The journey of sweet potato cheesecake
It is after 1 in the morning and I am hoping for sleep. But my sweet potato cheesecakes have more than 1 hour to go before I can put them to bed, and then myself. We grew the sweet potatoes, an no imo, a special variety from Kumamoto, and one that is especially orange and sweet. How can it go wrong when they are grown with love? rain. more rain. and rain some more. Should I also mention the abject neglect after the first few weddings, when I returned to the patch after the rains to find the vines over growing, over flowing and even starting to encroach on the property of a house behind our allotment? I was positive the fearsome bugs of this subtropical climate would have exploded from gouging by this time, rationalizing that our allotment is the highest level of 'organic'. But these were fine. Even so. I cannot just let them rot,simply because no-one I know particularly cares for sweet potatoes.
So I did what I do best; I turned them first into soup, then I used some as a thickening agent for a curry, I made panallets, put them into bread dough, used them to make pasta, roasted them in the toaster oven and ate one with butter as a tribute to my mother, and started to baulk at the idea of sweet potato pie. Finally I turned them into a cheesecake. I mean, how can it be bad when one adds 600 gr of cream cheese, 100 grams of sour cream, 100 grams of sweet cream, natural brown sugar, to mention just a few ingredients? This is a long story, regarding cheesecakes and sweet potatoes/yams that goes back to my childhood and a mother who like to make cheesecake and liked to eat sweet potatoes as a snack or a meal. They were a cold weather comfort food for her.
My only strong recollection of yams in our house were those awful canned ones, floating in syrup, awaiting a layer of marshmallows to seal the job on inducing diabetes. At that time we did not know anyone who simply roasted them? No wonder we all cringed as they were brought from the oven . Oddly, my mother would roast sweet potatoes in their skins just as she did with jacket potatoes but not yams. She would not listen to me when I pleaded that they too could be roasted in their skin and did not need to be smothered in something gooey at Thanksgiving. So when she came to Japan to visit us the first time and I told her the forlorn melody outside our street was the truck which sells hot sweet potatoes freshly roasted on stones, she practically ran to the street to try one. She was very careful in her choice and enjoyed walking back munching the warm sweet potato wrapped in brown paper. We discussed the pleasures of a snack truck selling hot corn on the cob and sweet potatoes as snacks as compared to ice cream trucks. But that was only one part of the debate.
She made cheesecake. Good cheesecake. Great cheesecake. She mailed cheesecakes to my sister when she wanted to let her know she cared. She baked them right in the Danish butter cookie tins. They survived the journey better than her journey at times. She would get the ingredients out and bring them to room temperature, lug the heavy stand mixer to the counter, or later the food processor, add her ingredients mixing one into the other, saving the addition of eggs til last. She would use the same pans each time, she would always bake them for 55 minutes at 350 f., and she would turn off the heat and leave them in the oven to cool. They would go into the refrigerator for 24 hours. And most of the time they looked as good as any I had seem at some famous eateries. But she would become frustrated that they cracked sometimes, rose and fell too much other times, were too brown on top, which she would hide with wonderful concoctions of maple syrup, butter and nuts cooked into a caramel sauce occasionally.
And here I am all those years later, still testing, inventing, and bathing, still lowering the temperature so much I end up awake double the normal time, and still hand mixing, even though I am surrounded by my own entourage of old faithful processors, blenders, and mixers. And while there is agreement in the culinary world about what type of heat to use, whether to mix by hand or machine, and what the temperature should be, the debate continues on the water bath. And I will continue to invent flavours, and textures, and hope that this one persuades a special person that she really does like roasted sweet potatoes; or perhaps she wont even notice them, a shame considering they were roasted for an hour, hand mashed and pressed through a sieve to get a fine texture free of fiber and that gummy quality processors give. But if this cheesecake does not meet the grade, I can always fall back on my mother's tried and true recipes I managed to record . And just perhaps I might be lucky enough one day to bake one in a butter cookie tin and mail it to someone I want to know I care.
(I am sure she is laughing right now; my cheesecake has a hairline crack from the oven temperature being too high and though it is barely visibile- I can hear her saying,"See I told you that water bath is just extra work"...)