New York Cheesecake with Caramelized Cape Gooseberries
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