Sweet dreams are made of these
By Marifi Jara
IN creative writing class back in college, my teacher, the late Doreen Fernandez, would choose one of the best essays submitted the previous week and read it out loud for a group critique. The writer’s identity would not be revealed until the end of the discussion – to avoid biases amongst friends, or enemies, within the class. After the comments have been exhausted, the author would then be given the chance to answer the questions raised, acknowledge or defend criticisms, and take a gracious bow to the praises. It was a great exercise in listening, humility, and open-mindedness.
My essay that was read out was titled “Of mangoes, crabs, and summer dreams…”, which was the piece I wrote that entire semester with the most joy and passion. It was about my childhood holidays spent at my grandparents in San Fabian, which were always delightful and full of adventure – mornings spent at the beach, climbing guava trees, picking siniguelas, balimbing and other fruits, listening to stories of tikbalangs and other dark creatures, saying bari-bari when wandering in unfamiliar spots, especially if there is an anthill (which we kids believed to be the home of naughty elves), gorging on seafood, and savouring the sweetest of mangoes.
Wherever I went later on in life, eating mangoes would always prompt in me thoughts of those wonderful days and those mangoes of my childhood have become an unequalled standard.
Now one of the desserts that has become one of my all-time favourites is mango-cream-graham cake. I’ve seen it varyingly labelled in the menu of different restaurants — mango float, mango cake, mango royale, mango delight; I would like to call it my “sweet mango dream”. And I like it best when I make it myself at home. It is easy – no slaving with a rolling pin or intense mixing required, or getting anxiety over undercooking with an under-heated oven or getting it burned in a too-hot oven because it’s a refrigerator cake! And I recommend it as a cheaper alternative, not to mention more local in flavour, to the traditional fruit salad that is served during Filipino celebrations, just like this season.
250 milliliters (ml) all-purpose cream
125 ml condensed milk (use more if you prefer it sweeter, up to 1:1 ratio with cream)
100 grams of graham crackers (I’ve tasted a version using ground graham/graham crumbs, just like in cheesecakes, but no need to complicate your kitchen life when the easier basic recipe comes out just as yummy)
2 medium-sized mangoes (the carabao mango variety is best and no need to be sweet – the condensed milk will compensate – and can even use the good portions of overripe mangoes)
These are basic proportions good for an 8”x8” baking pan, which would make 8 sensible servings – 6 for the slightest greedy sweet-tooths.
Mix well the cream and condensed milk in a bowl (better yet a saucepan or a pitcher — the spout will make for easier pouring later).
Chop up the mango meat into small bits (make sure you save and include the juice that oozes out during chopping)
In a square or rectangular container (a baking pan, a plastic container, or even a ceramic dish will do), arrange two layers of graham crackers at the bottom.
Pour some of the cream-milk mixture over the base, just enough to fully cover the crackers.
Spread out half of the chopped mango on top of the creamed crackers.
Arrange another two layers of the crackers on top of the mango, pour the rest of the cream-milk mixture and top up with another layer of mangoes (you can decorate the top with mango slices shaped like new moon to make it look prettier and also helps define where to cut for every slice later)
Cover with either aluminum foil, cling-wrap, or the actual cover of the container you used and put in the refrigerator.
Leave it there for at least 24 hours before eating (a good lesson in patience and self-restraint), by then the crackers have fully soaked up the cream and the mango juice, giving your cake a delightful soft consistency.
Here’s to a sweet 2012 ahead of us. Let’s keep dreaming, believing and working for those dreams.
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