Fifteens Cheesecake

fifteens side

The passing of Seamus Heaney this week brought me great sadness and immense homesickness. He wrote so evocatively about rural Northern Ireland and in a dialect that is so familiar in tone and cadence to me that it always thrilled me to hear. I loved the idea of people all round the world being exposed to that world with its mix of Irish, English and Ulster terms and phrases. For me it summons up memories of sitting round the open fire on Sunday afternoons at our granny’s house, hearing rural accents instead of Belfast ones. And that reminds me of two thing: love and sugar.

Northern Ireland, like its near neighbour Scotland, has a sweet tooth. It is the spiritual home of the traybake, those little morsel that are not quite cakes, not exactly buns. Different areas favour different sorts and a friend’s mother ran into some difficulty in Derry when she was asked to bring some ‘smalls’ to church on Sunday, not knowing the different name in the North West. But the grande dame of the traybake are Fifteens. Simple, delicious and a masterclass in the classic traybake ingredients of digestive biscuits, marshmallows, coconut, glacé cherries and condensed milk, it knocks the socks off the English ‘fridge cake‘.

Every time I’ve made Fifteens while living over here, they have always required some explanation first and I often ended up saying ‘like a cheesecake base but with marshmallows and cherries’ and I suddenly thought I should actually have a go at making them into a cheesecake. I could see no reason why it wouldn’t work, except that by Northern Irish standards such a thing is probably showing off.

Fifteens Cheesecake: serves 8

For the Fifteens:

  • 15 digestive biscuits
  • 15 marshmallows, quartered
  • 15 glacé cherries, quartered
  • 170g condensed milk
  • 60g dessicated coconut, toasted

For the cheesecake:

  • 400g full fat cream cheese
  • 170g condensed milk
  • juice of one lemon

As you’ve probably noticed, this is a super simple recipe. The clue’s in the name of the traybake after all…

Crush your digestive biscuits into crumbs, stir the chopped cherries and marshmallows into them so that some of the crumbs coat the sticky edges. This stops them clumping together into one great big cherry/marshmallow lump when you add the condensed milk.

You need about half a can of condensed milk* for the Fifteens. Add it in increments, mixing as you go as you might need slightly more or less condensed milk depending on the thickness of different brands. You want a nice stiff mixture. Don’t let it get wet and gloopy.

Press it into the base of a springform cake tin about an inch to an inch and half thick, pressing it as flat as possible. Sprinkle with the dessicated coconut and leave to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours or preferably overnight. If making regular Fifteens, roll the mix into a log shape before rolling in coconut and chilling.

Once the base is set, whisk the cream cheese, condensed milk and lemon juice together making sure it is still stiff and slightly aerated and then spoon generously over the Fifteens and then chill for an hour or two. Remove it from the cake tin and serve in small slices. This is ridiculous rich, but oh my, it’s good. I would love to serve this at Sunday family gathering and combine dessert and afternoon tea on one plate!

*I am aware that condensed milk tends to come in 397g tins and i’ve specified 240g, but weirdly my local shop sells 250g ones. It keeps and can be used for other stuff though like Vietnamese style coffee.

12 replies
  1. Allie J
    Allie J says:

    So this is a tray bake! How exciting! I think we have some descendants of Fifteens in the Antipodes you know…lots of condensed milk, sweets and biscuits involved. This cheesecake sounds delicious.

  2. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    This is in fact the uber traybake (and my favourite). I think we exported them to the Antipodes. Feels proud…

  3. Stuart Gardner
    Stuart Gardner says:

    Hi Miss South, and Mr South,

    These look lovely…… condensed milk….. sounds good for the soul….. discovered Dublin Coddle a little while ago….. now there is a nice dinner all seasons…. do you fancy giving us your version of it…. will give Jamie a run for his money and the plate of molluscus. Hope your keeping well……. Regards, Stuart.

  4. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Stuart: it’s just the weather for Coddle. Great idea. I shall practice and let you know how I get on. Hope things are bearing up for you!

