Weekend bake: Valentine’s champagne, raspberry & French goats cheesecake

Did you know that the ancient greeks invented the cheesecake? They even served small cheesecakes to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. and if that isn’t a ringing endorsement to consume them for health reasons then I don’t know what is.

We might have been a bit late to the party by the time it rocked Western Europe’s world in 1000 A.D. but we quickly made up for it by making it one of our best-loved desserts.

A fat wedge of cheesecake is one of my guilty pleasures too, which is why I decided to make one with a Valentine’s Day-apprporiate version for this most sappy of weekends using a very special ingredient…no, definitely not love, although I am unashamedly in love with the product in question: French goats cheese.

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When the lovely folk at Easy Chèvre sent me a cool bag full of goats cheese, I’ll admit, pudding didn’t automatically spring to my mind. But, after my experiments with ice cream in the last recipe challenge and after tasting the fluffy cloud of whipped fresh goats cheese with it’s salty sweet tang and sharp, lemony edge, all I could think about was how deliciously it would whip into a cheesecake.

My champagne & raspberry cheesecake with a brown butter shortbread base is an insanely rich and delicious dish to make for a weekend treat, as well a brilliant way to finish a meal – especially on Valentine’s Day, when the thought of shelling out cash to sit elbow to elbow with a bunch of strangers eating a reduced version of a restaurant menu for double the usual price seems less than appealing.

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Instead of more traditional ginger or digestive biscuits, I’ve opted for shortbread enriched with brown butter and crushed roasted hazelnuts to bring out the mellow edge of the fresh goats cheese and offset the sharp, citrus sweetness of raspberries and champagne.

Valentine’s champagne, raspberry & French goats cheesecake

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Ingredients

200g goats cheese
500g raspberries
1 bottle of champagne (you’ll only need two glasses but if you’re like me you’ll want to drink the rest of the bottle while cooking)
300g shortbread biscuits
100g roasted and chopped hazelnuts
125g unsalted butter
500g marscapone
75g icing sugar
4tsp caster sugar
half a lemon

Method

  • Start by cracking the champagne (obviously)! Halve 160g of raspberries and put into a bowl and then pour over a glass of champagne to cover the fruit and leave to stew until they’ve turned the liquid a pretty blushing pink. You can add a teaspoon of caster sugar along with the bubbles too, but I prefer to keep my berries tart to offset the sweetness of the cheesecake.
  • Grease and line a 7-inch fluted tart case with baking parchment. Then blitz the shortbread biscuits in a processor until you have a rough crumb consistency. Pour into a bowl with the roasted and chopped hazelnuts.
  • Heat your butter in a small pan on the stove until it bubbles and turns a delicious golden brown – this will add a lovely richness to your biscuit base and enhance the nutty flavour that the hazelnuts give. Pour over the crushed biscuits and nuts and mix before flattening into the base of your tart tin, ensuring you press right down into the edges. Pop the tin into the fridge to keep cool and firm up until you want to fill it.
  • Cream together the French goats cheese and the marscapone with the icing sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Take your chilled cheesecake base out of the fridge and arrange your champagne-soaked raspberry halves in concentric circles on the biscuit base (drink the marinating liquid if you feel inclined) and then carefully top with the creamy cheese mixture using a pallet knife to spread the topping over the fruit without crushing it.

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  • Put it back in the fridge to cool and set while you make a raspberry sauce to finish. Blitz the remaining raspberries in a processor with another glass of champagne and two or three teaspoons of caster sugar to taste. Pour the raspberry puree into a saucepan and gently heat until it’s reduced to the consistency of soft caramel. You’ll need to keep stirring the mix as those champagne bubbles make it a little volatile (I learned the hard way how difficult it is to clean pink foam off the stove top).
  • Finish by pouring the raspberry sauce into a squeeze bottle or syringe or, if you don’t have one in your kitchen (I didn’t) just dip the handle of a spoon into the puree. Take out your cheesecake and gently drop spots of the sauce in concentric circles on the top. As a rough guide, they should be about the size of a 5p coin and about an inch and a half away from each other.

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  • Then, carefully trail a skewer through the dots, dragging as you go around the cheesecake to create the effect of dripping hearts.

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  • Paint a few more hearts onto plates to serve with glasses of leftover champagne and the rest of the raspberry sauce to pour.

