Spill the beans. Where has the summer gone and what have you done with it? The delicious sunshine is hiding behind thick, imposing clouds. Hand me a vaporiser and I’ll do away with them. Can clouds be re-vaporised?
You know what my favourite way of holding on to summer with both hands is?
Cheesecake. Huge wedges that are bursting with indulgent summer flavours and velvety luxury, served up with a drizzle of delicious guilt. Stop drooling, it’s only a description.
One of my favourite Indian desserts is srikhand (pronounced: shree-khand). It is thick, sweet and sour yoghurt blended with cardamom, saffron and slivered nuts. Divine. So, why not blend my favourite flavours of srikhand with everyone’s favourite cheesy dessert? Thankfully I’m talking cream cheese and not cheddar.
I didn’t want the cheesecake to be exclusively srikhand flavoured because if I wanted pure, unadulterated srikhand, I would opt for that as a dessert instead of a cheesecake. Naturally. So I picked my favourite elements of srikhand as a dessert (sweet, sour, saffron) and whipped up a dessert to satisfy my srikhand and cheesecake cravings all in one go. I call it gluttonous wizardry. You can call me the dessert she-devil.
I’ve used my usual baked cheesecake recipe, adapted from Kurma Dasa’s Great Vegetarian Dishes. His recipe produces a mighty fine cheesecake and allows for oodles of flavour experimentation. My kind of thing.
Saffron is a spice collected from the saffron crocus (a flower native to Southwest Asia) and has medicinal properties as well as culinary uses. It is predominantly used in Persian, Arabic, Mediterranean and South Asian cuisines, and it imparts a heady, earthy fragrance to dishes as well as a deep yellow hue. Always use it sparingly. By weight, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world and nobody can argue over prices when each crocus contains three single strands of pure saffron, handpicked by ever-patient and light-fingered saffron collectors. How many crocuses are needed for a coin sized amount of saffron? I wouldn’t dare to venture a guess.
Did you know?
-It is alleged that the name ‘saffron’ comes from the Arabic term ‘asfar’ meaning yellow in colour.
-Saffron crocuses only flower in mid-Autumn and the stigmas and styles must be harvested quickly after their dawn bloom.
Being thrown off the Spice Trail
Beware of saffron copycats. For years, saffron fakes have been abundant and it really isn’t easy to tell whether you’ve been conned out of your pennies (or should I say pounds?) or not.
Here are a few tips I always keep in mind:
-Always go to a reputable dealer or spice stockist
-To test if your saffron is real, soak a few strands in hot water. If yellow/orange dye comes off, leaving a white coloured strand then the saffron is bogus. This is a trick used by spice hustlers who use artificially dyed corn husk fibres to replace the delicate saffron strands. They won’t have a musky aroma and will be of no use. What a mistak-er to make-er. Bin them and don’t buy the same ones again.
-American and Mexican saffron is not the same as genuine saffron. It is made from safflower and has the same colour and appearance, but no taste or smell. Again, a pointless purchase.
-Once you find a genuine box/packet of good saffron, remember the brand and stick to it. In my opinion, Spanish ‘La Mancha’ saffron is the most wonderful (unless you happen to live near a pond full of saffron crocuses and pick your own). Do you think they do saffron P.Y.O’s? Maybe at Lakshmi Mittal’s pad.
-To get the most out of your saffron, place it in a bowl and microwave it on high for 10-15 seconds to lightly toast it and dry it out (be VERY careful and keep a watchful eye on it). Gently rub it through your fingers when you add it to your dish and it will release heaps of flavour and colour. Magic.
Saffron & Lemon Srikhand Cheesecake
For the base:
250g ginger nut biscuits (or graham crackers), crushed finely
1/3 cup melted butter
For the filling:
500g ricotta cheese
500g softened cream cheese (I used original Philadelphia)
1 1/3 cups double cream
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp cornflour
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp lemon zest
¼ – ½ tsp saffron, toasted as directed above
1. Combine the crushed biscuits and melted butter and firmly pat it into the bottom of a greased 10-inch springform tin. Make sure it’s even and tightly compacted. Cover this with plastic wrap and refrigerate the whole thing.
2. For the filling: in a large bowl, beat together all of the ingredients (excluding the lemon zest and saffron) until it has thickened. Kurma suggests not to overmix this.
3. Fold in the lemon zest and saffron and place the mixture on top of the chilled biscuit base. Smooth the top down.
4. Place this in a preheated oven at 160 degrees Celsius for 1 ¼ hours or until firm and golden. If you find that the top of the cheesecake is going too brown, reduce the temperature and cook for a longer period of time.
5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate for 8-10 hours before cutting and serving.