I spent the long weekend with a selfish agenda— to celebrate MY birthday! This was the first time in four years that I was back home and so a classic “at home” birthday with the fam was set in motion for this past Sunday— a day before my actual birthday. My birthday (or the days around it rather) has never really had bad weather. It's the perfect winter time with a bright sun, clear skies (even in Delhi!), and temperatures warm enough that a lunch outside supplemented by some drinks, is enough to keep you warm. With the venue set, my parents and I began thinking of what we will make. Our final menu was an amalgamation of all our strengths combined. Mom was in charge of the vegetarian main course: paneer koftas in a cashew curry with cumin rice, while dad made a lamb biryani with the lamb slow cooked and then smoked, with cooked saffron rice, and I made two boozy birthday cakes - a classic tiramisu with Old Monk rum and a Gin & Tonic Cheesecake made with a hobnob crust, gin soaked lemon rind, and vanilla bean paste.
Now, people who know me know that I’m not a fan of desserts and neither do I currently have a functioning oven. However, I wanted the challenge of being in charge of something that kind of epitomizes a birthday. The metaphorical cherry on top, so to say. The other reason was that one of our go-to cakes for any occasion was either a blueberry cheesecake or tiramisu from a bakery at Galaxy Hotel in Gurgaon. In a way, I wanted to recreate those desserts but with my own twist.
The Gin and Tonic Cheesecake came from my incessant push to infuse gin into everything I make. I find (good) gin to be very delicate: neutral with floral overtones — almost like what a vodka infused with flowers might taste like. While cooked vodka has a smoky flavor, cooked gin loses most of its flavor but helps bring out nuances in the food it surrounds. I felt compelled to find what uncooked gin might do to food. It took me some time to understand how I will go about this recipe, with the biggest challenge being not knowing what it would actually taste like. While I call it a Gin and Tonic cheesecake, I’ll let you in on a sad fact: there is no tonic in this. I add some salt to get that classic flavor (though there could be other ways to get that). I use lemon rind and soak it in a sweet slurry made with sugar and good (read: expensive) gin. I create the floral aromatics by using lemon rind and a vanilla bean paste, though I do think a rose essence might help too.
I am not going to lie, this cheesecake was not my best. Though, to be honest this was my second attempt at cheesecake. The first being a Red Velvet Oreo Cheesecake that I made with Hannah in Michigan which was quite honestly, amazing. I do believe that a constant effort in recreating this would result in something amazing. Although, no one but I have even remotely critiqued this dish or mumbled anything while secretly eating it and hunching over the fridge with a cold knife that now resides with the cake tin in the fridge.
I do hope you give this recipe a try, make your own changes to it, and share them with me!
For the base
150 grams of graham crackers / hobnobs
150 grams of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ginger powder
For the filling
Rind of 1 lemon, medium
60ml good quality gin, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray both work well
2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste
200 grams of cream cheese
200 grams of mascarpone cheese
150 ml of heavy cream
1 cup of icing sugar
Start by soaking lemon rinds in gin and adding 50 grams of icing sugar. Mix well and keep aside.
Make the base by blitzing hobnobs with melted butter and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in a food processor and pressing down in a well greased spring form tin. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Take all of the remaining ingredients for the filling and begin to mix using your hand or a mixer on high. As you incorporate air, slowly add the gin-rind mix. Taste as you go along.
Take out your tin and pour in the filling and refrigerate without covering for 6 hours or overnight if possible.