There are just some desserts that are iconic to a certain place. Maybe it’s the huge cinnamon rolls from Cup & Saucer, the macarons from PariSco, or Crown Bakery’s doughnuts that have become house-hold names. (If you’re not from Guam and have no clue what I’m talking about, then my bad). For me, one of the biggest ones on this list is the Taro Cheesecake from Proa. Everyone on Guam knows about it and has had a slice- myself included. I’ve had the famous cheesecake for numerous birthdays and it’s always a must whenever we find ourselves at the restaurant. I came across a copycat recipe from Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen. Annie is a Chamorro home cook who’s built up an amazing collection of local and authentic recipes- one of which is the Taro Cheesecake (or Ube as she calls it) from Proa which she had while visiting. In reading through it, I found that the famed dessert wasn’t too difficult to make, so I wanted to see if I could recreate this for myself.
I guess we should talk about the big debate: ube vs. taro. Now I’m no expert in root vegetables, but from my research, I found that there are differences between the two with ube being more flavorful and brighter in color. For purposes of this recipe, I’m going to treat them as one in the same. Proa calls theirs “Taro Cheesecake” but Annie (& I) use ube (so don’t sue me). Annie starts off her cheesecake by cooking whole potatoes and then mashing them herself. While they are available here, I opted for the frozen grated ube I found in the freezer section of my grocery store because it’s convenient and frankly I doubt anyone can taste the difference. I defrosted the ube and then placed it into a steamer basket over simmering water for 20 minutes. As that cools, you go on making the simple graham cracker crust and letting that cool before adding in your filling. Annie’s cheesecake filling is a pretty basic recipe with cream cheese, sugar, eggs and cream. The main key to cheesecake is to keep your mixer on low so to not incorporate too much air which can cause your cheesecake to crack. (See my Basque Burnt Cheesecake post if you can’t be bothered with all that). I ended up adding some gel coloring to get that deep purple color to match Proa’s. The batter is then poured into the cooled crust and baked in a water bath for about 90 minutes. I’ve had trouble with water baths and springform pans, so unless you wrap it really well in foil, you may want to simply place a pan of water underneath to create steam. I then turn the oven off and leave the door ajar to slowly cool it down before chilling.
If you’ve made cheesecake before, you’ll know it’s a labor of love. The finicky cake requires a lot of attention- being cooked in a water bath and then left in a slightly open oven once down to slowly bring down the temperature. The sudden change in temperature could cause the cheesecake to crack- which thankfully mine did not. Even after it’s completely brought to room temperature, it then takes a chill in the fridge for anywhere from 6 hours to overnight- which seems like light years after all the work you’ve put into it. I will say that it’s worth it. That first bite was so reminiscent of Proa’s version- with that sweet ubo flavor. Even though I used ube, the taste was exactly the same as Proa’s which uses taro. I even broke out my kitchen torch and brûlée’d the top for that classic look. Proa torches the entire cheesecake, but I find that it makes for messy slices. If burnt sugar is your thing, then I suggest torching the slices individually. The only real difference in flavor is that Proa uses an Oreo base rather than graham crackers- but the exclusion of chocolate really helped the taro shine in my opinion. So is it worth all the work of going through those cheesecake hoops and steaming your own taro? I guess that’s up to you. For me- a guy who enjoys that sort of thing and couldn’t be bothered to drive to Tumon- I’d say it was worth it. Proa’s still remains king, but now I can have Taro Cheesecake whenever I want.
Full Recipe | Method by Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen