Keep calm and carry on…

August 29, 2010

Yesterday saw my first attempt at making a cake here in Istanbul. Although, as I have no oven, it was a no-bake cake – a no-bake pistachio and dried cherry cheesecake. In fact, it ended up being a no-bake, no-scales, no-cream cheese, no-mixing bowl, no-electric beater pistachio and dried cherry cheesecake.

Which was fun.

The adventure started when I tried to find cream cheese. The recipe I used, a favourite of mine by Nigel Slater, actually calls for mascarpone – but I knew that would be a fruitless search in Istanbul, so thought cream cheese would be an easier option. How wrong I was.

If there is such a thing as cream cheese in Turkey, I have yet to find it. It was suggested I use something called ‘krem peynir’, which, literally translated, does actually mean cream cheese. The guy in the shop promised me it was “without salt”, so I took my chances. Unfortunately, once I got it home and opened the pot, I discovered it had the taste and consistency of flavourless Dairy Lea.

Which was nice.

The next challenge was the dried cherries. The challenge wasn’t in finding the things, the challenge was in pitting them. Yes, the cherries were dried with their stones still in. However, as I utterly loathe sultanas – the recipe’s suggested alternative to the cherries – I decided that scraping off the shrivelled flesh was still preferable to those squishy little fruits of the devil. It was, but only just…

An hour later, with fingers the colour of Sweeney Todd’s, I started on the actual cheesecake. First step, cream the butter and sugar. Not as easy as it sounds when you have no mixing bowl, no electric beater and no scales to measure the quantities. What I did have was a large saucepan, a wooden slatted spatula and an extensive conversion chart to work out how many dessertspoons of sugar make up 75g.

After I quickly lost count of how many spoons of sugar I’d chucked into the saucepan, I gave up and got to work on the creaming. And worked, and worked, and worked. Do you know how difficult it is to cream butter and sugar in something that doesn’t have the smooth, rounded sides of a mixing bowl? Try it. It’s harder than you think. I managed to reasonably combine the two ingredients but didn’t get much further than that. Then it was time to add the krem peynir…

Which was a joy.

What I want to tell you is that it had the consistency of a handkerchief during a heavy cold. However, I’m a lady, so I won’t. (But it did…) Once again, an electric beater would have come in handy at this stage. But I tried my best, than gave up and chucked in the rest of the ingredients. Including the pistachios – which were supposed to be finely ground, but my knife skills weren’t quite up to that job, so roughly chopped had to do.

With all the ingredients (kind of) combined, it was clear that the consistency wasn’t quite right. It looked a little runny and more than a little grainy. But I poured it on top of the biscuit base, put it in the fridge and hoped for the best.

This morning, I cautiously opened the fridge, and was amazed to see a well-set pistachio and dried cherry cheesecake. It was still definitely too grainy for my liking, but a couple of slices later, and the general consensus was that it was good.

Which was nice.

Really.

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A fruit and nut case

March 8, 2010

Back from Istanbul and, as always, laden with foodie goodies. As well as replenishing my stash of vanilla pods and pul biber, I bought a few things I haven’t had before. One was something described by my friend Abdullah, who works at my favourite spice shop, as lemon salt.

As far as I could gather, this wasn’t salt that was artificially impregnated with a lemon flavour, but a naturally occurring taste, from the east of Turkey. Abdullah dropped a few grains in some apple tea I was drinking, and it really did taste quite spectacular. He also recommended using it with fish and chicken, and I’m certainly looking forward to trying it out.

Another new purchase was salted almonds that have been roasted in their shells, so they become thin and brittle enough to peel off easily. What’s left is the most delicious nut I’ve tasted in a long time. I don’t think it’ll take me long to plough my way through them.

You – well, I – can’t go to Istanbul without buying pistachios, so half a kilo of those came back with me. And finally, my current favourite addition to my morning porridge is dates, and as Turkey grows some really fabulous ones, I stocked up on those, too.

It’s just a good thing I go back to Istanbul fairly regularly, as my food purchases never seem to last very long.