tin wasn’t tall enough for the water to cover all of the cake tin. Then, too late, I realised that I was pouring water above the height of the protective foil, making it mostly useless. In these situations, the only thing to do is have some chocolate to steady the nerves and press ahead, both of which I did.
It stays in the oven for 35-40 minutes, then comes out, somehow without sloshing hot, suspiciously cloudy water all over the floor. It needs to set in the fridge, say the lovely Hummingbird Bakery people, for at least a few hours, ‘or preferably overnight’. Psh. No one waits overnight for dessert, surely.
I’m glad we didn’t, because no amount of fridge time would’ve fixed it. Oh, my loves, what a waste of brilliance this business was. I could go on, but perhaps all I need to tell you is this: the water got in. Hence, the soggy biscuit base. Hence, the strange wobbliness of it. Hence the disturbingly damp sheen on the top.
The shame of it is that it tastes divine – the pumpkin is just right, neither too overpowering nor too faint. The nutmeg and cinnamon work wonderfully together. But with the best will in the world, not even ten tons of delicately spiced pumpkin can save soggy biscuit.
Suspiciously cloudy water. I should’ve known.
Do you want to see a photo? Ok, here you go. You asked for it.
This was such a near miss that I’m seriously tempted to try again tomorrow – the recipe used half the butter, half the biscuits and half a can of pumpkin. This does raise the question of what on earth we’d do with an entire second cheesecake. Any takers within walking distance? I’m not kidding.
Deliciousness: leaving the wateriness aside, it was lovely. Tragically lovely. Oh pumpkin cheesecake, we were like ships in the night.
Complexity: WATER BATH. WATER BATH. WAAAAATEEEER BAAAAAAATTHHHHH.
Washing-up pile: two mixing bowls and a tangle of utensils.
Casualties: The cheesecake. Death by drowning, said the coroner.