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The French goats cheese challenge part 1: Honey-roasted pears & walnuts with French goats cheese ice cream & fig crisps

French goats cheese is one of those rare foods that has a strange, hypnotic sort of power over me. Whether I’m in a restaurant or wandering around the supermarket aisles, if my eyes happen to graze over even a mere mention of it, I’m overwhelmed by a sudden craving and have to have it there and then.

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I suppose I grew up with it really. My mother is a hardcore cheese fanatic and she used to give me slivers of the milk white stuff as a saturday afternoon snack, smushed onto salty crackers with a tall glass of milk.

Later, when I was a teenager, I remember eating huge wedges of it balanced on a bitter frisee salad in pubs when I was trying to order something sophisticated. The last time I had it, it had been transformed into a decadent dessert with olive oil cake and splodges of tomato and strawberry. It was sharp and rich and…interesting, but all I could think was how much nicer it would be with a hint of caramel from some warm honey, or with the buttery crunch of toasted nuts.

I’ve always wanted to try a dessert with, as Frances Quinn from The Great British Bake Off put it, “a hint of goat.” Something that shows off this punchy cheese in all it’s glory without hitting you around the face with it.

So I was rather pleased when Easy Cheesy Chèvre got in touch and asked me to create a recipe using their ridiculously good French goats cheese. Because it meant I had an excuse to experiment with turning one of my favourite lunchtime ingredients into a dinner-party worthy pudding.

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For this recipe, I plumped for the creamy, soft Valençay cheese. While the most pungent in odour (I was possibly the least popular person on the tube carting these badboys home mid-rush hour), and, with its greenish, zombie brain like exterior, the most unappetising to look at, it is actually one of the softly-flavoured goats cheeses that I’ve come across, which made it perfect for this pudding.

“Valençay cheese used to have a shape of perfect pyramid with a pointed top. But when Napoleon returned to the castle of Valencay after his unsuccessful expedition in Egypt, he saw the cheese, in a fit of rage drew his sword and cut of the top of cheese. Since then the cheese has always been made with a flattened top.”

Honey-roasted pears & walnuts with French goats cheese ice cream & fig crisps

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Ingredients

for the ice cream
1 tbs runny honey
3 egg yolks
100g soft goats cheese, scooped from its rind
500ml double cream
70g caster sugar
pinch of sea salt

for the dried fruit
4 figs, thinly sliced
1 ripe pear

for the roasted pears 
100g roughly chopped walnuts
4 tsp runny honey
30g softened butter
3/4 ripe pears

Method

Start by making your ice cream. This is the simplest recipe for ice cream I know. You can add the scraping from two fragrant vanilla pods if you want to make it vanilla-flavoured, too.

This simple recipe uses double cream, which means that the ice cream won’t form crystals as it freezes so you don’t have to keep stirring it – just whack it in the freezer until it’s set.

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  • Pour the cream and sugar into a saucepan and heat until the cream is boiling and the sugar has dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, honey and crumbled goats cheese until you’ve made a smooth, butter-yellow paste.
  • Slowly add the hot cream, whipping as you do to avoid a scrambled egg texture and sprinkle over the pinch of sea salt – you’ll need that sharp edge here to counter the honeyed sweetness and bring out the tang of the goats cheese.
  • Pour the mixture into some tupperware and freeze until it’s set, which can take anything from two-four hours.
  • While the ice cream is freezing, thinly slice the figs and one of the pears (don’t worry about removing the core or the skin) into little slivers and lay them on a sheet of baking paper.
  • Let them dry out in an oven preheated to 100 degrees C. After about three hours you should have tender, slightly crispy little shards of fruit, which are perfect for decorating cakes or puddings.

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  • When you’ve made your dried fruit and the ice cream is set, make a start on the roasted pears. Halve some ripe varieties of pear such as conference or comice and scoop out the core with a spoon. Pop into an oven-proof dish and spoon over the butter, honey and sugar mixture. sprinkle over the chopped walnuts and cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for around 20-30 minutes.

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  • When the pears are bubbling and have turned a rich, golden-brown, take them out of the oven. Scoop out a generous dome of ice cream and set onto of a mound of cooked pears, leaving it to slowly melt over the hot fruit. Decorate with shards of fig and pear crisps and serve.

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Wine recommendation: with its sharp , cheesy tang and sweet, honey-rich finish, this beautifully juicy pudding needs a dessert wine tat’ll cut through that sugar yet compliment those savoury notes. I’ll be eating this with a glass of L’or du Ciron Sauternes, an oak-aged dessert wine with syrupy apricot notes and a fizzing, acidic edge.