The very thought of mixing gin with cream cheese made my stomach curdle and, had I actually gone ahead and done it, would probably have made the cream cheese curdle too.
It was time for another Secret Cake Club, the theme being “Cocktails, mocktails, and your favourite tipple”. My favourite tipple of the moment has to be a classic Negroni cocktail. My problem was how to re-interpret this in cake form.
The classic Negroni (and I am sure that some purists will disagree with my definition – it’s the kind of drink that brings out strong opinion as to what constitutes ‘classic’) mixes equal parts of gin, bitters (usually Campari) and red vermouth over ice and tops it with a twist of orange zest. It’s a serious cocktail, a grown-up cocktail, to be consumed in a bar and definitely not beside the pool. You can keep your sunshine and tiny umbrellas and sweet blue creamy drinks – give me my underground bar in the wintertime, put a Negroni in my hand and I will be quite content.
But a Negroni cake? I honestly couldn’t see a Victoria sponge with bitter and vermouth cream-filling, or a trifle with gin-soaked sponge. My favourite dessert is cheesecake and that’s when I imagined (momentarily) throwing a block of Philadelphia and a cup of gin into a blender but there are some places a baker just shouldn’t go and I think this was one of them.
But I really, really wanted to make a cheesecake.
That’s when the idea of ‘flipping’ the cocktail came to me. I work in Education and the concept of ‘flipping’ classrooms, processes etc. is very modish right now. The basic concept is that you reverse the focus to achieve better results. So, rather than start with the Negroni and garnish with orange, start with the orange and garnish with Negroni. Baked orange cheesecake is wonderful. What could make it more wonderful? A bittersweet Negroni jelly! So that’s what I did. I made the cheesecake over the course of a day. It’s actually quite a user-friendly recipe and allows you to do other things during the chilling and baking times. I had taken a trip to my lovely friends at Gangemi’s Fine Wines and stocked up on the wherewithal for Negroni (West Winds Sabre Gin, classic Campari and Dolin Vermouth). For the rest, the local supermarket did the trick.
A couple of things to note:
I bought blood oranges because I love how they look and taste, but regular oranges are fine.
The orange extract is optional – I wanted to make sure that the cheesecake had an intense orange flavour. If you like yours more subtle, you can omit it. Want a really alcoholic cake? Cointreau is your friend…
Clever tip from a friend, use a can of condensed milk instead of using sugar and cream – it saves you one extra step and a lot of extra beating.
There is no need to have sugar in the Negroni jelly if you want to have it more authentically bitter. My thinking was that the sugar would just tone down the intensity a little and keep things safe for the Cake Club members.
To make orange twists keep their shape (and not untwist!), wrap around a skewer or a chopstick and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.
The thing is, it was an experiment and I had no idea if it was going to work or not. I was delighted with the beautiful smooth appearance of the cheesecake when it emerged (without a single crack!) from the oven, but a little less certain when it came time to pour the jelly on. I settled for doing this last thing at night and then went to bed, not knowing what I would wake up to in the morning. The hot jelly mixture made the whole house smell like a distillery. My clothes and hair were lightly misted with gin. It would not have been a good idea to go near any naked flames.
In the morning, releasing the cheesecake from the spring-form tin was a tense moment, but there it was. Dense cheesecake with the Negroni jelly glowing sunset-orange in a perfect layer over the top. I trimmed a little to try and was very pleased with the flavour combination as well as the texture. The cake was sweet and creamy and so very, very orangey. The biscuit base added crunch and the jelly –oh, the jelly! It had all the Negroni characteristics that I was after – herbal, floral, bitter, cold and refreshing with a little added sweetness to remind everyone that this was dessert! All that remained was to place the orange twists on top and I was ready to go.
|A few air-bubbles in the jelly. Oh, well...|
The venue for Cake Club this month was Frisk Small Bar in Northbridge. They specialise in gin. They have 4 pages just for gin in their drinks menu. My cheesecake, with some West Winds Sabre in the mix, was in good company.
And talking of good company, we had another huge turn-out for Cake Club and so many creative and intriguing interpretations of the “Cocktail, mocktail, tipple” theme. There were tarts with tequila, beef pies with red wine, mojito macarons, beer bread with Beersine beer cheese, mousse with whisky, and so much more.
It says a lot about the size and enthusiasm of the Cake Club that we managed to drink an espresso bar out of coffee. It’s true – they ran out. I saw a lot of coffee being bought, and even more espresso martinis. As for me, I had a classic cocktail – I had, wait for it… a Martinez. (Vermouth, gin, maraschino, and bitters)
Not a Negroni.Shame on you for thinking I was that predictable!
(I made a Negroni when I got home...)
'Flipped' Negroni Cheesecake
For the base:
1 packet plain biscuits (I used Arnott’s Milk Arrowroot)
200g melted butter
For the cheesecake:
2 x 250g packets Philadelphia cream cheese
1 x 395g can condensed milk
The zest from 4 oranges
The juice of 3 oranges
1 tssp orange extract (optional)
For the jelly topping:
1 cup water
1/3 cup caster sugar
3 leaves Titanium strength gelatine (soaked in cold water to soften) or 2 sachets of good gelatine crystals
1/3 cup gin
1/3 cup Campari
1/3 cup red Vermouth
Twists of orange zest
Crush the biscuits into crumbs in a food processor (or pop in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin). Mix with melted butter until combined. Press into the base of a springform tin and put in the fridge to chill.
Blend cream cheese, condensed milk and orange zest until smooth. Slowly add the orange juice and orange extract. When this mixture is completely blended, add the eggs and mix until just combined. (Don’t over mix or your cheesecake will have cracks in it!). Pour the mixture on top of the chilled base and bake in a 160C oven for 45 minutes until just set. Leave to cool and then place in the fridge to chill.
In a pan, over a low heat, gently warm the cup of water. Add the sugar and softened gelatine and stir until completely dissolved. Remove water from heat and add gin, Campari and Vermouth. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes then pour over cheesecake and return to the fridge to allow to set for a couple of hours (or overnight).
Remove the cheesecake from the spring-form tin and garnish with twists of orange zest.