Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fried Up

We have had a taste of the scorching summer that is to come already. Friends and family are making plans for their annual exodus from Buenos Aires.

For a lot of porteños, Punta del Este is the default answer – they prepare themselves for six months of the year to be in shape and the right shade of brown before launching themselves onto a crowd of identical looking seasonal migrants, also from Buenos Aires.

It seems the idea of summer, or all year round if one could afford it, is to get a tan worthy of much envy. Guillermo used to share a remise (rental car, similar to a pre-ordered taxi) every week to go out to Ituzango, for work, with two female university professors in their 50s. Their skin was already completely destroyed by years of over exposure to the sun and solarium rays, they faces were more wrinkled than that of my 86 year-old grandmother; yet they still wanted to be more tanned.

My eldest sister-in-law's father had skin-cancer last year. He went through more than a few operations and at one point the prognosis was very grim indeed. However, during that same summer, his daughter was sending her young kids out running around swimming pools, obviously with little clothes on, under the fierce midday sun.

To tan or not to tan; it is not a question of vanity but of long term health. It seems most people, even those staring at the serious consequences at close range, simply cannot make the connection that skin cancer doesn't happen overnight and it certainly doesn't only affect the senior population.

Guillermo's eldest brother, husband of this fearless sister-in-law commented on the sad, pale colour of my husband. Guillermo just shrugged; he was told by the same brother he was sad and lacking in passion just because he didn't like to be part of
a typical Argentine football match and all that it entails. Well, not everybody has the same desire to look like George Hamilton or swear like a gutter mouth.

If my husband had wanted to be as brown and wrinkled as a nut, I would have tried to provide him with information why tanning is bad for him and his long term health. However, if he had insisted I would have let him – at least it would have been his educated choice. The most pathetic is yielding to social pressure for no reason other than damaging oneself for some misguided sense of vanity.

On the other hand, some forms of social pressure may be quite desirable, such as people coming together to test out best pumpkin recipes...

This is a recipe from Tish Boyle's "The Cake Book". The crust is made from pastry dough as opposed to the typical biscuit crumbs. With its combination of pecans and crystallized ginger, the crust pairs exceptionally well with the slightly spicy pumpkin custard filling.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Crust
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup (40g) chopped crystallized ginger
1/3 cup (54g) pecans
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, cold & cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tbsp cold water
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
570g cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
4 large eggs, at room temp.

To make the crust:
Position oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 180C. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x3 inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with 2-3 layers of aluminum foil.Place the flour, sugar, salt, ginger, and pecans in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the pecans are finely ground. Add the cold butter cubes and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the cold water slowly until the dough just comes together.

Press the dough into the bottom of your prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust just starts to brown. Cool crust completely on a wire rack.

To make the filling:
Reduce oven temperature to 170C. In a bowl, whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium-low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugars and beat on low speed until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin mixture, then add the cornstarch and mix until just blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and do a final mix by hand to make sure all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Pour the filling in the cooled crust. Set the still wrapped springform pan in a large roasting pan. Carefully pour enough hot water into the large pan to come 1 inch up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes until the center is set but still a bit wobbly.
Remove cheesecake from water bath to a cooling rack. Carefully remove the foil and run a thin knife tip around the edge of the cake. This will loosen the cake and help prevent the top from cracking. Cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate the cooled cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving.

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