Tahini & pretzel cheesecake with plum caramel | cheesecake two ways; Instant Pot & baked
So, I'm currently obsessed with two things; cheesecake and Instant Pot. I've spent my whole life as a cheesecake-hater, or a cheesecake-denier at the very least.
"It's the worst kind of cake" I would say, eschewing any kind of cheesecake in favour of a sticky toffee pudding, which tbf is still my number one pudding. All of the no-bake cheesecakes seemed lazy, and the baked cheesecakes were grainy and tasteless.
Then, I had an epiphany. Cheesecake doesn't HAVE to be terrible! I had an amazing one from a Jewish bakery in Paris and it just opened my eyes. I went on a big cheesecake binge, even secretly eating the ones you get in boxes in the chilled patisserie section in Sainsbury's. Don't judge me. Hiding the boxes deep in the bin so my sister didn't call me out.
I also saw an article on Food52 recently, about using fruit instead of cream to make a caramel, which just blew my mind. I'm always making caramels and having to buy little pots of cream, so my fridge is a graveyard of the dregs of caramel batches. Tahini caramel, smoked caramel, brown butter caramel, it's all in there. I originally wanted to make an apricot caramel for this recipe but appaaaaaarently they're not in season, so plums it is. You use the plum puree in place of the cream, and it makes a very zingy caramel that pairs well with the tahini. Try it with apricots if you can, or even bananas[??] if you turn them into a banana puree.
I've included two methods here, for both an Instant Pot pressure cooked version and a baked version. The Instant Pot version produces a slightly lighter, creamier cheesecake that's a lot easier to eat five slices a row, plus it cooks in 30 minutes! The baked version is denser and richer, more crumbly, it takes around an hour or so in the oven, and it may end up with a crack on top which you're going to cover with caramel anyway so who cares. Try either, or both.
Tahini cheesecake with a pretzel crust and plum caramel
Makes a chunky 6 inch cheesecake or use an 8 inch pan and cook for slightly less time (I give the times in the recipe)
For the crust
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons melted brown butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
For the cheesecake
450g (16oz pack) cream cheese
110g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
good pinch of salt
2 large eggs & 1 egg yolk
120g (1/2 cup) sour cream
3-4 tablespoons tahini (depending on how strong you want it)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence (or a good grating of tonka bean)
For the plum caramel
110g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1 tablespoon glucose syrup (or honey)
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
First of all, in both methods, you need to make the crust. Preheat the oven to 175C.
Cut out a circle of parchment paper to line your tin [whether it be springform or loose bottomed]. Blitz the pretzels into very fine crumbs [much finer than I've done, heed my warnings] and then mix with the sugar, flour and melted butter. Press into the bottom of the tin and up the sides, using a ramekin or a jar to compact the crumbs at the bottom, and a spoon for the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown, then take out to cool.
For the filling, you need to have the cream cheese at room temperature so it properly integrates with the rest of the filling, so either take it out of the fridge hours ahead, or give it a blast in the microwave to warm it up slightly. If you're using a food processor, do everything in little pulses so you don't overmix it. If you have a fancy stand mixer, then mix it on a low speed.
Pulse/mix the cream cheese until it's broken down and creamy. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, salt and cornstarch. Add this in two parts, mixing briefly until just combined. Next add in the sour cream, vanilla and 3 tablespoons tahini, and after this is combined, taste the mix and see if you want to add another tablespoon of tahini [I always do but I just bloody love tahini]. Finally, mix in the eggs and blend/mix until the mixture is homogenous.
FOR THE INSTANT POT
Pour the filling over the crust, and tap the pan on the counter top to remove any air bubbles, popping any surface bubbles with a knife. Cover the top with silver foil. Place the rack inside the instant pot, and then add a small amount of water to the bottom so it doesn't quite touch the top of the rack. Lower the cheesecake tin into the Instant Pot, seal and cook on manual high pressure for 30 minutes (26 minutes for 8 inches) and then let the pressure release naturally.
Remove carefully and voila! You might find you have a little bit of water that's condensed on the top of the cheesecake - you can absorb this with a paper towel and you'll be covering the top in plum caramel anyway. Run a palette knife around the edge of the cheesecake and let it cool in the tin for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
FOR THE OVEN
Pour the filling over the crust, and tap the pan on the counter top to remove any air bubbles, popping any surface bubbles with a knife. Pop it into the 175c oven for 10 minutes, and then turn it down to 150c and cook for between 1hr and 1hr 15 mins - you're looking for there to still be a bit of jiggle in the middle but the rest of the cheesecake should be set.
This gives you the golden top of a baked cheesecake, but you will often end up with cracks. Now, there's lots of fancy methods out there for avoiding cracks, like steam baths and waterbaths etc, but honestly, it sinks slightly afterwards which means that any gaping cracks [ooft] tend to shrink and narrow, and you'll also be covering it in a plum caramel, so don't worry too much. If you're baking this in an 8 inch pan, you'll be looking at a 1 hr bake.
Run a palette knife around the edge of the cheesecake and let it cool in the tin for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
NOW TO THE PLUM CARAMEL
Halve the plums and remove the stones, then microwave in 30 second bursts until they soften and release a little of their juices. Blend in a food processor or blender until it forms a puree, and then sieve this to remove all the fibrous parts of the plum. You should be left with a generous 120ml (1/2 cup) of plum puree.
Mix together the sugar, water and glucose syrup or honey in a pan with a reflective bottom [so you can see the colour better] and over a medium heat, swirl it until it all dissolves. Keeping the pan on medium, wait for the sugar mix to turn an amber colour and then remove it from the heat. Add in the plum puree and stir until it combines, and then add the butter and stir again. If it isn't combining, just STIR DAMNIT. Pour into a jar and store in the fridge until cool.
Pour over the top of the cheesecake before serving, spreading to the edges, and you can serve it with more plum caramel on the side.