Hungry Writer and Cheesecake

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At the end of May this year Mum moved from the house she had lived in for over sixty years to sheltered accommodation. The new flat is great. It’s airy and spacious. There are two bedrooms, so I was able to stay with her for a few days after the move. It’s also got a communal space, where residents can meet for coffee, chats, bingo and other activities.  Lunch is also communal. The food is brilliant and the staff so welcoming.

All in all Blaise Weston Court is a pretty good place to be. It was Mum’s decision to go and she’s happy that she’s done the move.

It has meant, however, leaving 491. The home my parents lived in for so long, where my sister, brother and I were brought up and where Dad died.

It’s a house fraught with memories. Most of them good: of the birth of my brother, reading by the light of the street lamp outside my bedroom window, sleep overs with my best friend Kate, playing endless imaginary games, the one where we were a refugee family escaping over the mountains (the stairs) and where the baby died has gone down in family history and even featured in Mum’s dissertation. Kate and Anuk begged me not to let the baby die, but I was adamant. The story was a tragic one and there was to be no respite. There were also family gatherings: for weddings, special birthdays and funerals.

Food on all those occasions was centre stage. A Polish tradition I have inherited and which as readers of this blog will know, which features in my novels.

For a brief time my grandmother lived with us too and at the time she did all the cooking for the family. I remember hares hanging up in the shed waiting to be skinned, dismembered and cooked in a creamy sauce, served with macaroni.

She was also a great baker; a talent Mum inherited. One of Mum’s specialities was her cheesecake. Baked in Polish style, I don’t have the exact recipe, but this one is pretty close.

SERNIK

Prep Time 30 min

Cook Time I hour 30 mins.

 

Sernik is an authentic Polish cheesecake that is traditionally prepared with a farmer’s cheese called twarog.

INGREDIENTS

For the sernik

  • 1½ lb twarog (Polish farmer’s cheese, recipe below), or farmer’s cheese or ricotta cheese
  • 5 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • Juice of a lemon

For the twarog (Polish farmer’s cheese)

  • 1½ gallon whole milk
  • Juice of 8 lemons
  • 4 teaspoons salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Sernik

  1. In a large bowl, mix the cheese with the sugar and eggs.
  2. Soak the raisins in warm water for 10 minutes. Drain and coat the raisins with flour. Add the raisins, flour, almonds, orange zest, lemon juice and vanilla to the mixture. Add the melted butter. Whisk well.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly into a greased springform pan.
  4. Bake the sernik in an oven preheated at 300 F for one hour (depending on the oven, add 10 to 15 minutes of baking if sernik is not fully cooked).
  5. Wait 10 minutes before unmolding. Enjoy the sernik at room temperature or after chilling in the refrigerator for an hour so it is a little firmer and easier to cut.

Twarog

  1. Pour the milk into a large pot. Add salt and simmer over medium heat. Once the milk starts to simmer and small bubbles appear on the sides, turn off the heat.
  2. Add the lemon juice. Stir slightly. Cover the pot and wait thirty minutes for the milk to curdle.
  3. Strain the milk through a clean white cloth or cheesecloth.
  4. The solids remaining in the cloth is the cheese. Press the cloth firmly to obtain a dense cheese. The liquid is called whey and can also be saved and used as a drink.
  5. The cheese used for the sernik needs not be flavoured. However, if the cheese is used for other purposes, feel free to add herbs, spices, oil or nuts.
  6. PS cups are the US ones, but I don’t think it matters too much so long as you stick to the same cups for all your measurements.

 

Enjoy!

 

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