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It may have been the '80s entertaining scene or remnants from my mother's childhood, but I remember in candid detail some rather outré desserts being served at parties at home. "Merengón" was a popular one—the large version of Floating Islands, filled with some tropical fruit-based sorbet, as was Baked Alaska, and other icebox cakes that looked exotic and kitschy. For some reason, most of these recollections take on a fading yellowish hue in my mind, like old photos in an album.
My meringue and chilled dessert-filled youth fuel much of my inspiration for desserts. So when they turn out deliciously and evoke one of those parties of way-back-when, I feel satisfied in body and spirit. This is just one of those cakes.
Despite having ample records of recipes used across various generations of my family, these icebox cakes seem to have been whipped up with no written guidance, which is how I decided to approach this mango version. The idea was to make an airy, creamy dessert with a good dose of tropical freshness, provided by mango.
Semifreddo (literally "half-cold") is one of my go-to desserts, especially when it's being served after a heavy meal, so I began with the first step: make an Italian meringue (sugar syrup is beaten into egg whites until glossy peaks form). To that base I added pureed mango and diced pieces of fruit. Mascarpone cheese adds velvety richness to the texture, as well as a tartness that balances out the flavors and complements the mango. There is a bit of condensed milk for sweetness and that Latin American accent, as well as cardamom and lime juice for an unexpected twist.
There are layers of spongy savoiardi—Italian ladyfingers—that absorb the meringue and acquire a cake-like texture. The ring also works to keep the cake together. Mango strips are rolled into rosettes as a finishing touch. Once cut into, this dessert is creamy and, admittedly, a bit of a mess. But no one will mind, I assure you.