This No-Bake Taho Cheesecake recipe translates the Pinoy favorite so perfectly into cheesecake form! It’s silky, packed with the flavors of soy, and topped with sago and arnibal.
I used to have a Sunday morning routine I enjoyed very much before 2020 hit the fan. It involved going for an 8-kilometer jog around the UP Oval in the morning, followed by a quick breakfast of boiled corn on the cob and a small cup of taho. Sometimes we’d pop into a coffee shop for some caffeine before heading home, but usually it’s just corn and taho. It was like the ultimate simple pleasure after an exhausting week of work.
I have a special place for taho in my heart. I don’t know how to explain it properly, but taho kind of represents a constant in my life. I feel like after all these years, the world and I have changed so much, but taho is still taho. And compared to most things in my life I have changed my mind and heart about, I still like taho the same way I did as a child.
What is taho? For international readers, taho is a Philippine sweet treat made up of fresh silken tofu and brown sugar syrup or arnibal. To complete it, small translucent sago pearls are added in. For Filipino-Chinese, we call this tauhue, and according to Wikipedia it’s what the Thais and Indonesians call a similar treat in their countries. I think this term originates from the Hokkien dialect, but I could be wrong.
Each person has their own idea of the perfect taho proportion, but I personally love my taho with lots of tofu and sago and less arnibal than usual. Under normal circumstances, taho peddlers are impossible to miss on the streets. They carry their fresh piping hot taho in these huge aluminum buckets that hang on two ends of a long carrying pole. Once the booming shouts of ‘Tahoooooooo!’ echo down the street, there would always be people of all ages coming out of their houses and offices (yes!) for a cup.
When I was in high school, some friends and I used to sneak in cup after cup of taho from peddlers outside. As a rule, we weren’t allowed to buy from outside sellers during breaks because of “safety concerns”. As a result, all the windows at our school that faced the outside streets were barred. That never stopped anyone though– especially the people with small thin hands that could fit through. I happen to be one of those with thin bony hands that just fit.
Now I’m not normally a troublemaker, but to me, buying taho was a harmless exercise so I didn’t count it as “breaking the rules”. (And honestly, taho was so much cheaper than canteen food!) Eventually it became a habit for the mangtataho to position himself under those locker room windows during recess and wait for us brave taho-addicted kids. At one point, word got around and a whole cluster of us would go there for taho lol.
And oh the hilarious lengths we went to! From positioning the smooth-talker friend outside the locker room as a look-out and professional distractor just in case a discipline officer was patrolling, to running around with cups of taho hidden in the folds of our skirts… I can’t help but smile to myself as I look back on these memories! Man, those were the good old simple days. And just so you know, we did get reprimanded a couple of times. I think the taho vendor got reprimanded too, and it made me feel bad because the guy was only trying to earn a living. But I think deep down, all of us knew this was such a shallow thing to make a big deal of, so after a few days, we’d all be back in business.
Fast forward to the year 2020, during a time taho peddlers seem to be rather scarce. I was expecting not to get to eat taho for a very long time, but somehow taho purveyors began to sprout like mushrooms on Instagram. They created these DIY taho kits, where the fresh tofu is placed in these huge containers, then the arnibal and sago are placed in separate containers. Everything is then delivered to your doorstep still hot and freshly cooked, and it’s up to you to assemble your taho yourself. It’s a genius idea, though I kind of miss the ritual of buying from a mangtataho.
I have tried a handful of these purveyors to date and some make better products than others. If you’re curious, Soy Bueno is my favorite so far. They arrange their own deliveries so you can get your taho super early in the morning if you want. Piping hot and in time for breakfast! The taho itself is super smooth, great quality, and not watery. Their soy milk is also fantastic! Lightly sweetened with a very real soy flavor that is not watered down.
The fact that I can write this much about taho is proof that it’s one of my favorite things ever. In truth, taho to me is like the proverbial chicken soup. It makes my soul happy, especially when I enjoy it warm. Which is why it was only a matter of time before I thought about paying homage to it. And now here we are with this No-Bake Taho Cheesecake recipe.
The idea of a Taho Cheesecake is not new. My plan to make one actually began a long time ago, when one of my brothers asked me to. I’ve read through different recipe versions of Taho Cheesecake since then, but all of them felt unnecessarily difficult. Recently I ran into this particular recipe on YouTube and had a good feeling about.
As I studied the recipe, I could already imagine the result. I was about 80% sure it was going to work out well, but boy did this Taho Cheesecake over-deliver! The fact that it was so simple but so good kind of blew my mind. While other versions made use of silken tofu and several extra steps, this version of Taho Cheesecake is made from soy milk mixed with cream cheese. It’s so much easier this way!
This recipe tastes like a literal taho drink translated into a silky smooth cheesecake. You get that signature savory and creamy cheesecake mouthfeel with soy milk undertones. The graham cracker crust underneath gives off a honey sweetness. Of course we also have the required arnibal plus sago on top. Because you have easy control over the recipe, you can adjust the sweetness to balance everything out. I am already sure this Taho Cheesecake is going into my year-end favorites post.
If you’ve made a no-bake cheesecake before, then you’re in luck. This isn’t really that much different. You start with the graham cracker crust, as usual, mixing crushed grahams with melted butter and pressing it all into the bottom of a pan.
