coconut cheesecake. cashew ginger crust. pearls.

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
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.

36 Responses to “coconut cheesecake. cashew ginger crust. pearls.”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    I think the Mango-Blood Orange pearls demonstrate some really brilliant technique…I’m excited to try this out.

  2. Lisa Says:

    WOW! Very, very shi-shi, fancy! I’ve seen those little “fruit balls” before and am totally fascinated… Beautiful job.

  3. mahima Says:

    Love the pearls! would love to try but sonds difficult!!
    also .. great job on the flavour! pretty unusual!

  4. Elissa Says:

    Cashew and ginger is a great combination. I especially like those “pearls” – really original!

  5. Rosa Says:

    What a gorgeous creation! Very pretty! I love kaffir lime leaves…



  6. Zita Says:

    Coconut mouse and fruit jel… mmm… somethings intrestingly have to try… love reading your post!

  7. Amy Says:

    That looks gorgeous. I’ve never seen those little balls before. It looked similar to caviar! Would love to try it, but don’t know if I would have the patience.

  8. vibi Says:

    Very elegant presentation… a total makeover of the classic cheesacake or, how to dress up for a classy event! lol


  9. leanne Says:

    I am definitely going to try the pearls– no idea what for, but I’ll find a way. There’s something about them that’s just fun, yet really elegant looking. Great idea, and your combination is really tasty-sounding.

  10. Suzana Says:

    Looks beautiful, and sounds simply delicious! Well, well done.

  11. Leona Says:

    Thank you for telling me about the pearls. There are so many new tecniques to try out these days. I remember Marcel too. 🙂 Your foam is apropriate for the food. And a lot foamier LOL His was overdone. This cheesecake and your methods are definitely keepers.

  12. Y Says:

    Surely a dish worthy of much applause. I love the combination of flavours, and that crust sounds really tasty! I also love kaffir lime. I used to have a tree just like yours, with spikes. Someone told me it was a ‘male’ plant – not sure how much truth there was to that – which was why it never bore any fruit.

  13. jo Says:

    Great job on your challenge and it looks absolutely divine.

  14. Jenna @ Newlyweds Says:

    Beautiful, I can only imagine how great it tastes.

  15. Lori Says:

    Your cheesecake is amazing. The pearls are so cool. Now I will have to experiment with this idea. I love it. I love the flavors you chose. Bravo.

  16. Lisa Says:

    Not only is your cheesecake gorgeous with yummy flavors (HUGE fan of Kafir Lime Leaves too), and the presentation marvelous, but i LOVE how you went molecular with this challenge! Those pearls are amazing! Great job in all aspects 🙂

  17. anna Says:

    That looks so good! I’d love to learn how to make pearls like that; it’s nice to know that it’s possible to do without a mess of chemicals.

  18. Kitchen M Says:

    Very cool!

  19. Laura Says:

    I love kaffir lime leaves too, what a great idea!

  20. Angela Says:

    What a beautiful cheesecake! I love the flavours you chose and the pearls are just gorgeous! Very delicate and translucent. I’ll have to try the technique when I figure out where to buy a syringe from.

  21. prettytastycakes Says:

    Claire, yes, infamous has a negative connotation, as in Marcel was notorious for his over-use of foam in numerous challenges!

  22. Jude Says:

    Very impressed with how you incorporated the kaffir lime leaves in this recipe. So creative!

  23. Dragon Says:

    This is another work of art! Great job on this month’s challenge.

  24. Simone (junglefrog) Says:

    Wow, looking at your photos initially I almost thought you placed caviar on your cheesecake (which, ofcourse, sounded a bit odd) I love your photos and this cheesecake looks divine and beautiful! Very impressive!

  25. MyLastBite Says:

    Gorgeous cake! And I just want to say that I see chef Marcel Vigneron on a regular basis at the Bazaar by Jose Andres (where he works). I really couldn’t stand him on the show (Top Chef), but in person he is an absolute sweetheart! Here is is with my niece and nephew at Easter.

  26. morgana Says:

    Wow!!! Beatiful photo. And delicious cheese cake, for sure.

  27. Phil Says:

    Very well done, and great photography too! I’ve made pearls (or caviar) using alginate and calcic, but never with agar-agar. May I ask why the need for canola oil? Is it simply used to provide a thicker landing zone for the pearls, or does canola oil add to the structure of the pearls in some way? Would this work if you just dropped the pearls into water, or would they flatten?

    Great job!

  28. mlle noelle of simmer down Says:

    WOW! I love how the mango pearls look like caviar. I’m so impressed with everyone’s creativity this month- although my cheesecake tasted great, I’m feeling a little inadequate! 😛

    I’m wondering about the kaffir lime tree- do you need to live in a warm climate to have one? I have only ever been able to find the leaves dried here, and they’re hardly worth using.

  29. prettytastycakes Says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments!

    Phil – I used Michael Laiskonis’ technique to make the pearls. My instinct is that oil is used not only for its viscosity, but also to prevent the pearls from sticking together. And since the pearls are partly comprised of water, my guess is that they may simply disperse in water.

    mlle noelle – No need to feel so! Taste is paramount! As for the kaffir lime tree, I live in NJ and have only had mine for less than a year. So far so good. I took it inside in the winter, but it’s out on the balcony now that it’s warmer.

  30. claire Says:

    That is so pretty! Great job. I’ve never heard of the orange pearls before. Cool! Neat foam as well…FYI, infamous DOES mean famous for a bad/negative/not good reason. 🙂

  31. clumbsycookie Says:

    Those pearls are so cool! I bet the cheesecake besides stunning was delicious!

  32. mary Says:

    Love the presentation. The little orange pearls are gorgeous. They remind me a little bit of caviar! You could probably have some fun “trick” desserts with that one. 🙂

  33. asti Says:

    GENIOUS! please please please can I have the recipe for the pearls =). I have been exposed to desserts with pearls all my life and I’m always curious of how to make one since I hate the flour-ey taste of store bought pearl sago. If I can make my own and flavour it to my taste, that would be wonderful. And it makes a beautiful garnish too.

    Your creation is just out of this world. Very daring indeed =). And I love your flavour combination too. Very oriental.. kafir lime, coconut and mango. Very well done!

  34. prettytastycakes Says:

    asti – in the post, I have written out the steps I took to make the pearls. It was more experimental for me, so no formal recipe.

  35. Zoë François Says:

    this is stunning! I love the pearls. A lovely addition.

  36. JennyBakes Says:

    I love that you took the time to try out new techniques. I think the texture of the little balls would be interesting with a bite of creamy cheesecake.

    Thanks for being a part of this month’s challenge!