My partner moonlights as a home-brewer most weekends, a hobby which harmonises pleasingly with my penchant for baking and cookery in general (brisket braised in porter being a memorable favourite). Whenever he makes a new beer there’s always a hefty bag of grain that gets binned post-brew, and as these grains are packed with fibre and protein and infused with malty and sugary goodness, they lend themselves rather nicely to baking. I’ve thrifted the spent grain a couple of times before, once in a batch of crackers and a couple of times in various types of bread, and when said brewer’s birthday rolled around this year and his annual request for a cheesecake birthday cake was placed (a request I am more than happy to both fulfill and then reap the delicious benefits of), I was keen to make the base using the spent grain from a recent brew. After pondering the logistics and reckoning that yes, it was a super idea and would most definitely work, I decided to take it a step further and incorporate beer into the cheesecake via a dark, rich caramel. After a short turn on the Google machine it became clear that a beer reduction was the way to go, and I signed up a bottle of home-brewed American brown ale as my test beer.
I used Stephanie Alexander’s cheesecake recipe, the aptly titled “best-ever” from A Cook’s Companion, which I’ve made many times before and know almost backwards. Stephanie’s recipe uses a water bath, which is rather a lot more faff than I usually tolerate in the kitchen, but I’ve tried skipping this step and the end result just isn’t as smooth and texturally pleasing. Lack of water bath also makes the cake more prone to decidedly un-Instagrammable sinkage and cracking. So it’s annoying yes, but worth the faff.
To get started, prepare the cake tin for the water bath by tearing off a large sheet of foil and folding it into a square, then pop the base out of a 22cm x 6xm spring form tin and lay the foil over the base. Clip the base back into the tin and fold the excess foil up the outer sides so that it all lays flat against the tin. Brush a circular piece of baking paper with a little melted butter and pop it on top of the foil-covered base, then butter up the inner sides of the tin.
For the base, take 200g of spent grain, 100g of your biscuit of choice (Stephanie and I use wheatmeal) and 100g of butter, and blitz in a food processor to a fine crumb. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the tin, pushing down with the back of a spoon or a coffee cup to make sure it’s smooth and even. Side note on the grain – before embarking on the base I spread it out in a thin layer on a baking tray and roasted it in the oven for ten minutes or so, to dry it out a little and give it some extra crunch.
In a large bowl, beat 500g of cream cheese and 200g of castor sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of cornflour and beat in, then add 3 eggs one at a time, lightly beating each one into the mixture before adding the next. Add a tablespoon of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, 2 cups of sour cream, give it a quick stir to combine, then pour the mixture into the tin.
Sit the cake tin in a baking dish and pour boiling water into the dish, halfway up the sides of the tin. Carefully transfer to a 180-degree pre-heated oven and bake for 50 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave it for another hour with the door shut (Stephanie implores you to NOT open the door). After an hour take the cake tin out of the baking dish and sit it on a wire rack until it’s completely cool, then chill in the fridge overnight.
Once chilled you can take the cake out of the tin and tuck in as-is or add some final flourishes, in my case, a brown ale caramel topped with flakes of Maldon sea salt. To make this I brought to the boil a cup of brown ale and a couple of tablespoon of dark brown sugar, then simmered until nice and caramelly before stirring through a dollop of cream and pouring over the cake. (Note: if you’re anything like me a large quantity of the caramel may not make it from the saucepan to the cake without bypassing your mouth, so making a double batch wouldn’t be crazy).