A strawberry cheesecake for the Great British Summer

It’s easy to forget quite how joyful strawberries are when you’ve been eating them for 28 years.

This year, the Great British Summer has, remarkably, been just that: bright, hot days giving way to warm, lazy nights. This means the last thing anyone wants is to be inside, chained to a hot stove. That’s where this cheesecake was born.

In fact, it’s been so sunny that the weather was even glorious in Scotland. I spent last weekend in Edinburgh with my goddaughter and her parents. We walked the length of the city, led by tiny, determined feet. As I watched my goddaughter possessively and methodically demolish an entire 99 ice cream all by herself, the sun came out.

There’s something wonderful about watching small children concentrating absolutely on what they’re eating; the revelation and delight of something delicious tasted for the first time. It’s easy to forget quite how joyful strawberries are when you’ve been eating them for 28 years. Or how brilliant jam is straight from the jar. Or how toast really is just a vehicle for as much butter as you can get away with. It’s harder to forget when those strawberries are being fed to you by a one-and-a-half year old.

So when I arrived back in London, I needed strawberries, even if they didn’t come from determined-bordering-on-forceful toddler hands. A cheesecake seemed the perfect vehicle: the idea of eating something straight out of the fridge, cool and silky, was too tempting as the heatwave returned this week, but I wasn’t in the mood for faffing about with waterbaths and enrobing springform tins in multiple tinfoil jackets. So a no-bake cheese-cake was the obvious solution.

This is, actually (finally, eventually, after much recipe testing, and one example of what I will kindly call ‘deconstructed cheesecake’), quite an elegant pudding. The base is paler than normal, thanks to the Nice biscuits I’ve used: I think sometimes digestives or gingernuts can be a little overbearing with more delicate flavours – and the hint of coconut is really great with the strawberry and elderflower. The cut strawberries peek out handsomely above the base, reminiscent of a very rustic fraisier, and bring interest to what can otherwise feel like miles of creaminess. Cheesecakes have a tendency to be oversweet; here, the slightly bitter grassiness of the elderflower shines through. The triumph, though, is the jelly: bright, refreshing and cardinal red, it is the essence of summer.

Note: You may notice that the cheesecake in the picture isn’t made to the dimensions below. I used half the quantities below, and a 10cm tin. The recipe scales brilliantly, and with a cheesecake, depth isn’t crucial – so feel free to adjust to suit the tins you have to hand.

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It goes like this:

Strawberry and Elderflower Cheesecake

Makes: 1 15cm cheesecake (6 good slices)

Takes: 30 minutes

Bakes: 6 hours (chilling)

For the base

160g Nice biscuits

90g butter, melted

Vegetable oil, for greasing

For the filling

8-10 Strawberries

150g double cream

150g cream cheese

80g caster sugar

3 leaves of gelatin

60ml elderflower cordial

For the jelly

300g strawberries

60ml elderflower cordial

2 tablespoons of sugar

1.5 leaves of gelatin

Small handful of strawberries, to garnish

  1. Blitz the biscuits in a food processor, or place them in a sealed freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin. Mix in the melted butter until it resembles wet sand. Grease a 20cm cake or pie tin with a removable bottom with a small amount of vegetable oil. Press the buttery crumbs down into the mould, packing them tightly in an even layer, using the back of a dessert spoon to smooth. Freeze for ten minutes.
  2. Halve the strawberries, and cut off the curve at their widest point, so that they have a flat bottom. Place them along the edge of the tin, touching, with the cut halves against the tin.
  3. Bloom (soak) the gelatine for 5 minutes in a small amount of cold water. Meanwhile, heat half of the cream in a small saucepan; do not allow to boil. Squeeze out the water and place the gelatine leaves in the warmed cream: it should dissolve immediately, but a stir will help it on its way. Allow to cool just to room temperature. Place the rest of the cream, all of the cream cheese, the elderflower cordial, and the sugar into a big mixing bowl and combine. Add the gelatine-cream and combine. Pour over the base and strawberries, and jiggle to level. Cover with clingfilm, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  4. Heat the strawberries with the sugar and elderflower cordial. When the sugar has dissolved, cook for 10 minutes. Strain the juice from the strawberries and return the juice to the heat. Bloom the gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes, then squeeze out excess water and add to the strawberry juice. Cool to room temperature and then, removing the tin from the fridge, pour the jelly directly on top of the cheesecake filling. Cover with clingfilm, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  5. Remove from the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to unmould. Run a knife around the edge of the tin, just to release the jelly. Place the tin on a small mug and push slowly but firmly, and the cheesecake should come out of its tin relatively easily. Move to the plate on which you want to serve, and arrange sliced strawberries in an attractive pattern.
  6. Ta Dah!

Icing on the Cake

We ate this thinking of Edinburgh and tiny hands, but the pudding itself needs nothing else alongside it. A generous wodge plus a pudding fork, is a pretty perfect summer pudding.

Olivia Potts is a food writer and cook. She is Spectator Life’s Vintage Chef and you can see some of her other writing here. She tweets @_Poots_


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