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Sunday, 13 September 2015

Japanese Cotton Cheesecake

   I am buzzing. Call me crazy, but I have never been so nervous about making a cake before. But the Japanese cotton cheesecake is renowned for being difficult, especially to make look good. It's very, very easy to make one with a cracked or domed top (and a domed top will likely end up cracking later, too), and while how it looks has little effect on how it tastes, I can't be the only one who wants a cake to look perfect, right?
   Well, this was a risk. I wasn't really making it for anything in particular, but I like to make a small cake when Lucy comes over for a chat, and since this was something I wanted to try, I figured it made sense that I try it.
   I was so nervous, though! The one thing I kept reading about it was how hard it was to get right, to have a perfect top and everything, and that, while it's easy to make one that looks awful and tastes great, I really wanted to get it right. I'm a show-off. We know this. It's just that I have little to show off.

   So made sure to read up on it, watch videos and everything, really make the effort for what is not a typical cheesecake - there's no crumby base with mascarpone on top. This is half way between a western cheesecake and a sponge cake. And it wobbles! So I had a number of fears: first that the top would crack, second that it wouldn't bake properly, third that it wouldn't come out of the pan, and fourth that, if it did, it would collapse under its own weight.
   But it didn't. Why? Well, luck, probably, but I did do some extensive reading and I found this article by i eat i shoot i post that basically outlined everything that can go wrong and how to avoid it. That's not to say that mistakes can't still pop up, as every oven is different, but I followed everything to the letter - including the immensely precise cooking times. And I feel it's important to say that, while I usually do follow instructions properly, I'm jinxed in the kitchen and it often all goes wrong regardless.


   But this time worked perfectly. Perfectly. The top bronzed beautifully without doming or cracking, the cake released from the sides of the pan exactly as they should have, the paper lining on the bottom peeled away exactly as in the video on i eat i shoot i post's article, and it is standing as strongly on its own as it did in the pan. I am so happy.

   The few Japanese cotton cheesecake pictures I've seen have all had stenciled icing sugar on top of them, and I admit that when I saw it I desperately wanted to do the same, so I bought a gorgeous baroque heart cake stencil for about £4.50 on ebay. It was about 22cm and the pan I used was a 5 inch cake tin so the heart itself was too big, but I could easily cover the whole surface in the pattern instead. I always use a 5 inch cake tin because it makes a taller cake, but also because I can mix up less cake that way. Kinder on the waistline - if cake can even be kind. But this meant that I actually had to half the recipe for the cheesecake, which was the source of another worry that it wouldn't work - though I actually think it contributed in the end to its success.
   You can find the full cheesecake recipe on a few websites including the once I've mentioned above, but I'm going to post the half-recipe I used.


Ingredients:
125g Philadelphia cream cheese
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
70g castor sugar, split into two 35gs
30g unsalted butter
50ml full fat milk
1 Tsp. lemon juice
30g cake flour
10g cornflour
pinch salt
1 tsp Vanilla extract (optional)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas mark 6
2. Line the sides of a 3 inch deep cake tin with non-stick spray, and line the base with paper
3. Melt the cream cheese in a double-boiler (cheese in a heat-proof bowl set on top of a pan of hot water) until it's smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks, then whisk in 35g sugar.
4. Warm the milk and butter in the microwave or on the stove until butter has melted, then whisk into cheese mixture.
5. Whisk in the vanilla, lemon and salt, then remove the bowl from the heat and fold in the flour and corn flour.


6. In a clean bowl, mix the egg whites at low speed until the mixture goes from foamy to very small bubbles, then slowly mix in the remaining 35g sugar. Mix until just before soft peaks - as stated on i eat i shoot i post, it's best to err on the side of underbeating than overbeating in this case, but you can see the state of the eggs at which you should stop mixing on the video, which I've linked below.
7. Gently fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture 1/3 at a time. Don't over-mix, be gentle at this point.
8. Pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin - the cake won't rise much at all, so while I was concerned that my mixture reached just 1cm from the top of the 3-inch-deep tin, it wasn't actually a problem. Give it a firm tap on the countertop to remove any air bubbles.
9. Prepare a water bath: take a pan about 1/3 bigger than your cake tin (your cake tin should fit in it with about 5cm or so between the edge of it and the edge of the larger pan), set a folded towel in the bottom to ensure that there's always water beneath the cake pan, and fill with warm water - ideally the water from your double boiler, if you still have it - then place your filled cake pan on top. The water should reach about 1-2cm up the outside of your cake tin.


10. Set the whole thing in the lowest part of your oven for 18 minutes. Turn the oven down to 160 C/325 F/Gas mark 3 for another 12 minutes, then turn the heat off don't open the door and leave the cheesecake in the closed oven for another 30 minutes. Once those last 30 minutes are up, open the door slightly but don't take anything out.
11. De-pan while it's still warm - you can do this as soon as you've taken it out of the oven. (This is also in the below video) To de-pan, remove the cake tin from the water and give it good jiggle to loosen the sides. Run a knife around the edges if you feel you must - I did, but I don't actually know if it was necessary. Turn it upside down onto another pan, plate etc, and give the bottom a firm tap. Slowly lift the tin. You don't want the cake to suddenly slide out or it might collapse under its own weight, which is what I thought would happen. Lift the pan or plate you de-panned it into and then take whatever you want to set your cake on - a board, a plate, a cake stand. Position it against the bottom of the cake, but don't press too hard, then flip it upside down. Ta da.

   The cheesecake should be left to set in the fridge for 4 hours or, ideally, overnight, to allow the flavours to mature. Unfortunately, in this time it can wrinkle. Your cake looks at its best when it's just out of the oven, as shown in all of my pictures, but to keep it from wrinkling you can glaze the top with glazing gel or apricot preserve, as detailed on the original article. I chose not to do this because I actually kind of wanted to see how badly it would wrinkle, and because I wanted to stencil it for the pictures. So I took a decided risk not to glaze it.


   As you can see, there is some slight shrinkage, but it's not as bad as it was made out to be, and the powdered sugar detracts from it a lot to make it far less noticable. So, to be honest, stenciling after it had wrinkled would have been better as the design wouldn't have moved with it, but I still think it's perfectly presentable!

   Check out the original post for the full sized recipe and for all the information you could possibly want on the why's, how's and anything in between for all these steps, including strange oven temperatures, the need for a water bath, and so on. You'll also probably notice that cream of tartar is in the original recipe for the egg whites, but I couldn't get any in time so I omitted it. It was risky, but nothing bad seemed to have come from it, which is why I didn't add it into the recipe I posted above. Instead I shared with you every single step I took because, for someone jinxed in the kitchen, this simply worked.







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