What kitchen hobbies did you take up during lockdown? Bake sourdough? Fine-tune your biscuit game? “Wrap whatever you could in elaborately decorated shortcut pastry”? For Brendan Pratt, chef at pioneering Margaret River winery Vasse Felix, Western Australia’s first lockdown was spent, among other things, developing and fine-tuning this very excellent cheesecake.
Formerly a staff-only treat and something that was wheeled out on special occasions, the cake is now on the menu and reason enough to set course for the corner of Caves Road and Tom Cullity Drive, post-haste. (You know, just in case excellent wines made from organically certified grapes, an excellent art gallery and a truly polished restaurant experience weren’t compelling enough reasons to visit.)
Geographically, the cake’s origins are difficult to pinpoint. There’s a lightness that calls to mind some of the better Japanese-style cheesecakes I’ve tried, but that well-burnished top and jiggly interior is straight out of the Basque burnt cheesecake playbook. The inspired addition of kombu – one of the key ingredients in dashi – however, is classic Pratt ingenuity. In this instance, the pay-off of infusing cream with sheets of kombu is twofold. One, it lends a savoury top note to proceedings. And two – and perhaps most crucially – the dashi also doubles as a plant-based gelatine, meaning fewer eggs are needed to set the cake. (Agar-agar, a popular setting agent used in Asian desserts, is also derived from seaweed.) Translation: more cheesecake lightness for you and me.
While it’s truffle season, slices of cake go out the door carpet-bombed with finely grated black gold: in your correspondent’s biased but correct opinion, the superior way to serve this high-end ingredient. (While sliced pennies of truffle might look good on Instagram, grating them exposes more of the truffle to air and helps release their singular, earthy flavours. There’s a reason, I think, why most people finish their pasta with grated parmesan rather than chunks of the stuff.) But the truffle is a fortuitous add-on rather than the dish’s be-all: this cheesecake would delight if it was garnished with cocoa, spices, citrus zest, a fine chiffonade of ATM receipts or even nothing at all. So, if none of the dish’s core ingredients are seasonally dependent, that means that this cheesecake could, in theory, be on the menu all-year-round. Right, Brendan?