26 September 2011

Norwegian Baked Cheesecake with Brunost-Pecan Caramel – Recipe

I'm a cheesecake fiend. I absolutely adore the stuff. Not those insipid excuses made with gelatine, mind; I can't abide those. No, what I usually crave is a proper Nuuu Yoik baked cheesecake, with its creamy sour tang. Nothing else will do.

I wanted to make a cheesecake with a Norwegian touch, so instead of the typical Philadelphia cream cheese I used a mixture of a creamy Norwegian cheese called Snøfrisk as well as a curd cheese called skjørost.
Snøfrisk is a relatively new cheese, having been introduced to Norway at the time of the 1994 Winter Olympics (go Lillehammer!), and is made with 80% goat's milk and 20% cow's cream. It's a bit like normal cream cheese but with a tart taste that has the merest hint of very fresh goat's cheese (but don't worry, the mild goat's cheese taste doesn't come through after baking the cake).

Skjørost, on the other hand, is a mild Norwegian curd cheese made from skimmed milk, not too dissimilar to cottage cheese. For this recipe I used some wonderful organic skjørost from Røros Dairy who still make this cheese. Traditionally skjørost was eaten with tjukkmjølk (a thick sour milk), sour cream, and sugar, usually as an accompaniment to spekemat (Norwegian cured meats). But skjørost can be used much as you would regular cottage cheese.

The mix of these two cheeses works pretty well. Either cheese on its own would probably give perfectly fine results, but I think a blend of the two gives a really good balance of flavour as well as a filling that's not too dense.

At its heart, this cake is a New York style baked cheesecake. One of my favourite places to visit in New York is Magnolia Bakery in the West Village. In particular they make a stunning mini-cheesecake topped with caramel and pecans. I wanted to make a similar topping but with a little Norwegian twist. So I decided to mix some brunost cheese into a regular caramel sauce. Brunost – the traditional Norwegian brown cheese – is such a versatile cheese and its sweet caramel notes work well in both desserts and savoury dishes.

This cheesecake is definitely better after a night in the fridge, but if you're like me you won't be able to resist tucking in to some straight away.

For the base:
  • 225g digestive biscuits (or graham crackers)
  • 50g unsalted butter
For the filling:
  • 300g skjørost cheese (you could use cottage cheese instead)
  • 450g Snøfrisk cheese (or normal cream cheese)
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 1tsp lemon zest
  • 175g sour cream
For the brunost-pecan caramel topping:
  • 160g sugar
  • 40ml water
  • 180ml double cream
  • 50g brunost, sliced
  • 30g pecan nuts, roughly chopped

Start by making the biscuit base:

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (fan)

2. Crush the biscuits in a food processor or by bashing them in a food bag with a rolling pin into crumbs.

3. Melt the butter and mix well with the biscuit crumbs.

4. Line a 22-24cm diameter springform cake tin with baking paper (optional if using a non-stick tin) and pour in the biscuit crumbs.
5. Using your hands or a metal spoon press the crumbs firmly down into a level and even base.

6. Bake the base in the oven for 10 mins and let cool on a wire rack.

Now for the filling:

7. Blend the cheeses and the sugar well in an electric mixer until fluffy.

8. Add the eggs one at a time and continue mixing.

9. Finally add the lemon juice, zest and sour cream and briefly, but thoroughly, mix together.

10. Wrap the bottom and sides of the cake tin in foil and place in a baking tray filled with 2-3cm water.

11. Pour the filling into the cake tin and lower the oven temperature to 150°C (fan). Bake in the oven for 70 minutes.

12. Switch off the oven and open its door slightly. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes or so to cool down. You'll know if the cake is done when it has a very slight wobble right at the centre but is set around.
13. Place the cheesecake in the fridge to chill.

14. Meanwhile make the caramel topping. Put the sugar and water in a pan. Heat over a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Once dissolved stop stirring and continue heating.

15. Once the mixture has turned deep amber (don't let it get too dark), quickly take it off the heat and add the cream and brunost. Stir well so everything is thoroughly mixed in.
16. Pour into a pouring jug and place in fridge to cool completely.

17. The cake is best served chilled as it improves the texture of the filling and the caramel sauce thickens up nicely when cold. So it's best to refrigerate cake and sauce for 4-5 hours or overnight. But, if you're like me, you won't be able to resist having some straight away – it just means the caramel sauce is a bit runnier than it would otherwise be.

18. To serve, remove the cheesecake from the tin, pour over the caramel and sprinkle the chopped pecans over the top.