OK, so I'm kind of cheating with this one. In that I posted this recipe already, approximately a year ago. But a) I felt it was only fair that it had another moment in the limelight, as it's so damn good, and b) my photography has improved slightly since then, so I wanted to do the cheesecake its full justice by taking half-decent photos of it. Actually, they're kind of odd photos, because I took them al fresco, so the sunlight is doing weird things with shadows and exposure. However, I quite like them because they remind me that today was beautiful and sunny in the afternoon, so I could actually take a cake outside. Had I tried to shoot these photos approximately four hours earlier, the cheesecake would have been swept away by what was pretty much a monsoon, engulfing Cambridge for an hour this morning, soaking me to the skin and forcing me to take refuge in Marks & Spencer. What a hardship.
It's Alphonso mango season at the moment, which basically means my life is perfect and joyful. I've been kidding myself over the past year that my favourite fruit is the pear. Which then changes to the apple every time I bite into a crisp-skinned Pink Lady or a citrussy Cox. Which then changes to the pineapple when I have a really good piece of juicy, sweet, perfectly ripe pineapple, oozing luscious golden juice. Which then changes to the banana, when I eat a really good, tangy underripe banana to give me an energy boost for the gym. Which then changes to the apricot, when I bake them with orange flower water and honey and spoon them in seductive rosy heaps over my morning porridge. Which then changes to the raspberry, now that British ones are in season and offering up their tart juiciness. What can I say? I'm fickle when it comes to fruit.
But suddenly, come June, I realise now that all of this is a lie. Because my absolute favourite fruit, dear readers, is the Alphonso mango. Trust me to pick something exotic, elusive and expensive that is only available for a very tiny window of the year.
I don't want to go into too much detail about these luscious mangoes, because I did so in my last post for this cheesecake. Suffice to say that if you could eat gold , this is probably what it would taste like.
The flesh is buttery, honey-sweet, oozing syrupy orange juice (your fingernails will look like a smoker's for days after eating one of these bad boys). The perfume is heady, whispering of tropical climes, of heaving spice markets, of radiant silks. The feel in your hand is firm, plump, warm, almost alive. Mottled, sun-kissed flesh, hinting coyly at the promise of treasure within.
If you don't believe me, try and track down a box of these specimens before the season ends - they're generally found in Asian markets and groceries. I actually got mine from the Chinese grocery store near where I work; the middle Eastern stores were only selling the Pakistani honey mangoes, which are also fabulous but not quite as wonderful; they're slightly more bland, with creamier, less vibrant flesh. They're still a million times better than any other mangoes from the supermarket, though.
So, get your Alphonso mango. Beg, borrow or steal if you have to. If you think £5-7 for a box is too much, you're an idiot. It's so worth it.
Sniff one, cut it open, and suck the flesh straight from the stone.
Then send me a thank-you via email, for enriching your life.
I've spent a small fortune on these golden globes of gorgeousness so far this month, but to me they're worth every penny. To be fair, they're actually the same price as supermarket mangoes - around £1-1.50 each, but because you don't normally buy supermarket mangoes in batches of five or six it seems more expensive. THIS IS IRRELEVANT. Would you pay seven small pounds to enter HEAVEN? Of course you would. So do it.
You don't want to do much with an Alphonso mango. It's kind of like the early stages of love, the honeymoon period of a relationship. You don't care what you do; you'd be happy just to sit on the sofa all day together, or lie in the park, or generally carry out very little, because it's all about the company of your loved one.
It's the same with an Alphonso mango. You're just so happy it's there, you don't need to do anything to enjoy it any more.
However, should you want to elevate its deliciousness to extreme and sublime heights, try making this unbaked cheesecake. Baking an Alphonso mango is not a good idea; it can only dull that vibrant flesh and flavour. Instead, fold cubes of this startlingly orange treasure into a smooth cream cheese and coconut batter. Enjoy the contrast between the marigold fruit and the snow-white cheese. Set it with gelatine, and fold it luxuriantly over a buttery biscuit base enriched with the heady, citrussy perfume of crushed cardamom pods. Leave to set in the fridge, sprinkle with coconut, and serve.
I repeat, from my last post about this, what one of my friends remarked upon eating it: "This tastes like India".
Actually, given some unsavoury stories about Indian travel that I've heard from gap-yearing friends of mine (the "I saw my first dead body" story particularly springs to mind), perhaps I wouldn't want this cheesecake to taste like the real India. But in that it tastes like all the flavours you could associate, wistfully and longingly, with India and tropical climes - fresh coconut, super-sweet mango, fragrant cardamom - it's a perfect description.
Incidentally, it's even vaguely healthy - apart from the biscuit base (though I did use reduced-fat biscuits and a fraction of the butter traditionally called for in cheesecake recipes). The filling uses Quark, a fat-free cream cheese, and light normal cream cheese. Yes, there's sugar, but in terms of fat it's much better for you than traditional offerings. Plus with all that mango goodness in there, I'm sure it must be one of your five-a-day.
You wouldn't guess it's healthy, though, from the taste. The filling is beautifully creamy, holding its shape yet melting in the mouth. It has a slightly sweet coconut tang which complements the fruity mango - I used coconut essence, which I managed to track down online. It's hard to get hold of, though, so use vanilla if you can't get any, or don't add any essence and instead dissolve the gelatine in the microwaved hot juice of one lime, rather than water. This variation is also delicious; I'm torn between which I prefer.
Either way, this is a perfect summer dessert. It can, of course, be made with normal mangoes from the supermarket, and will still be fabulous - just slightly less heavenly.
This time I made the cake in a 20cm tin rather than an 18cm tin, mainly because that way you get a thinner layer of cheesecake, which means MORE BISCUIT BASE per mouthful. Which is basically the whole point of cheesecake. I also used two mangoes in the cake instead of one, skipping the mango decoration on the top and just finishing with a light sprinkling of coconut.
Mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake (serves 8):
- 10 digestive biscuits (normal or reduced-fat, if you want to make it slightly healthier)
- 50g butter, melted
- 10 cardamom pods, seeds crushed to a powder
- 2 ripe Alphonso mangoes
- 250g Quark
- 150g light cream cheese
- 150g icing sugar
- 1 tsp coconut essence (you can order this on eBay; if you can't find it, leave it out or use vanilla)
- 1 sachet gelatine
- 3 tbsp boiling water
- 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Blitz the biscuits in a food processor and mix with the melted butter and cardamom. Scatter over the base of a greased, lined springform cake tin (18cm or 20cm) and press down with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes until golden and aromatic. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, mix the Quark, cream cheese, icing sugar and coconut essence together with an electric mixer. Peel the mangoes and dice into small cubes.
Place the boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Leave for a couple of minutes to partially dissolve, then stir to dissolve completely - if it hasn't all dissolved, heat in the microwave for a few seconds. Have the electric mixer ready, and pour the gelatine mixture into the cheese mixture. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate, then quickly fold in the diced mango. Pour over the biscuit base and place in the fridge for a few hours to set (I left mine overnight).
When ready to serve, sprinkle with desiccated coconut and finish with mint leaves, if you like.