Gluts of fresh food, either straight from the tree or from the mountain in the freezer, are always inspirational when it comes to planning a meal for entertaining. On this occasion, for a Sunday lunch with neighbors, I wanted to use up some of our guavas in a dessert. We have bags of them in the freezer, which so far I have used for jelly and cordial. Sometimes we also eat them stewed for breakfast, drenched in cream.
As so often happens here, my choice of dessert is also influenced by the ingredients I have available to me at the time. Having recently traveled up to the capital, Lusaka, I had cream cheese and Greek yogurt in my fridge — hoorah! — therefore a cheesecake was a no-brainer. I thought up this gluten-free guava cheesecake after reading about a similar dessert in The Noshery.
Guavas aren’t native to southern Africa, although they grow and produce like they own the place. They are so abundant in their fruit that at times, before my arrival, Chris was tempted to uproot the lot. The birds are addicted to guavas and, as he discovered, so are many pests. But I’ve persuaded him to leave them be for now, not only to satisfy our feathered friends, but also to satisfy me. I’m addicted, too.
I’ve read that guavas were the favorite food of the Incas and the Aztecs in central and south America, which is where the tree is indigenous. And records in the United States show that Seminole Indians were growing guavas in northern Florida in 1816. It is from the New World that guava trees were transported to Europe, and the Portuguese were responsible for eventually introducing them to southern Africa. They came via Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, and the Western Cape via Madeira during the late 19th century.
Chris’s trees, here in the Zambezi Valley, are the fecund descendants of those intrepid travelers.
Gluten-free Guava Cheesecake – adapted from The Noshery.
Yield: 10 servings
- about 12 guavas
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 2 cups pecan nuts
- 1 cup dates
- 1/2 cup coconut chips
- good pinch of salt
- 336 grams/12 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 whole eggs
- 2 egg whites
- pinch of salt
- Defrost the guavas, peel, cut in half, and remove all the pips. (If you are using fresh guavas they will be firmer and easier to handle.)
- Mix in the sugar, lemon juice, and half-a-cup of water with the guava shells and juice in a heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring regularly until the sugar has melted. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer the guavas for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from the heat, cool, and then blend the guava mixture into a purée. Set aside in the refrigerator to cool completely.
- While the guavas are simmering, preheat the oven to 190/375 degrees. Completely enclose the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with three layers of tin foil, ensuring there’s no way water can seep in while baking in a hot oven. Grease the inside of the pan.
- Place all the ingredients for the cheesecake’s base into a blender, or food processor, and pulse until finely crumbed. (I do this in batches because the dates are sticky and tend to clog up the blade.)
- Spoon the mixture into the springform pan and, using your fist, press it down into the bottom and up the sides a little, to form a compacted crust. Bake in the oven until golden, about 10 minutes, and then cool in the refrigerator while making the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 170/325 degrees.
- Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites — it assists with breaking the egg white down to allow the air in — and beat until soft peaks form. Set aside.
- In a large bowl combine the cream cheese with the sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla, and then the whole eggs, one at a time, making sure you end up with a mixture that is pale, smooth and creamy. Gently fold the egg whites into the creamy mixture with a large metal spoon, and pour over the crust.
- Fill a piping bag with the guava purée (or snip a corner off a plastic bag if you don’t own a piping bag; it works just as well). Pipe evenly spaced lines of guava purée up and down the creamy filling, and around the edge. Using a skewer, or sharp knife, pull down the purée in a perpendicular line to create a wave effect.
- Pour two inches of boiling water into a roasting pan in which you carefully place the cheesecake in its foil-covered springform pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until center of the cheesecake hardly moves. Turn off the oven, and allow the cheesecake to cool inside for 30 minutes. Remove and run a knife around the outside edge of the cheesecake immediately. Cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill (I usually make mine the day before).