Thursday, July 25, 2024

Mango madness: It’s time to make the ultimate cheesecake

Know from the start that I am both a mango and a cheesecake fan. Mango-love goes without saying; as for cheesecake, I’ve made many different styles, from New York to Japanese, and I love them all. But never a mango cheesecake.

This recipe calls for blending mangoes into the filling, resulting in a beautifully colored, softly flavored, totally delicious dessert. Other versions have a layer of mango gel on top, or just sliced mangoes as a garnish, or are “no-bake” recipes. Pshaw! This is the way to go.

Cheesecake depends as much on its ingredients as the cooking method and timing to be successful; I encourage you to follow directions to the tee. Have all your ingredients and equipment laid out and ready to go before you start. There are not that many steps, but they are specific and detailed. If you don’t set up your mise en place first, you will hate me, this recipe and the whole idea of ever making cheesecake yourself.

Do you need a springform pan? Well, there’s something undeniably elegant about a tall, stately, cream-colored cheesecake, brought to the table anchored by the thinnest layer of brown cookie crust. So sure, you can use a regular cake pan, but it won’t be as tall and you won’t be able to unmold it; you’ll have to just cut and serve slices right out of the pan. Whatever pan you use, though, you must still bake it in a water bath to get the texture you’re looking for.

It's hard to go wrong with a fresh, ripe mango.
Juicy, ripe mangoes make a flavorful purée that perfectly balances the smooth creaminess of the cheesecake.

Cheesecake acts like a custard — all eggs and dairy, no flour or leavening — so it must be baked slow and steady at a low, even heat. That’s where the water bath (a bain marie) comes in. No matter what temperature the oven is, the water will never get hotter than 100 C (212 F); without this moist heat, your cheesecake will get rubbery, curdle or overbake. (Take note: Another reason for a rubbery texture is overmixing the batter.) A deep roasting or lasagna pan will work; just check to be sure your springform pan will fit inside.

As far as the crust, I can’t find actual graham crackers anywhere here and hate the artificial taste of most other plain cookies (like Galletas Marías). I prefer Gamesa-brand “Classicas Ricanelas” (a not-too-sweet cinnamon cookie) or their “Barras de Coco.” If you can find a pre-made graham cracker crust in your local big-box store — lucky you! Whatever you use, it’s really not that important. The filling is what we’re after and the crust is simply a vehicle to give it a bit more structure on its way from fork to mouth. Do use Philadelphia brand cream cheese (or make your own). I’ve adjusted the amount in the recipe to allow for the package size in Mexico.

If you’re new to cheesecake-baking, most recipes say to take it out of the oven when it’s set but still a bit wobbly in the middle, meaning if you shake the pan, a two-inch circle in the center of the cheesecake should wiggle. Believe this! The filling will continue to cook a little as it cools. Cook longer and it will be tasty but dry. (A knife inserted in the center won’t work; this isn’t a cake.) You’ll notice the filling pulled away slightly from the edges of the pan and the surface of the cheesecake will no longer be shiny. A cheesecake that’s done will give a little but feel firm if you touch it gently with your finger. Finally, if you have a food thermometer, check the temperature in the center of the cheesecake: if it’s done, it will be 66 C (150 F).

Mango Cheesecake

  • 8 oz. (two 113-gram packages) cookies (see above)
  • ½ cup butter, softened and cut into pieces
  • 2 cups fresh mango purée (unsweetened)
  • Three 180-gram packages + ½ cup Philadelphia cream cheese, softened (1.5 lbs. total)
  • ½ to 1 cup white sugar, as desired
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Juice of 1 small lime
  • Optional: Unsweetened shredded coconut, mango slices for garnish

In a blender, purée mangos; set aside. Heat oven to 165 C ( 325 F).

Dump cookies into a food processor or blender. Process until almost fine crumbs. Add butter and continue processing until mixture clumps together like damp sand. (Push mixture down from sides with a spatula if necessary.) Dump mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly into bottom and up sides. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Place springform pan on two pieces of foil (heavy-duty if possible) laid out in a cross. Crimp edges up around sides of pan to make a waterproof nest. (If using a regular cake pan, no need for the foil.) Place foil-covered pan in the roasting pan. Set aside. In a large pot, bring to a boil enough water to half-fill a deep roasting pan.

Unbaked cheesecake in an aluminum foil "nest"
Ready to bake! Aluminum foil “nest” protects the cheesecake from the water bath. Janet Blaser

In food processor, blender or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, place mango purée; add all of the cream cheese and process till smooth. Add sugar, and with motor running, add eggs one at a time. Add lime juice and vanilla. Process until thoroughly blended. Don’t overmix!

Pour or scrape filling into pan; if you like, decorate the top with unsweetened shredded coconut. Carefully pour boiling water into the roasting pan to come about halfway up sides of cake pan and place on center rack in the pre-heated oven. This is tricky! You may want to fill it part way, put the pans in the oven, and then pour in more hot water a cup at a time until the desired level is reached.

Bake until filling is set and wobbles slightly in the center, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. (See tips above.) If needed, bake longer in 5-minute intervals. Remove from water bath. Discard foil and cool on a cooling rack. When completely cool, 1-2 hours, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, resisting the urge to eat it immediately.

To serve, carefully remove from pan and place on a platter before slicing with a knife dipped in hot water. Garnish each slice with a thin wedge of mango.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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