Friends + Cheesecake

Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was “prepared” for Malawi before I came, a lot of things here have turned out to be more or less as I imagined them.  One major aspect of my Malawi life that I didn’t anticipate, however, is the degree to which my cultural experience here would be enriched – by other expats.  Since I live in the capital, there’s a fairly significant expat population; I count Canadians, Irish, Finnish, Swedish, Germans, South Africans, English, Americans, French, Dutch, and Italians among my friends.   I’ve heard all about the South African election and learned that the right-most political party in the Netherlands is still left of the US Democrats.   (Hey, I was a government major, after all.)  I now know a handful of German words that are probably completely useless outside my handful of German friends.  I have become familiar with South African braai culture.  (It involves lots of meat.)

Though the expat population is large, it is also transient.  My next few months here will be filled with going away parties, to the extent that I’m not sure there will be many people left to attend mine!  Last night, a few friends and I headed to Chameleon’s, a popular expat hangout, to celebrate my friend Anna’s last day of work.  She’ll be bumming around Malawi for another month before heading back to Canada and real life, so it wasn’ t exactly a goodbye party – but it WAS an excellent opportunity to test out my latest culinary experiment.

And that experiment was:  cheesecake.  Yes, I can hear your commentary from here.  “But Amy, I thought there weren’t good dairy products in Malawi, let alone cheese!”  This is mostly correct, but my ambition often outweighs my ability (and, perhaps, common sense).

While cream cheese is both expensive and hard to find here, local dairies manufacture a product called Chambiko which is, as far as I can tell, some sort of fermented milk product.  It comes in baggies, just like fresh milk, and can be had for a mere 90 kwacha a 500 mL bag.  It’s a mix of liquidy and chunky – like a very thin yogurt, I suppose.  As I have learned, Chambiko is a versatile product:  it can be used to make paneer, as a substitute for sour cream, and yes, even cream cheese.  Since I used Chambiko “cream cheese” to frost cinnamon rolls with relative success, I decided it was time to step up my game:  Chambiko cheesecake.

My efforts were slightly hampered by the fact that I don’t have a springform pan, and more importantly, that I’ve never actually made cheesecake before.  But, as I said, desire outweighs ability, and so I set off, armed with a recipe for mini-cheesecakes.

Here’s the original recipe, courtesy of my aunt Donna, via my mom’s email:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Place 12 whole vanilla wafers in the bottom of FOIL cupcake liners in muffin tins.
Mix together:  2 eight-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
Beat well.  Pour over cookies in liners.  Bake 25 minutes at 325 degrees.  Chill.  Top with desired topping–pie filling, chocolate, etc.
(Depending on the size of the muffin cups, it might make more than 12.)

First, I purchased 3 baggies of Chambiko, and strained them in a cheesecloth overnight.  (If you’re trying this at home – though I can’t imagine that you are – the Suncrest Dairy Chambiko worked better than the Lilongwe Dairy kind, which had too much liquid.)  In the morning, what was liquidy slop will be magically transformed into a semi-solid mass.  (I threw away the drained liquid, which is a pretty unappealing shade of yellow.  I imagine you could use it somehow, though.)  It turns out that 3 baggies was a good volume estimate, because with the liquid drained, I was left with about 16 oz of Chambiko solids.

From there, the process was pretty straightforward.  Because my vanilla wafer substitutes  (Hav Sum Moors) are  bland, I turned them into a graham cracker crust instead.  (Because really, you know that the addition of margarine and sugar makes everything more delicious.)  I used the back of a spoon to press the crust into each of the muffin liners.  Then I mixed up my “cheesecake” batter.  I increased the amount of sugar from what the recipe called for, and while some increase was needed, I may have gone a bit overboard.   I was also pretty liberal with my “teaspoon” of vanilla.  I had to increase the baking time by about 10 minutes; I think Chambiko is a little more liquidy than actual cream cheese.  Still, they turned out looking surprisingly like cheesecake.

And here’s the real kicker:  they tasted okay!  I showed up at Chameleon’s with a mom bag in tow:  cheesecake, hot fudge, strawberry jam, plus plates and spoons for everyone.  I commented that they didn’t really taste like cheesecake, and one of my food snob friends turned to me and said, “Amy.  Have you TASTED cheesecake in sub-Saharan Africa?  This is amazing.”  But then, doesn’t (homemade) hot fudge make everything edible?

I forgot to take a photo until after several were eaten

I forgot to take a photo until several had been eaten.

My Malawian Chambiko cheesecake recipe turned out to be something like this:

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C.
Line muffin tin with cupcake liners (paper worked okay).
Place graham cracker crust (1 c. graham cracker crumbs + ~4 Tbls butter + powdered sugar) in each cupcake liner.
Strain overnight:  3 – 500 mL packages of Chambiko
Mix together:  Chambiko solids (~2 cups)
3/4 cup sugar (I used 1 cup, but that was too much)
1 tsp. vanilla (or more)
2 eggs (I didn’t change this!)

Beat well.  Pour over crusts in liners.  Bake 35 minutes at 175 degrees.  Chill.  Top with desired topping–pie filling, chocolate, etc.

And, the hot fudge recipe, which I only had to modify slightly:

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2cups white sugar
6 oz. evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Combine butter, cocoa, sugar and evaporated milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and boil for 7 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.

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    3 Responses to “Friends + Cheesecake”

    1. Karen Says:

      Aren’t you glad to have had the example that recipes can be guides?

    2. amyinmalawi Says:

      Yes, I actually considered giving you a shout out: “Thanks to my mother, who has never followed a recipe in her life…”

    3. Rachel Says:

      They don’t look all that bad considering you were missing cream cheese. I made cheesecake once back here in the States and let me tell you–it is an expensive dish. I think I spent $15 just making 1 cheesecake when I could have bought it already made for the same price.

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