It's a bank holiday weekend in the UK, so of course, after last weekend's show of sunny skies and temperatures well into the 20s, it's cold, a bit wet and grey.
This sees me sitting, cup of mint tea in hand, pondering my navel and thinking about what would bring a little warmth into the sitting room right now. Enter one special kind of cheese cake - honey, ricotta, saffron. Kind of sunshine on a plate, really. And yes, I know, I'm on a bit of a saffron kick, but life's for living and even though saffron's not the cheapest ingredient in the world, a little goes a long way and for me, the restorative powers are always a consideration. Apparently it's a bit of a goer in the come hither department as well. And if I could find my book about herbs and spices right now, I'd even be able to back that up.
Then I guess there's the bit about this cake being North African in origin, or at least that's what the recipe I read once in a book, a long time ago, and managed to store for later use in my brain, said. Place of origin conjures heat, sun and blue skies, and quite frankly, that works for me!
Two cautionary tips - do not under any circumstances get the cheese ratio back to front. I have managed to do that only once. There is nothing like removing the spring-form tin to see your pride and joy hold together for about ten seconds before almost audibly sighing and collapsing to fill an entire baking tray. Number two - do make sure to run a spatula around the cake before undoing the tin.
So, to the kitchen and the making of the sunshiny goodness.
North African Cheesecake
1 and 3/4 cups raw couscous
2 cups just boiled water
50g slightly salter butter
2 medium eggs
100g grated mozzarella (grate it yourself - much nicer that way)
1 tbs clear honey
1 tbs just boiled water
3/4 cup clear honey
1/4 cup water
1 tsp orange blossom water or rose water
1/2 cup unsalted pistachio kernels, belted around so that you've some whole nuts and some crumbs
Place the couscous in a good sized pudding basin, pour on the just boiled water. Cover with cling wrap and leave for around 10 minutes.
In the meantime, place both lots of cheese into a mixing bowl and with the tablespoon of honey added, stir until well combined.
Uncover the couscous and fluff up with a fork. You're not really after anything as grand as individual grains, just not a big lump of the stuff. Add the butter and stir it through. Leave to sit uncovered so that the couscous cools down.
Turn your oven to 190 degrees celsius (fan forced). Butter a 28cm spring-form tin (think that's about the right size).
Once the couscous has cooled down to around body temperature, stir the two eggs through the mixture. Place half the mixture into the spring form tin and flatten to an even layer. Put this in the oven for 8 minutes. When the time is up, take the tin out, put the cheese and honey mixture on top, flatten out to the edges of the tin. Then do the same with the rest of the couscous mixture. Bake for 20 minutes. At the end of the baking time, place the cake, still in its tin, under a grill until the top is golden. Remove from grill and allow to cool in the tin for at least 2 hours.
Place the saffron in a cup or mug and pour the tbs of just boiled water over. Allow to sit.
In a small saucepan on a medium heat, bring the honey and the water to a simmer. Add the saffron and its water and the orange blossom or rose water. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
When you're ready to cake up, release the spring-form tin after you've run a metal spatula around the cake and place the cake onto a plate. Sprinkle the pistachios on top and pour a few tablespoons of the syrup over the cake. Put the rest of the syrup into a pouring jug of some sort and allow everyone to help themselves - the cake itself isn't too sweet, so this is a nice way for people to control how sweet it ends up being to their own taste.