April’s Daring Bakers challenge was a cheesecake recipe, the challenge of which involved taking a basic recipe and being creative with it. While I’m not a big fan of cheesecake, I took this as an opportunity to try out some techniques I’ve learned or read about recently (though they’re hardly novel and have been used for some years). Ultimately, I created a Coconut Kaffir Lime Cheesecake with Cashew Ginger Crust, and Mango-Blood Orange pearls. The white “sauce” is coconut foam.
When I visited Thailand several years ago, I became enamored with kaffir lime leaves. It’s often used in curries and the delightful Tom Kha Gai soup (coconut lemongrass chicken soup). I finally received a baby kaffir lime tree last year as a birthday gift, which I’ve been nursing since. After the dormancy of winter, I’m quite thrilled with how much it’s been growing. Generally, the leaves are not eaten, but rather torn and used in soups or curries, similar to the function of bay leaves. However, it is more easily ingested when finely chiffonaded.
Instead of a traditional fruit sauce topping or glaze, I tried my hand at making fruit pearls or spheres, which originated several years ago in El Bulli restaurant in Spain. The spheres are often made with sodium alginate or calcium chloride, but not wanting to use such ingredients (not did I have access to them), I used a recipe using agar agar (seaweed-based gelling ingredient) from a recent class with Michael Laiskonis as a basis, omitting the locust bean gum. I basically cooked the juice of one mango and and one blood orange with some sugar (I read that certain fruits such as mangoes, due to their high acidity level will not set with agar agar, but coooking them might change their enzymes and alter their ability to gel). I thought the juice needed a little more kick so I also added some from half a lemon. I had to experiment with the amount of agar agar I used, but I ended up using just over a teaspoon of powder, which needs to be dissolved by boiling in water for several minutes. This juice-agar mixture was poured into a squeeze bottle and “dropped” into a container of very cold canola oil. In class, we used a large square bucket-like container and the type of container you use will be a determining factor in the success. This part is somewhat trickier than it would sound, because the spheres can fall to the bottom and puddle, or flatten when they reach the bottom of the container, (which happened to some of my pearls). Then you strain the pearls and rinse under cold water.
The cheesecake itself is flavored with coconut extract and coconut flakes and infused the whipping cream with kaffir lime leaves. I also decided upon a cashew ginger crust using ground cashews and crystallized ginger from the book In the Sweet Kitchen. I also tried foaming, a technique made infamous (and not necessarily in a good way) by the contestant Marcel from Top Chef. It is easy to make foam (depending on the liquid-some will not foam) using an immersion blender. You just need to ensure the blade is not entirely immersed in the liquid, but rather at an angle.
Thank you to this month’s host, Jenny.