Sweet sweet Friday: Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake

When I was about 12, my mother made a pumpkin cheesecake. The recipe was by Elisabeth Pedersen, who wrote columns for the New Zealand Herald for years and years, and I can still remember everything about it; how it looked, how it tasted, even how the recipe text looked on the page. It was one of a suite of pumpkin-related recipes – I remember a pumpkin pie that wasn’t nearly as good – and although I’m sure Mum cut it out and stuck it in her recipe notebook, I don’t think she ever made it again despite my requests.

More than 25 years later, I have finally managed to recreate it. I was looking for something else in my bulging notebook when a recipe by Amanda Laird (who now writes recipes for the Herald) fell out. I was worried my Proustian hopes would be dashed, but it was amazing. I’ll never know if Amanda had Elisabeth’s original, but this one is close enough for me.

Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake
The original cheesecake from my memory bank was topped with a layer of whipped cream and shaved chocolate, but I followed Amanda’s suggestion and sprinkled praline on top instead. I’ve made a few minor changes to her recipe, but you can find the original here. I know pumpkins are out of season for you northern hemisphere readers, but I urge you to bookmark this for October. A big dollop of whipped cream on the side makes this even better. Serves 10.

For the base:
220g malt biscuits (just under a packet, after reserving a few for morning tea)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1tsp mixed spice
100g butter, melted

For the filling:
450g cooked pumpkin (the easy way to do this is to wrap a 600g-ish piece loosely in foil, skin and all, and bake at 200C for about 30 mins. Let cool and the skin will come off easily)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
400g cream cheese, at room temperature
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup mixed nuts – walnuts, pecans, almonds

Preheat the oven to 170C. Put the biscuits, sugar and spice into a food processor and blitz to fine crumbs. Pour in the melted butter and pulse to mix. Press the mixture into a line 24cm springform tin and leave in the fridge while you make the filling.
Put all the filling ingredients in the processor and whiz until well combined. Pour over the prepared ase and bake for 30-40 minutes until just set. It should be slightly wobbly still – I overcooked mine a touch. Leave the oven door ajar and leave the cheesecake to cool. When completely cooled, wrap the whole thing in a teatowel, then a plastic bag, and put in the fridge until about 20 minutes before you’re ready to eat it.
For the praline, put the sugar and water into a small saucepan over moderate heat. Leave the sugar to dissolve, then raise the heat slightly and cook until it is a rich caramel colour. It will take AGES to get anywhere at first, but don’t wander away as it can turn from golden to burned in seconds. Remove from the heat, add the nuts and then tip out onto a piece of baking paper and leave to set.
Just before you take it to the table, chop the praline roughly and scatter over the cheesecake (this will also camouflage any cracks). Serves 10.

Have a great weekend, everyone. After an exhausting couple of weeks I am hoping to cook, sleep and plant some vegetables. Hope your weekend is suitably restful x

Random Recipe: Tomato squash curry

It is one of the great regrets of my life that I never ate at Petersham Nurseries when I had the chance. It always seemed too far away (too many tubes and trains and buses and taxis); we were too poor; we were too busy; we had other things to do.
Now, of course, that I am so much further away (and so much poorer, not to mention busier), I could kick myself, especially because its much-feted chef, Skye Gyngell, has left recently after the pressure of having a Michelin star all got too much.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, especially when I accidentally ended up pulling Gyngell’s second book, My favourite ingredients, from my shelves for the March edition of Random Recipes.

I ‘found’ Skye on the recommendation of my sister, who cooked fabulous things from her first book, A year in my kitchen, whenever we went to stay. Her daughter (my sister’s daughter, not Skye’s) and gave each other My favourite ingredients for Christmas, which shows how good my sister’s interpretation of Gyngell’s work was.

While the book choice was random, the recipe selection was more about finding something to cook for a vegetarian coeliac who was coming for dinner (that would involve the large pumpkin I’d bought on Saturday morning at the market). The squash and tomato curry with lime and coconut fitted the bill perfectly, though I will be thrilled if anyone can tell me where to buy fresh curry leaves that aren’t 100 years old. I had to roughly guess the equivalent amount of pumpkin to an onion squash – and possibly overdid it a bit, but it was fantastic.

This might sound a bit silly, but Gyngell’s way of cooking is very quiet and contemplative. She can talk about “introducing flavours to each other” without it sounding twee or forced and while there’s a bit of mooching about while you’re waiting for said flavours to make small talk, it’s not a taxing way to cook.

Have you ever dined at Petersham? What did you think?

Sweet sweet Friday: Mulled Plums

My sister-in-law came to stay for a couple of days this week and she drove us to drink.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. She made us get in a cab and although I refused to let her talk me into any form of tequila-based cocktail I did somehow knock back several glasses of champagne and then there was a bottle of Montelpulciano on the table and then yesterday morning I felt like my head was going to explode.

Which is a roundabout way of explaining why when I opened the cupboard and saw a half bottle of red wine sitting on the shelf my first instinct was to lie down in a darkened room. Instead, I let it simmer away with some plums until all that nasty alcohol had evaporated and all that was left was a delicious spicy syrup. This is how you do it.

Mulled Plums
I won’t bore you about my passion for dark-fleshed plums, I’ve done it enough. If you’re not a fan of plums, wait a month or so and try feijoas or tamarillos done this way.
12 small dark plums, halved
250ml red wine
125ml water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1tsp ground cloves
1tsp ground cinnamon
strip of orange zest

Put everything in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and simmer very gently for 20-30 minutes, until the plums are soft but not collapsing. Set aside to cool. Lift out the stones – put them in a dish as you do it so you can count them out and be sure of not leaving one behind.
These are good hot over vanilla icecream, affogato-style, or cold with a big dollop of whipped cream or Greek yoghurt. Big flakes of dark chocolate are optional.

Have a good weekend, everyone. May the sun be shining, wherever you are (which is probably unlikely if you are in NZ this weekend. Brrrr!)

P.S This is my entry for March’s Sweet New Zealand, which is being hosted by the amazing Emma Galloway at mydarlinglemonthyme. Sweet as, eh?