I’m not a baker by profession, I’m an engineer with a Master’s degree in Computer Science. I suck at math. Naturally, the exclusive conclusion from all three statements should be lots of failed experiments in my kitchen. As far as assumptions go, that one’s pretty accurate. The only difference is I celebrate failures in my kitchen. Sure I’ll pout for a bit when I see grainy pavlovas or deflated soufflés, but it teaches me and inspires me to no end. I almost always end up perfecting and iterating on failed dishes more than I do with recipes that are successful the first time. I leave those as is, to repeat but seldom to iterate on.

Failures are the fabric of my culinary experiments. There would be no story to tell, no innovation or texture to my experience as a bumbling chef if I didn’t fail. Sure, it’s disheartening and I absolutely hate for any ingredients to go to waste so if I cannot re-purpose or shovel down my failed cooking, I do the next best thing and write about it. I learn how not to make the same mistakes again and that’s the kind of math I love. Was it the temperature, the vessel, the chemistry, the timing? What will make these flavors sing without the unpleasant texture and taste, smell, look and feel?

Watching people taste, experience and react to my food gives me the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. More than meeting deadlines or nailing a presentation ever will. In the past year, I have started to spend a lot of time in my kitchen, behind my camera and teaching myself culinary basics. For a while I thought this was a phase, it was my escape and coping mechanism. It felt like I was spending time in the kitchen because I was afraid to spend time someplace else, with someone else. It was my fortress and I was actually putting out good food and exhausting myself in the process, relieving me from having to face constant disappointment in other aspects of my life. In truth, it probably was, but it also taught me to spend time with myself, to start to respect my time and energy, to be aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately my responsibility and accountability towards other more important aspects of my life that couldn’t be ignored any longer.

And so, we come back to failure. Singularly the best place you can be – you’ve hit rock bottom with an opportunity to try again, restart, all an armload of lessons under your belt and a new-found appreciation for success when you get it right. I’m in that kind of place right now. I wouldn’t call what I’m going through failure, because I wouldn’t trade it for the world and probably repeat it exactly as it was in spite of all the misery and heartbreak. But I am hopeful, I’ve learned so much about myself that I wouldn’t have learned if this hadn’t happened. Obviously, we’re still talking about my cheesecake failure. I should get back to the cheesecake now shouldn’t I? So here’s the deal, I had been eyeing those golden cape gooseberries (physalis) for weeks, and I knew that I wanted to do candied strands for a stunning presentation. I ended up underestimating how tricky it is to work with rapidly hardening and the sticky messiness of caramel.

My beautiful cape gooseberries fell, cracked, made spider-web like invisible stickiness on the side of my kitchen island – it was starting to harden and crumble and slip out of its caramel shell. I discovered keeping the caramel warm, on a very slow simmer helps create strands. Stake the cape gooseberries with toothpicks on one end, dip them into thick molten caramel and stake the other end to a cork coaster or corkboard. You have to move quickly, but gently. Place a sheet pan lined with parchment paper at the bottom to catch all the droppings. Lessons from my various cheesecake attempts all lead to one road – patience. Shiran Dickman taught me how to make a cheesecake without a water bath, and the rest will just fall into place if you follow the recipe.

I hope you will celebrate my failure with this cheesecake

Print Recipe
New York Cheesecake with Caramelized Cape Gooseberries
Rich, creamy, dense yet subtle with a perfect crust that is moist and crumbly. This cheesecake requires no water-bath and the caramelized cape gooseberries give it the extra oomph that will wow your guests
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
cheesecake
Ingredients
Candied cape gooseberries
Cheesecake crust
Cheesecake filling
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
cheesecake
Ingredients
Candied cape gooseberries
Cheesecake crust
Cheesecake filling
Instructions
Cheesecake crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap the outside of a 9-inch springfoam pan (bottom and sides) with a large piece of foil. This will prevent the sides from burning and keep the top flat and not domed or cracked
  2. In a medium bowl, melt the butter for 10-15 seconds in the microwave. Add graham cracker crumbs and mix well. You will know the crust is ready when it has a moist beach sand like texture and if it keeps its shape when you clench a handful in your palm
  3. Press mixture into the bottom of prepared pan. Ensure that it is leveled and bake for 8-9 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the filling
Cheesecake filling
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. In a large bowl beat together cream cheese and mascarpone cheese until smooth (1-2 minutes)
  3. Add sugar and beat until blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Add cornstarch and mix until blended
  4. Add the eggs and beat until fully combined.
  5. Add cream, vanilla extract, and lemon zest and beat just until combined and smooth. Pour batter over cooled crust and spread evenly. Drop the pan from about a foot once to smooth out any air bubbles
  6. Bake the cake for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 225°F and continue to bake for 55-60 minutes until golden brown around the edges, the sides are set but the center is still slightly wobbly
  7. Turn off oven, open the oven door slightly or halfway to let in cold air, and leave the cake in the oven for 60 minutes. This will help prevent the cake from cracking and the cake will remain creamy
  8. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and allow it to cool to room temperature. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 12 hours
Candied cape gooseberries
  1. Prep a side of a table or kitchen counter by placing a cutting board on the edge, peeking out roughly 10 inches. Place a cork-board on top
  2. Place a sheet pan lined with parchment on ground below the cutting board
  3. Prep gooseberries by removing the papery cover and inserting one end of a toothpick till the center
  4. Place sugar and water into a small pot. Stir to combine. Place the pan on med-high heat and do not stir. Let the sugar cook until desired consistency is reached
  5. Shock pot in a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Let caramel sit in pot for a minute or two until it starts to thicken
  6. Dip a cape gooseberry toothpick into the caramel, then stick the pointy end into the corkboard. Let the excess caramel drip down
  7. Let the caramel cool and harden, then use scissors to cut the strands to a desired length before moving the skewers. The strands are very sticky and will still stick together at this point, so trim them first, then remove each skewer from the corkboard
  8. Gently remove the toothpick from each cape gooseberry and place on top of the cheesecake
  9. If you must, store in a cool, dry place, spaced out on a parchment lined sheet pan. Do not cover and do not store in the fridge. You’ll want to use these guys immediately, ideally the same day
Recipe Notes
  • Before you start working on your cheesecake crust or filling, take items that need to be at room temperature out of the fridge 
  • Work on the candied gooseberries at the very end when the cheesecake is almost ready to be served, because they tend to disintegrate if kept out in the heat for too long
  • Make sure there is room for this dessert in your refrigerator prior to assembling the candied gooseberries