Gizzi Erskine’s Jewish festive cheesecake

This Marsala-infused, zesty creation is the perfect comfort food

Image: Emma Lee

Every Christmas without fail we have this cheesecake. My mum was brought up on it, her dad was brought up on it, and I presume it carries on even further back from there. With its hints of lemon and booze-infused sultanas and pastry, it’s quite something.

Jewish Festive Cheesecake

Serves 12

Ingredients

For the pastry:

175g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus 1 tsp for buttering the tin
280g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ tsp sea-salt flakes
4 large free-range egg yolks, beaten
2 tbsp icing sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
5 tbsp Marsala
2 free-range egg whites, beaten

For the filling:

3 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp chopped candied peel
2 tbsp Marsala
1kg cream cheese or ricotta
140g golden caster sugar
2 tbsp plain flour
¼ tsp sea salt flakes
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract (the seedy stuff is best)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 small orange
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
5 free-range egg yolks

Method

Lightly butter a 20cm springform cake tin. To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the butter and quickly mix it in with your fingers. Add the whisked egg yolks, icing sugar, lemon zest and Marsala and mix until it forms a smooth ball of dough, but do not over-handle or over-mix the dough. Wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 45 minutes or until it is fairly firm. While the dough is resting, cover the dried fruits for the filling with the Marsala. You only want to give them a quick soak.

Break off one-third of the dough, dust with flour, and return it to the refrigerator until required. Reshape the rest of the dough (the other two-thirds) into a ball and roll out on a floured work surface into a circle approximately 5cm larger than your cake tin. Carefully roll the circle of dough over the rolling pin and place in the tin. Press carefully round the tin to attach the dough to the sides and cut any excess pastry from the sides of the cake tin with a knife.

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese or ricotta with the sugar, flour, salt, vanilla, orange and lemon zest and juice and egg yolks with a wooden spoon until well combined. Stir in the sultanas and candied peel and any remaining Marsala. Spoon the mixture into the raw pastry case and smooth with a spatula. Remove the reserved pastry dough from the refrigerator and roll into a rectangle, approximately 25cm long. With a knife, cut into long strips about 1cm wide. Arrange the strips in a lattice pattern over the top of the cake and brush them with the egg white. Try not to paint the cake between the strips. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the filling is only just firm to the touch and the pastry is cooked through and golden (I like it a little undercooked on the inside). Place the tin on a cake rack, very gently undo the springform clip and leave to cool.

When cold, slide a knife under the cake and ease it on to a large plate. Serve at room temperature in slices, but store it in the fridge.

Recipe extracted from ‘Gizzi’s Season’s Eatings’ by Gizzi Erskine (£25, Mitchell Beazley)

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