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Elderflower & Pistachio Cheesecake

Cheesecakes are something of a stalwart in the dessert stakes. In their various guises they have graced culinary manuals for centuries. One of the earliest recipes for a ‘cheesecake’ was recorded by Cato the Elder in De Agri Cultura over 2000 years ago. Then in the Forme of Cury (c.1390) you find a recipe for Sambocade which is a baked cheesecake flavoured with elderflower and set with egg whites to maintain a purity of colour.

The version below is inspired by seventeenth century cook, Robert May. There are several recipes for cheesecake in his Accomplisht Cook (1660) but this one particularly caught my eye as elderflowers are only in season for a short time:

Cheesecakes in the Italian Fashion otherways

Take a pound of pistaches stamped with two pound of morning-milk cheese-curd fresh made, three ounces of elderflowers, ten eggs, a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, and a pottle of flour, strain these in a coarse strainer, and put them in a short or puff paste.

Whilst I love the scent of elderflowers I can’t say I am a fan of eating the flowers themselves. Fortunately, they make a heavenly cordial which is what I have used to flavour this cheesecake (it also means you can make this dessert long after the flowers have gone). Then there is the question of a crust or base. May, like many cooks before and after him, suggests putting the filling into a pastry case (although provides no indication of whether it should be cooked or not and if so how long for). However, I came across a recipe recently for Parham Cheese Loaves in Elizabeth David’s Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen in which a cheesecake is baked in a porringer (a type of shallow dish) without a crust. Personally, I think the absence of a crust makes this recipe lighter but if you prefer to make this into a tart use a 20cm tart case made from sweet short crust pastry although make sure it has been baked blind first.

Elderflower and pistachio cheesecake based on a 17th century recipe from Robert May.
Ingredients (Serves 6-8)

100g pistachios

2 medium eggs plus 1 egg yolk

85g caster sugar

450g ricotta cheese

125g elderflower cordial

  1. Grease and line a 20cm spring form cake tin. Preheat your oven to 150℃.

  2. Place the pistachios in a small food processor and grind until fine (well, fineish – they won’t be as fine as commercially bought ground almonds but that’s fine).

  3. Put the whole eggs and egg yolk in a bowl with the caster sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the ricotta and cordial then beat again to combine. Finally, fold in the pistachios.

  4. Pour into the prepared tin. Place the tin on a baking sheet (just in case of leakages) then bake for 40 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the cake to cool slowly in the oven. Once cool, refrigerate before transferring to a plate and serving. Best served cold with a little cream.

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