Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kulfi-Inspired Cheesecake: White Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio, with Orange Syrup

I introduce this recipe with a confession. I hate baking. I find it the most unforgiving form of cooking. With a curry or a stir-fry, you can taste as you go, correcting heavy-handed chilli doses with salt, lime or sugar, and everything is ok again. But with baking, one mistake and it’s a flop – literally. My latest baking disaster was a cake version of this cheesecake. The batter held all sorts of promise, it tasted divine. But somewhere along the line - maybe an inaccurate weight, an impatient opening of the oven door, who knows – I made a mistake and my cake sunk in the middle, inedible and unblogable.  Like my cake, I was left deflated. 

But I knew I was onto something with the flavour combination so started again, but this time with a cheesecake. I’ve made it twice now, both times (if I do say so myself) with perfect results. So as a self-professed terrible baker, I ask you to trust me. This recipe works and is worth every ounce of effort. It’s quite simply delicious.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating kulfi, it’s a delicious frozen dessert from South Asia. It’s a bit like ice-cream but denser and creamier, made from condensed milk. Cardamom and Pistachio are two of the most popular flavours. It looks like this:

I made this cheesecake at home but decided that my boyfriend and I shouldn’t be left alone with that much cheesecake, so I took it over to my good friend’s restaurant to share with our friends and the kitchen staff. And he let me plate it up in his kitchen, which was really exciting for me! As I was slicing it up, I realised the great thing about this recipe is the number of servings you’ll get out of it – easily 15 slices.

Don’t worry if you have loads left over, it will keep in the fridge for several days, as will the orange syrup. Enjoy!


For the Base:
250g digestive biscuits
100g shelled pistachios (They weigh about 180g with shells still on)
90g unsalted butter (plus a little more for greasing the tin)

For the Filling:
900g cream cheese
225g caster sugar
1.5 tbsp plain flour
20 cardamom pods
4 large eggs
2tbsp double cream
250g white chocolate
Zest of one orange and 2tbsp juice from the orange
For the Orange Syrup:
250ml orange juice (ideally freshly squeezed but if not, good quality shop bought)
100g caster sugar

30g shelled pistachio nuts
Strips of orange zest

Equipment needed: 9 inch spring form cake tin; a large baking dish into which you can easily place the cake tin, and some good quality tin foil

1.      Preheat oven to 165°C
2.      Take the cream cheese out of the fridge so it is at room temperature when you use it.
3.      The first thing you’ll need to do is make a tin foil ‘jacket’ for the cake tin. This is because when you come to bake it, you will place the cake tin into a large dish of water to cook. This is called a bain-marie (a water bath). I don’t fully understand the science but it controls the temperature and importantly, stops the cheesecake from cracking. The tin foil jacket makes the tin waterproof during this process. To make the jacket, stand the cake tin on a piece of tin foil and bring the edges up, but don’t tuck them into the inside of the tin – cut them off if necessary. Repeat with a several sheets of foil. When you’ve finished, take the tin out of its jacket – you don’t need it straight away.
4.      Grease the inside of the tin with a little butter.
5.      Then make the base.  Melt the butter over a low heat. While it is melting, weigh up your biscuits and turn them into fine crumbs. If you have a food processor use this, otherwise put them in a plastic back and crush them with a rolling pin. Place your shelled pistachios on a baking tray and roast in the oven for about 5 minutes. Give the tray a shake about half way through and keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Allow the nuts to cool and crush finely, either with a food processor or a mortar and pestle.
6.      Add the nuts to the crumbs and then pour over the melted butter and mix well. Press these into the bottom of the greased cake tin. You want to make sure the base is well-compressed so press hard. I used a potato masher which did the job nicely. Then bake without the foil jacket for 8 minutes.
7.      Time to start on your filling. Zest the orange very finely and set this aside. Keep the orange handy so you can squeeze out the juice  which you’ll need shortly. To prepare the cardamom, use a knife to take out the seeds in the middle. Discard the green husks. Finely crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle, removing any bits of stray husk. Set aside for later. Don’t worry if it looks like a lot. It smells very strong when you crush it but blended into all that cream, it gives just the right amount of fragrance.
8.      Put the white chocolate into a bowl above a saucepan of hot water and allow to melt slowly. Avoid over-stirring or overheating the chocolate or it will turn grainy. Remove from heat as soon as it's melted and put aside.
9.      In a large mixing bowl, mix the cream cheese until creamy. If you have an electric whisk, use this on the lowest setting. If not (I didn’t) a wooden spoon does the trick. Then add the sugar and orange juice and mix until smooth, making sure you scrape down the sides to capture all of the mixture. Then add the flour and cardamom and stir in. Beat the eggs and add them in gradually. Finally stir in the cream. By now it should be a thick consistency and smell delicious.
10.  Finally pour in the chocolate – you need to do this quickly to prevent it setting and going lumpy. Keep stirring until all the ingredients are combined and you have a creamy, glossy mixture.
11.  Now put the tin into its foil jacket and place it into a large baking dish. Pour the mixture onto the cooked base and level with a spoon – it should come right to the top. Now carefully pour hot water into the baking tin so it comes about 3cm up the side of the foil.
12.  Now place into the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. When it's ready, the cake will be golden brown on top. The top will have set but the cake will be wobbly to the touch – don’t worry; it will set when it cools.
13.  Remove the cake from the oven. Cover the top gently with a sheet of kitchen roll and leave it to cool in the water bath for an hour. The reason for this is that it cools the cake down very slowly and therefore prevents the top from cracking. Remove from the water bath and cool and refrigerate for at least four hours, still in the tin.
14.   While the cake is cooling make your syrup. In a saucepan, stir together the orange juice and the sugar over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer down until the liquid is about reduced by half. Let cool and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
15.  Roast the remaining pistachio nuts in the same way as those used for the cake. Allow to cool and chop very coarsely.
16.  When you are ready to serve, gently remove the cake from the tin and cut into slices. Pour some of the syrup over the top and sprinkle a few of the roasted pistachios and a couple of strands of orange zest. Doesn’t that look gorgeous?


  1. wow this recipe looks great, Im not the biggest fan of kulfi but this indpired cheesecake looks delicious! I really like the asian influence in your dishes! Come over and say hi on my blog sometime!

  2. that looks crazy yummy.... what in the world is a digestive biscuit though?

    1. Heidi, your comment really made me smile! This is one of the many US/UK food differeces I've become aware of since I started blogging (cups vs grams, cilantro vs coriander, eggplant vs aubergine...). Anyway a digestive is very English type of biscuit (or is it a cookie?). It's pretty boring on its own but the best cheesecake base I've ever found. Anyway, here's how wikipedia explains it: A digestive biscuit (originally known as a Wheaten), sometimes referred to as a sweet-meal biscuit, is a semi-sweet biscuit originated in the United Kingdom and popular worldwide. The term 'digestive' is derived from the belief that they had antacid properties due to the use of sodium bicarbonate when they were first developed.