Agar agar strawberry cheesecake

(A very late) Ramadaan Mubarak!

After the permissibility of gelatine was questioned by the local Ulema, I’ve had a niggling doubt about its ‘halaalness’. It appears that gelatine has turned into the nail polish of the food world. Some say it’s halaal – while others like SANHA say it’s completely forbidden. Then again, with some debatable practices, SANHA itself is not exactly a paragon of virtue – which leaves us back at square one: confused.

Do I still eat marshmallows? Definitely. Do I still have soft jelly sweets and Clover Sour Cream and Vital capsules? Definitely. But lately I’ve decided to start cutting back on the gelatine in my baking. Appeasing the conscience? Definitely.

Enter agar agar. Made from dried seaweed, it’s a fine off-white powder that’s also known as China grass powder – or falooda powder. It’s been used in Asian countries as a gelatine substitute for years.

The problem with agar agar, however, is that there’s a limited amount of information about how to use it. Substituting gelatine with agar agar is tricky. Too little and it doesn’t set. Too much and it becomes a solid chunk of dessert (it’s nasty, trust me). It also needs to reach boiling point to be ‘activated’.

So after some trial and error, lots of anxiety, and buckets of prayers, I present to you the airy agar-agar cheesecake.

Try making this for Eid – it offers a break from the really rich, chocolate-y things on display on the Eid table.

20140703_151839 pnkeh


Adapted from The Diplomatic Wife and My Mom Friday

Makes one 20cm cheesecake


For the agar agar gel

2 ¼ teaspoons agar agar powder

6 tablespoons cold water

For the fresh strawberry puree

220g hulled and chopped ripe strawberries

2 tablespoons water

For the base

90g butter, melted

200g Nuttikrust biscuits

1 tablespoon sugar

For the cheesecake batter

250g cream cheese, left outside the fridge for an hour

1 cup whipping cream

¾ cup sugar (if you like your cheesecakes very sweet, bump it up to 1 cup. I used brown sugar because we don’t usually keep white sugar.)



  1. Mix the agar agar with the 6 tablespoons of water. Set aside while you prepare the base.
  2. Crush the biscuits and mix with melted butter and sugar. Press into a well-greased 20cm springform pan and place in the freezer.
  3. Place the sliced strawberries in a saucepan together with the 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the strawberries using a stick blender.
  4. In a clean small saucepan over moderate heat, bring the agar mixture to a simmer. Once it starts thickening, whisk until it forms a thick translucent gel. Whisk this gel into the saucepan of strawberry puree. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for about 30 seconds. Set aside to cool.
  5. On low speed, beat together the cream cheese and the sugar until combined, not dissolved.
  6. Beat the whipping cream until it forms firm, not stiff, peaks. Whisk the cream into the cream cheese mixture, one third at a time. The mixture will be quite stiff.
  7. Finally, whisk the now-just-warm strawberries into the cream/cream cheese mixture. Whisk it into the mixture in thirds (as always) – after the first addition, work quickly. Pour it on to the cold biscuit base. Level the surface.
  8. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours. This cheesecake is best enjoyed after at least a day, when the strawberry flavour has had time to meld with the cream cheese.

Like this recipe? Try this flop-proof ice cream – made without an ice cream maker.


4 thoughts on “Agar agar strawberry cheesecake

  1. Hi There, wow! A nice airy cheesecake is definitely ideal for me. How wonderful that agar agar is there to substitute for gelatine to make these desserts halaal. You are right though, it is very tricky indeed. Great job! It looks delicious!

    1. Hi! If it wasn’t for you – or that great PETA link you posted – I would have found this really difficult. Thank you 🙂 I look forward to reading more of your exploits in Berlin (and wherever you’re off to next!)

  2. Interesting you mention the whole idea of gelatine being halal or not.
    Here (Aus) they sell “halal gelatine” which I presume comes from animals which have been slaughtered in the halal manner.
    They also recently introduced a product called “jel-it-in” which is a gelitine produced from plants, and this of course is halal 🙂
    To be honest I use the “halal gelatine” powder here for my desserts and I also go by the opinion of any animal byproduct used to become gelatine is okay (except for pig). All the best with your future agar trials 🙂

    1. Ah thank you 🙂 Jel-it-in sounds like the perfect solution to the gelatine conundrum 😮 Another option is fish gelatine – I first learnt of its use through a kosher patisserie up in Johannesburg. It isn’t commercially available in SA however … So until then (or until jel-it-in makes an appearance here), more agar agar experimentation awaits!

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! x

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