I thought today I’d share a less-than-successful recipe with you lovely people. Partly for comedic effect, and partly so you can learn from my mistakes.
It was the night before the work Christmas lunch, and all through the house, there was no-one who didn’t know what a hard time Miss Scrumptious was having…
I’m quite well-known at work for producing nice cheesecakes. Usually, I use this recipe from Sainsbury’s. It works pretty well and makes a nice cheesecake, but I find the natural yoghurt can make it a touch too tangy for chocolate. It’s also a little bit soft, and I prefer them firmer.
I don’t bake my cheesecakes, because:
a) They have a nasty habit of cracking
b) Baked cheesecakes require eggs, which a few of my friends and coworkers have to avoid
c) I’m lazy
So, the consistency of the mixture is really important for a no-bake cheesecake.
I wanted to try something a bit different from my tried-and-trusted-if-slightly-tangy favourite recipe that I could do in my sleep. That was my first mistake. In fact, that was the pregnant momma of mistakes which gave birth to all the baby blunders below.
Anyway, the promised breakdown of my oversights, miscalculations, and cock-ups:
1. I wasn’t equipped
I was making this at my Dad’s place, away from Mr Scrumptious’s spacious, well-equipped kitchen, so I was lacking in workspace, and also lacking a blender. That would’ve made crushing the Oreo cookies a LOT easier than putting them in a freezer bag and whacking them, then mashing them with a potato masher. Oreo cookies are lots tougher than digestives!
2. I mixed recipes
Absolute cardinal error. I used a method from one recipe and proportions from another, partly because I looked at the quantities and thought “That’s an awful lot of cheesecake filling”. It wasn’t, and I ended up with very thin disastercakes.
3. I skim-read
By skim-reading the recipe, I missed the fact that the cheesecake mixture was supposed to contain icing sugar, which would have thickened it. I also missed the part about letting your ingredients rise to room temperature. When I added the melted chocolate and warm cream to the mascarpone, the cold cream cheese just made it solidify again, in little blebs. Only about half of the chocolate actually combined with the mascarpone as intended.
Tip: read through the whole recipe first, from beginning to end, so you don’t miss anything. Or watch the whole video beforehand if you’re working from Youtube.
4. I overwhipped
Due in part to the lack of icing sugar (and probably the non-combining of the chocolate as well), I found the cheesecake mixture was a bit runny. I was skeptical about whether it would set.
“Aha!” said my brain. “It’s double (heavy) cream, right? So mix it some more, and it might stiffen a little. Enough to set, anyway.”. So I whipped away with my hand mixer until I thought “Oh, shit”. The mixture had separated into chocolate butter and chocolate buttermilk.
I had no double boiler big enough to deal with this disaster, and by now I was way too terrified to put it in the microwave, even for a few seconds at a time, so I screamed with frustration. Daddy Scrumptious, hearing my wailing, suggested I “strain off the liquid, and put in what you’ve got”. I began patting together chocolate butter, but without the equipment and resources of a farm dairy behind me, this was a tedious, soul-destroying process. It also meant I couldn’t make the ganache topping, as that would make any eventual desserts way too fatty (assuming any of them survived this barrage of incompetence).
However, the chocolate buttermilk, when I tried a little bit, was super tasty. It would’ve made a lovely hot chocolate, if I weren’t in the pits of despair at the time.
5. I seized my chocolate!
It was nearly midnight, and I was nearly in tears when I overheated my double boiler and seized the chocolate. There’s no mistaking the horrible grainy, muddy texture it took on. Instead of being the sort of smooth and glossy loveliness you could skate a spoon across, it became a lumpy mud that would be easier to make bricks with.
Rescue: A quick Google revealed that adding more cold chocolate chips could help, so I did that. They melted worryingly fast; a sign of how badly I’d overheated the bain-marie. That helped. Then a tiny splish of warm cream helped to restore the glossy sheen. I let the double boiler cool slightly, then re-warmed the chocolate on it (I was able to turn the heat off completely and melt it on residual heat from the water).
Tip: While I was melting the chocolate (and having a meltdown of my own), I poured Malibu rum into the mix to aid the appearance and pliability of the chocolate, and into myself to improve my outlook on the evening’s escapades.
6. I laid it on too thin
I spread the mixture into about seven ramekins and one very small tart dish. It looked quite thick and generous when it went in (allowing for my nerves about the over-rich buttery part), but obviously it shrank overnight in the fridge. Next time, assuming the same quantities, I’d skip the tart dish and squeeze it all into about ten ramekins.
Scrumptious to base: It might be okay.
By this time, I was exhausted. I’d done a full day at my day job, and then spent about four hours fucking up cheesecakes which might very well go in the bin the next morning. I spread the chocolate/Malibu topping onto the chocolate butter disastercake filling as smoothly and evenly as I could, shoved the whole lot in the fridge, and went to bed, telling myself I’d taste one of the mini ones in the morning for breakfast.
Then I spent the night determinedly NOT thinking about cooking, the blog, Scrumptious, cheesecakes, chocolate, or work.
The next morning I was feeling too sick (maybe with worry, maybe with sneaky taste-as-you-go-along bits from the night before) to even face eating one of the disastercakes. I put them into a box, went to work, and searched for taste testers. I briefed them with an abridged version of the drama so far. Unsurprisingly, volunteers were few, but I eventually found one, who pronounced it edible- not only edible, but enjoyable! “I’ll have another one later”, she declared.
Not what I originally had in mind, and certainly not what you could call a cheesecake. Nevertheless, I ended up with some enjoyable creamy chocolate puddings.
The chocolate top wasn’t too hard because of the tiny drop of cream and the Malibu. It was part way between regular chocolate and ganache. It was almost the consistency of Gu puddings chocolate topping, but just slightly firmer and more pliable. The chocolate buttery filling was rich and sweet- it certainly didn’t need the icing sugar prescribed in the original recipe. And several coworkers, plus myself, came back for seconds. I only managed one quick picture of the big one. Apologies for the shoddy phone snap.
So the take-home from this for me was to plan, prepare, cook where I’m comfortable, but also to not panic when I screw up.
I can quite happily cock up Sunday Sauce, curry, most kinds of savoury foods (especially my own Spanitalian brand), because I can just shout “Oh shit!” and rescue it, or adapt it. I know how to backtrack from these things, and that’s the key factor that gives me confidence in the kitchen- being able to recover from my mistakes. Because I’m not Delia, and as I recently said to Mr Scrumptious: “If I’m going to be around more often, you’re going to have to increase your baseline tolerance of fuckups. More will occur.”. He tells me he’s still working on that.
So relax, folks, and experiment, make mistakes, and don’t panic. Just don’t experiment the night before the Christmas party.
Miss Scrumptious xx