Warm cheesecake with blueberry compote


Ask anyone close to me and they’d tell you my biggest obsession is Dibba. An obsession so deep that it sickens them. Diba, Dibbah, Doba, or even Daba; I never really knew there were so many names for this little piece of a town. I only called her Dibba. Obsessions can come about in different ways – and mine was through trauma. The trauma of being plucked away too soon from where it all had started. Plucked without a warning. Plucked without being told I couldn’t be put back there. Dibba was the childhood I longed for again and again.

My brother and I had two choices for weekends: to go to the park and run around, or head to our favourite little beach near the mountains. Sometimes if we were lucky, we got to do both. And if things just weren’t so leisurely, we were taken along to the fruits and vegetables market or the fish market in Dibba al-Hisn. Scuttling around the markets, hiding behind crates, I never took the time to stop and smell the peaches. The only memory of good food revolved around home – especially, my mother's oven. Her burnt sugar cakes and bread puddings. Her semolina halwas. I remember baking for the first time as a little girl. I saw these baked apples on television once and tried them out. Those baked apples were... my first kitchen disaster too.

I think after that little dud, I vowed not to do anything in the kitchen again, and it took me around ten years to find the courage to make something on my own. What remained throughout these years until now, with all the memories, is my mother's electric oven –  I began my midnight baking with her. She’s old and rusty now and sits waiting for me to adopt her, which I will. That is the only one material thing I want to inherit from my mother.

Tonight, I set to bake a blueberry cheesecake. And as we do it, I'll tell you a story. 

When the agency I was working in decided to wrap up for good, I had a little less than three months to prepare for the closure. That meant doing everything from updating my resume and applying for new gigs from my seat at work, slowly emptying out office cabins, watching smart-ass colleagues who bagged better jobs, farewell lunches, lonely office lunches, packing up any pending work (the nastiest ones)... well, doing basically nothing but applesauce. I was worried stiff. What would happen if I didn't land a job? Somewhere in the middle of January of 2011, I sent off an email to myself, full of L.O.Ls and rushed grammar – a half-baked idea. I had named it the most heinous of names – Project Cheesecake. In my defence, it sounded good at that time. My plan was to take up baking cheesecake for an entire year and write about it. My folks were horrified. 

While the cheesecake is in the oven, I put together the lemon juice, sugar and corn starch, and watch my blueberry babies frolic in the rich juice. A blueberry compote is an easy topping, if you would rather not keep it plain. I would have said sour-cream topping, but uh, please do not slather a tub of sour cream on that cheesecake! 

Take a close look at the compote. The blues and purples have come out, and it glistens in the light. Give them a stir. 

The timer goes off, but I keep her in the oven for a bit more – an hour, with the door ajar. This is me ensuring that she would all be smooth inside. I take that time to prepare myself with some disco.

The cheesecake coming out of the oven is the most sensual sights ever. Her satin surface, dotted by little browns, her slightly puffed up edges, the wobbly middle... aah, the wobble in the middle! I always shake the pan gently (of course, with my mitts on) and get mighty aroused by that wobble – does it for me. I am so given to gluttony, leaving her on the rack on my counter to cool down is the hardest part. 

I have to have a piece. No eating it the next day for me. No shifting the love making to another day for me. I wanted her without the blueberry compote. Right then. I get myself a warm piece that swam in my mouth for a whole two minutes before I chomped her down.

I almost forget about the compote because of my preoccupation with cheesecake! I stir it all up with my ladle. That glossy crackle as one blueberry wave crashes down on another one is instantly uplifting. And then, they pour their magic over my cheesecake.

There is nothing like the sight of oxblood-purple juice dribbling down a creamy hill with a random blueberry or two rolling down. It's like the compote is holding my cheesecake so close, embracing her with yummy love – so much that I get a tad jealous. 

With all humbleness, my blueberry-crowned cheesecake is celestial.

Blueberry compote crowned cheesecake

130g crushed graham crackers/digestive biscuits
60g butter, melted
1 tbsp sugar

600g cream cheese, at room temperature
200g sour cream
150g sugar (If required, alter to taste)
3 large eggs plus one yolk, at room temperature
3 ½ tbsp corn starch (optional)
Grated zest of one lemon
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract (1 ½ if essence)

Blueberry Compote
280g fresh blueberries
50ml water
75g sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
11/2 tbsp cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 180C
2. Grease or place parchment paper on your spring form pan.
3. Mix together the crushed crackers/biscuits, melted butter and sugar until well blended. Press this mix on to the bottom and sides of the pan firmly until it’s even.
4. Keep it to chill, or if you want the crust to be crispy, bake it for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.
5. For the filling, beat cream cheese in a mixing bowl until creamy. Continue to beat while adding the sugar.
6. Switch to a wire whisk, which makes sure you don’t beat in much air, and add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition. Do not over beat – just make sure they are incorporated well.
7. Add cornstarch, if using. It helps stabilize the cheesecake and prevents cracks forming on the surface. The texture will be more cake-like rather than creamy.
8. Pour in sour cream, lemon zest, juice and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth.
9. Get the crust and brush the surface lightly with some egg white. Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until the sides turn golden. The rim of the cheesecake will be firm to touch, and the center will be wobbly.
10. Turn off oven, run a spatula around the edges and leave it in the oven to cool with the door ajar until completely set, for about 40 minutes. Cool it on a rack for 30 minutes before refrigerating.

Blueberry compote
1. Combine 140g of blueberries and other ingredients in a thick bottomed pan, place over medium heat and cook until sugar melts. Swirl at times to distribute juices. Bring to boil.
2. Add in the rest of the blueberries just before mixture thickens and turns syrupy. Cool to room temperature.

For a bain-marie/water bath
Wrap your pan in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil to prevent any water from seeping into the cheesecake. Place pan into a larger pan that contains enough water (just boiled) to rise one inch up the sides of the spring form pan

And here's my cheesecake song for today's post ::  Let's Groove, a 1981 song by R & B and Funk band Earth, Wind & Fire.