Jan 12, 2015

Nigel Slater’s Banana Cheesecake

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When it comes to writing cookbooks, one thing I’ve learned from those who have come before me is NEVER READ THE ONLINE REVIEWS. Nine times out of ten, I resist the urge to peek. Nine-and-a-half times out of ten, when I do peek, the reviews are relatively positive and thoughtful and an affirmation that at least I sort of know what I’m doing and throwing my creative self out to the wolves isn’t all bad. Nine times out of ten, naturally I will obsess about that half a time in which a review is less than glowing. And within about half of those, I can find the constructive criticism that might actually improve my work. I feel like this is a pretty good record overall, considering that readers and reviewers are humans with all kinds of expectations and thoughts and feelings and so am I.

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Still, I wish I could abolish that oh-so-charming Type A ability to retain those rare but biting and puzzling lines from reviews that make me want to find the person that wrote them. Find them and do what exactly, I don’t know, but just…find them. Like the anonymous person who didn’t like one of my books because, in short, there was “too much writing” beyond the recipes. Not taking a dig at my writing–in fact, this person took the time to point out that he/she quite liked my writing style–but that there was simply too much writing for a cookbook.

TOO. MUCH. WRITING.

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Okay. So, first of all, I would like to tell this person that they should skip my next title entirely, because it has so many words in it that it may as well come with a disclaimer that says NOW WITH 110 PERCENT MORE WRITING! Also, although I’m sure this person is perfectly nice in real life (when not provoked with cookbooks that have an overabundance of words, of course), at least I know that it’s someone with whom I would likely not have a whole lot in common, and therefore it’s a little easier to let this particular criticism fall by the wayside.

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Because for me, the more lively writing outside of the recipes in a cookbook, the better. The way I see it, we can get recipes anywhere these days; I’m a modern girl–when I just want a good workaday pot roast recipe, I’m as likely to Google it as I am to browse my groaning, bowing cookbook shelves. But when I’m in a cookbook mood, only a printed one will do. Because I love that a cookbook can provide what a single recipe all on its own can’t–the ability to get a sense of how the recipe was created, how it fits into a larger collection of recipes and ideas, and maybe even–quelle horreur!–some additional narrative that will give me a glimpse into the life of the author who’s providing me with that recipe. And few people do this better than Nigel Slater.

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For the past couple weeks, I’ve been holing up with Eat every chance I get, and I’m in love. What you get in this cookbook is not only beautiful photographs and Nigel’s crave worthy recipes, but also his signature recipe writing style–recipes written exactly how we’d make dishes we’ve committed to memory, in the way we’d describe how to make them to friends; in paragraph form, rather than your standard list of ingredients followed by a step-by-step method. It’s comfort food and comfort reading, all in one.

The dessert section in Eat is tiny but not lacking, just a handful of straightforward sweets that anyone would be happy to eat any day of the week, and none of them take in excess of half an hour to pull together or more than a smattering of familiar ingredients. Take this insanely good banana cheesecake with a truly genius method. We ate it all week (as it is rich, rich, RICH), and I’m still dreaming about it.

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This cheesecake isn’t a cheesecake in the traditional sense–it’s actually a no-bake wonder that doesn’t have any eggs at all, or added sugar. In the place of them is a white chocolate ganache, which is just blended with softened cream cheese. The silky pudding-like goo is then poured into a simple cookie crust and allowed to set, and then topped with fresh sliced bananas.

What you get is something that marries cheesecake with an old-fashioned banana pudding, and if anyone can think of anything better than THAT, well…never mind. You can’t. There really isn’t much better than that. In fact, at the risk of adding too! many! more! words! here, I think we should just leave it at that.

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Nigel Slater’s Banana Cheesecake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Eat

There is a little bit of room to riff here–the cookies for the crust can really be anything from vanilla wafers (my choice, for that banana pudding feel) to grahams to gingersnaps. Chocolate wafers would likely be spectacular. But whatever you do, make sure you get really good quality white bar chocolate, not the white baking chips, which have God knows what in them. The lush, silky quality of the finished dessert depends on good white chocolate.

Having said that, I have also increased the white chocolate by an ounce form the original recipe’s 7 ounces, and might even go to 9 ounces the next time around–the extra sweetness would be nice, but more because extra white chocolate makes for a slightly firmer set. The photos above were taken after the recipe’s minimum 3 hour set time, and it was still quite schmoopy in spots. After 5 hours, though, it sliced clean. So that’s what I’d aim for in the future, and have written it here.

Serves 8-10

For the crust:

8 ounces (225 grams) crisp cookies, crushed fine in a food processor
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/57 grams) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons (1 5/8 ounces/45 grams) heavy cream

For the filling:

8 ounces (225 grams) high-quality white chocolate
3/4 cup (6 3/8 ounces/180 grams) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds (20 ounces/567 grams) full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

For the topping:

3 medium bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices
Juice of half a lemon

Have ready an 8-inch springform pan. Spray it lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, crush the cookies to fine crumbs. Pour the crumbs into a medium bowl. pour in the melted butter and cream and toss until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Remove about 3 tablespoons of the crumbs to a small bowl for garnish, and pour the bulk of the crumbs into the prepared pan. Lightly coax them into an even layer, avoiding pressing too firmly–you want the crust to be somewhat crumbly and not compacted.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave with 30-second bursts of high power, melt together the white chocolate and cream, stirring the ganache until smooth–be careful not to overheat the chocolate (just two bursts in the microwave ought to do the trick). Stir in the vanilla extract.

Wipe out the bowl of the food processor and fit it back on the machine. Add the cream cheese to the bowl and process until very smooth and creamy. With the processor running, pour in the ganache, blending until smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Chill until firm, at least 5 hours. When you’re ready to serve the cake, toss the banana slices in the lemon juice and layer them over the top of the cake. Scatter the reserved crumbs over the top of the cheesecake.

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