  5. Stuart Gardner
    Stuart Gardner says:

    Yes the weather is on the turn here in Newcastle…. had the heating on for a little bit and got the cardigan out…. easier to sit around on an evening in a cardy in the house than a jumper…..

    Yes I get on with the depression but this time of year ….. the transition to the dark nights lends it self to some uncertainty…. tend to be ok when it is properly dark at 4.30 strangely enough.

    Sorry about Seamus going to his eternal reward…. love the poem Skuck. What a humane man.

    Please do have a look into the coddle….. seems to have a fascinating history…… depending on the budgets of who was making it…. there is a guy on ytube called o’reilly who has an intersting video and also a gut called paddy with the white dog who can close a door…….

    Take care…. Cheers


  6. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Stuart: I will be making coddle very very soon. Will check those videos. We never ate such a thing in the north but I am looking forward to trying it especially now the weather has turned. Perfect autumn food! And I know what you mean about the dark nights at this time of the year. Always more intense than round Halloween for me!

  7. Stuart Gardner
    Stuart Gardner says:

    Hi Miss South

    Thank you for the reply, appreciated. Yes a transitional time of year….. but we will muddle through…… we do not have Coddel in Geordie or Makem land…. but there is a similar thing….. more or less with a tin of corned beef thrown in…. thats when it was cheap…… and yes cheap sausage and bacon….. nice with a jar of picked beetroot. And also it could feed a family…… one of the dishes I was allowed brown sauce on…… never ask your mam for brown sauce on your Sunday dinner…. dont know how I am alive to tell the tale….

    I was speaking to a friend today who is 64 and an avid radio 4 listener who brought three children up who are in their early forties….. one of her comments was re jamie…. well if you are poor with children what you cook has to be eaten…. because there is no alternative……. a plate of sicillian muscles might be ok in italy…. but having Italian friends that would be a little starter…..followed buy sunstantial food….. probably served separately….. not like a big dinner here……. jamie and the rich can make a virtue out of coddle or panhaggerty ( a geordie dish)….. but for the poor these are main meals…. at one time lamb shanks were given away as for 50p when I was a child…. now they become a supermarket commodity and the rich have them in restaurants and you can get them in a suermarket 1 for £4 or 2 for £7.
    Reason being they take along time to cook…… but not in an industrial oven….. then put into a plastic pack….. marketed with red wine and rosemary……..

    Perhaps you and Mr north could try and compare results….. got my friends around tonight and am doing the coddle……. am trying it with the quaters of the cabbage in the top steaming as one guy does not like cabbage……no need to pick it out……and bless my mates who cant cook they bring the wine!!!!!!

  8. David Kelly
    David Kelly says:

    Strange, despite having been brought up and spent half my live in Belfast, I only discovered Fifteens on a trip back home to Belfast earlier this year. I’ve no recollection of them from my childhood so I assume it’s a relatively recent traybake invention. The traybakes of my day revolved around chocolate, rice krispies, cornflakes and golden syrup but maybe kids tastes nowadays are more demanding 😉

  9. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    David: it might be because Fifteens are quite a church going Prod thing. Going to Guides at a Presbyterian church introoduced me to them. We preferred the rice krispie option because they had chocolate in, but now I realise the Fifteen is a national treasure (even if other Norn Irish folk have never heard of them!)

  10. Kirsty
    Kirsty says:

    You have quite literally SAVED MY BACON! The hubby and I have agreed that he will make dinner on Valentines and I will make dessert… I chose for him to make lasagne, chips and garlic bread… not a master-chef dish by any means, especially considering my mum has already made the lasagne and dropped it round last night! But of course when he chose what I was to make for dessert it had to be his favourite bun, only in cheesecake form… fifteens cheesecake… WTF was my first thought… but not one to be shown up I said it was “no problemo matey” and secretly hurried on to google!
    Mega thanks from one Norn Irish girl to another!!

  11. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Kirsty: how did it go? Hope it worked well for you both! Love that the cheesecake cupid visited your house!

  12. Kirsty
    Kirsty says:

    Well couldn’t find the glace cherries in my local shop so opted for mini Rolos as a substitute! It was brilliant!!!! Was super easy and I will definitely be making it again!

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