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A couple of weeks ago an email was sent around the office offering some cheesecake for anyone who wanted to eat it. This cheesecake, we were told, came courtesy of Tim, founder and director of Dial-A-Chef, located right here in Christchurch.

The only condition for eating the cheesecake, we were told, was that we should send an email back to Tim at Dial-A-Chef and thank him for the cheesecake and let him know what we thought of it.

Cheesecake certainly ranks as one of my favorite desserts and I have found only a few cheesecakes made here in New Zealand which I feel are worthy of a second tasting, so I felt obliged to taste this cheesecake and offer my honest opinion.

My critique follows in a bit, but first I need to give a wee bit of background information.

I should mention that I am not a professionally trained chef; nevertheless, I have been cursed with a discerning palate.

Historically, New Zealand food has its roots in mostly bland English cooking (It’s not that all English food is bad – there is actually some great English food to be had, just not typically in NZ.) Having said that, restaurants in New Zealand have come a long way within the last decade.

I believe there is a heap of potential for great food to be had here in New Zealand – if only Kiwis would speak up and demand that chefs cook quality food – especially considering the high cost of a typical restaurant meal.

Changing what chefs cook in the kitchen may take some time – perhaps because many Kiwis have grown used to the bland English “comfort” foods they grew up with and just expect the same when dining out.

Since moving here to NZ I have dined at several great restaurants and have been told by several chefs that in order to improve the quality of the food served, we need to demand that chefs cook better food.

In light of this, I wrote to Tim at Dial-A-Chef in regards to his passion fruit cheesecake with chocolate crust:

Tim from Dial-A-Chef,

Thanks for the cheesecake which you sent over to XXXXX XXXXX at XXXXXXX on 08/04/2008. I ate a piece the day it was brought over and am only just now responding.

I would like to give you an evaluation of this cheesecake, as I am an avid baker and thoroughly enjoy a good cheesecake.

– The passion fruit topping reminded me of a piece of plastic – much too much gelatin. You could easily lift off the entire topping in one rubbery layer. If you are set on serving a passion fruit topping, it would perhaps be better as a [coulis] or simply as fresh slices.

[editor: I must confess I confused passion fruit with star fruit; however, it wasn’t the fruit itself that was the issue, it was the presentation]

I much prefer not to have too much of a topping on a cheesecake as it detracts from the rest of the cheesecake. A small amount of [coulis] or even a thin layer of sweetened sour cream suits a cheesecake admirably.

– The chocolate crust – really more of a lolly – was out of place on a cheesecake. A crust such as this (with lollies and coconut) definitely detracts from the creamy richness the cheese filling has to offer.

I would recommend a more formal crumb crust – either plain buttered crumbs or chocolate crumbs, or even a nice sweet pastry rather than a lolly concoction.

– The filling – while better than the average Kiwi cheesecake filling of the gelatinous, no bake variety – while smooth and creamy, nevertheless lacked any real depth of flavour or expected richness.

A much better cheesecake filling would be made with fresh ricotta and mascarpone with the zest from one lemon and one lime.

Thanks,
steven

I then graciously received a reply from Tim:

HI STEVEN

Lets just say that you should keep your job at XXXXXXX, you would only last minutes in my kitchen, if you are the cheese cake king I think you need to make one not just talk about it. Never have I had an email about food some one has eaten for free!!!

TIM

The only way to improve the quality of the food served at restaurants is to demand that chefs prepare quality food.

So, Tim from Dial-A-Chef, I am happy to offer you a recipe for a decent cheesecake. This great recipe is courtesy of Stephanie Jaworski by way of Joyofbaking.com.

The recipe is for a New York style cheesecake – with a sour cream topping; but, I much prefer to substitute ricotta for the cream cheese, and substitute mascarpone for the heavy whipping cream, as in an Italian style cheesecake.

New York Style Cheesecake Recipe

Grease, or spray with Pam, a 9 inch (23 cm) springform pan. Place the springform pan on a larger baking pan to catch any leakage while the cheesecake is baking. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) with rack in center of oven.

For Crust:

In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and about 1 inch (2.54 cm) up the sides of the springform pan. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

For Filling:

In bowl of your electric mixer place the cream cheese, sugar, and flour. Beat on medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes), scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the whipping cream, lemon zest, vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour in the filling. Place the cheesecake pan on a larger baking pan and place in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes and then lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C) and continue to bake for about another 1 1/2 hours or until firm and only the center of the cheesecake looks a little wet and wobbly. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Spread the topping over the warm cheesecake and return to oven to bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully run a knife or spatula around the inside edge of pan to loosen the cheesecake (helps prevent the surface from cracking as it cools).

Let cool before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating. This cheesecake tastes best after being refrigerated for at least a day.

Serve with fresh fruit or fruit sauces.

Makes one – 9 inch (23 cm) cheesecake.

To freeze: Place the cooled cheesecake on a baking pan and freeze, uncovered, until firm. Remove the cheesecake from the freezer, wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil and place in a freezer bag. Seal and return to freezer. Can be frozen for several months. Thaw uncovered cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

Crust:

2 cups (190 grams) of graham wafer crumbs or finely crushed vanilla wafers or gingersnaps (process whole cookies in a food processor until they are crumbs)

[editor: Graham crackers are not available in New Zealand; however, I have found one box of McVitie’s (The Original) Digestives crumbs work quite nicely.]

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 cup (114 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

32 ounces (1 kg) (4 – 8 ounces packages) cream cheese, room temperature (use full fat, not reduced or fat free cream cheese)

[editor: I substituted fresh ricotta for the cream cheese, as I find the ricotta provides a much richer flavor.]

1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar

3 tablespoons (40 grams) all purpose flour

5 large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy whipping cream

[editor: I substituted mascarpone for heavy whipping cream.]

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Topping:

1 cup sour cream (not low fat or fat free)

2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Tips: Sometimes the surface of the cheesecake cracks. To help prevent this from happening do not overbeat the batter, especially when creaming the cheese and sugar.

Another reason for cracking is overbaking the cheesecake. Your cheesecake is done when it is firm but the middle may still look a little wet.

Also, make sure the springform pan is well greased as cracking can occur if the cheesecake sticks to the sides as it cools.

This is a great cheesecake. I hope you enjoy it.

Cheers,
steven

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