When Peabody announced the theme for Hay Hay it's Donna Day #10 would be cheesecake, the question in my mind wasn't *whether* I'd participate, but what I would choose to contribute. Cheesecake, after all, is a beautifully blank canvas, upon which many a masterpiece can be constructed. It can also be temperamental -- as eager in its punishment as it is in reward -- as all of us who've pulled a soupy cake out of the oven or cut into a dry cracked over-baked one can attest.
And with *Peabody* hosting no ordinary cheesecake would suffice; it *had* to be something special. We sort of have a shared cheesecake history. That is, her sinful concoction was one of the best desserts that's ever emerged from my oven, and the hit of our holiday party.
I digress, but you get the point. The pressure was on, even if it was only self-inflicted pressure.
So what would it be?
Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake feels more than a bit like plagiarism...
I eyeballed the box of Thin Mints in my pantry and briefly considered a Girl Scout inspired creation. And then she posted this. Damn. Back to the drawing board.
A hectic weekend had me pondering an alcohol-infused confection. Margarita? Amaretto? Frangelico? Probably not a good idea for a cake destined for an office celebration.
In the end, I used the bounty from my CSA box as my inspiration. A Mango Tango it would be.
Now that I had the what, the next step was to determine the how. The key was a good solid cheesecake 'architecture' upon which I'd be comfortable improvising a bit without fear of crashing completely. So I reached for Alton Brown. Or more accurately, his treatise on baking: I'm Just Here for More Food. There, on pages 313-317, he explains the how's and why's of a simple sweet cheesecake in painstaking detail.
I started with the crust. Pulsed a sleeve of Girl Scout Trefoil cookies (I'm out of graham crackers and didn't want to make another trip to the store) in the food processor until I had crumbs. Added about half a cube of chilled butter, cut into squares and pulsed until I had a course meal. Added a handful of shredded coconut for that tropical feel and pulsed a bit more. Turned the mixture out into a prepared spring form pan and patted the crust along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Blind baked at 300 for about 10 minutes.
Next, my ad-hoc, quick variation on a chunky mango chutney. I peeled and sliced three of the freshest, juiciest, sweetest organic mangoes I've ever worked with. Melted butter in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan. Tossed in the mangoes and 1/8 cup of sugar I actually measured this -- I wanted the sauce the sugar would provide, but the mangoes were sweet and I didn't want to overdo it. Added the zest and juice of a lime, a teaspoon or so of grated ginger, the contents of a vanilla bean and three or four grates of nutmeg. I sauteed this for about 15 minutes while I started unwrapping packets of cream cheese.
I followed Mr. Brown's basic cheesecake recipe pretty closely. Beat 24 ounces of cream cheese and a half cup of sugar within an inch of it's life with the trusty Kitchen Aid. In a separate bowl with the hand mixer, I mixed 2 whole eggs, 3 egg yolks, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon coconut extract, 5 oz sweetened condensed milk (AB insists that weighing this is the only way to ensure the correct amount) and 1 cup of sour cream. I then slowly integrated this mixture into the cream cheese. The result of which is a VERY soupy batter.
I left the cream cheese mixture momentarily to spread half of my cooled mango chutney across the prepared crust. I pulled out the blender and whipped the second half of the mango mixture into a baby food-like consistency. (part of baking is creating at least three sinks full of dishes). Mixed the mango puree with about a third of the cheesecake batter in the bowl I'd used for the egg/milk combination. Poured the batters into the cake pan in thirds: 1/3 plain, 1/3 mango, 1/3 plain, swirling the batters together to create what I hope will be a pretty pattern.
Finally, I employed the Alton Brown "slow and steady" method of baking a cheesecake: 1 hour in a water bath at 250 F. Without opening, touching, or even *looking* at the oven door. Followed by 1 minute with the oven off, oven door open. Followed by another hour in the oven with whatever residual heat remains. Again, without even breathing in the proximity of the oven door. Followed by one hour cooling on the counter. Followed by 3 to 6 hours in the refrigerator.
Forty-eight hours later... Wow. It's out of the pan, and it's... wow. I understand why AB remands cheesecake to the custard section of his book, and I'm a convert to his method of baking it. The result is not the raw cream cheese & mango soup I was afraid it would be, but rather a delicious burst of spring: a rich, luscious mouth-feel that's indulgent without being overwhelming followed by the warm tropical sweetness only mango provides. I'm generally pretty humble about the products of my kitchen, but I'd be honored to serve this to Peabody, Mr. Brown or Ms Hay.
If you're a mango fan, I urge you to try this one. Run, don't walk to the grocery store for whatever ingredients aren't already in your pantry. Pick up an extra sponge (you'll be washing lots of dishes) and paperback for the "inactive" time. You won't be disappointed...
Technorati Tags: Hay Hay, it's Donna Day | Food Blog Events | Dessert | Cheesecake