I always recommend a springform pan for any type of cheesecake because it would be utterly frustrating to make a perfect cheesecake only to have it ruined because you couldn’t unmold it gently. A springform pan opens from the side so it will keep the cheesecake perfectly intact.
Now we just set aside the crust in the fridge or freezer to firm up while we make the filling for our Taho Cheesecake.
For the filling, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until it’s smooth before adding in the soy milk. The flavor of the cheesecake will largely depend on the soy milk you use. Use your favorite one and it’ll be even tastier. The amount of sugar you add into the batter will also depend on how sweet your soy milk is.
I prefer using a lightly sweetened soy milk then I add just enough sugar to make it barely sweet. What you should aim for here is a soy milk that will give you a fuller soy flavor. (Soy Bueno I mentioned above makes a mean lightly sweetened soy milk!) Remember that you will be eating this cheesecake with a sugar syrup, so you don’t need to sweeten the base too much. In another bowl, beat the cream until doubled in volume and stiff peaks form, then fold this into the cream cheese-soy mixture to create a light and airy batter. Stop once it’s just combined so you don’t risk deflating the mixture.
The only tricky part about no-bake cheesecakes, in my opinion, is the gelatin. You have to make sure you properly bloom and dissolve your gelatin so you don’t have weird clumps in your cheesecake.
To do this, mix the powdered gelatin with room temperature water and let it bloom for 3 to 5 minutes. And then heat the mixture to make sure it turns into a smooth liquid. The powder should be completely dissolved at this point. You can either heat in the microwave or in a saucepan for better control, but make sure to let it cool at least 5 minutes before adding it into your cheesecake batter.
The cooled liquid gelatin is the last thing that goes into your aerated cheesecake mixture. Make sure to use gentle folding motions to mix it in because, again, you want to maintain this light, airy consistency for your cheesecake batter. Mix until just combined.
Just to make sure my cheesecake is completely smooth, I poured the batter through a strainer and right over the crust. (You can skip this if you are confident you properly melted your gelatin.) If your base has a lot of surface bubbles, you can use a toothpick to pop them.
This cheesecake will now go into the fridge at least 2 hours to set. It’s safer to let it chill overnight but I took mine out after 4 hours and it was fantastic.
When it’s close to serving time, prepare the arnibal and sago. A lot of people seem to be iffy about cooking sago, but I found a particular process to work for me every time I cook these little white pearls. First, I boil a lot of water– more water than I think I need– over high heat. For this recipe I used about 75 grams of sago but boiled around 1.5 Liters of water. Once water is boiling, I add in the uncooked pearls, then I loosely cover the pot and let the sago boil for 15 minutes, still over high heat.
After 15 minutes, I check if my pearls are completely clear or translucent. There should be no white “eye” in the center. If you find that some of them still do, keep boiling for an additional 5 minutes, then off the heat and cover the pot. Leave the sago inside the pot and allow the residual heat to finish cooking the pearls for at least 10 more minutes. The sago should be ready after this. All you need to do now is drain them. Easy!
The arnibal is a lot more simple to make. You just cook an equal amount of water and brown sugar together over medium heat until it turns into syrup. (I add salt to make it “gourmet” with “salted arnibal” lol.) If the mixture starts to boil at any point, turn down the heat. We want this gently heated until thickened but not reduced.
The reason why my arnibal is on the thin side is because I used a bit less sugar than I should have. It was a scant cup of brown sugar, not even packed, with a full cup of water. The arnibal is really supposed to be thicker than this but either way it’ll taste fine with the cheesecake. Store these two separately in airtight containers if you’re not ready to serve yet.
Right before serving, I like to put a portion of sago into a bowl with some arnibal to create these sweet and juicy brown sugar pearls. I let the sago soak and absorb some of that brown sugar syrup for a few minutes, then I scoop some on top of the cheesecake slices. The extra sago and arnibal I serve on the side, letting people add as much or as little of the toppings as they please.
Silky. Smooth. Sublime. Nostalgic. There are no words I can use to rightly describe this No-Bake Taho Cheesecake, but PERFECT is pretty close. I think every taho lover will appreciate this recipe.
No-Bake Taho Cheesecake
Makes one 9- or 10-inch cheesecake
For the crust
- 2 cups 170 grams crushed grahams crackers
- ½ cup 113 grams butter, melted and cooled
- ¼ cup 50 grams white or brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder, optional
For the cheesecake filling
- 1½ Tablespoons or 1½ envelopes unflavored gelatin powder
- 5 Tablespoons cold water
- 1 bar, 227 grams cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- ¼ to ½ cup 50 to 100 grams white sugar, depending on how sweet your soy milk is
- 330 mL soy milk, chilled
- 370 mL all-purpose or heavy whipping cream, chilled (can use a combination)
For the arnibal topping
- 1 cup 240 mL water
- 1 packed cup, 200 grams brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
- ¼ teaspoon salt, optional
For the sago topping
- 1.5 Liters water
- ½ cup about 75 grams small sago/tapioca pearls
Make the crust
- In a medium bowl, combine crushed graham crackers, melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon powder (if using). Mix until combined and graham resembles wet sand.
- Press the crust mixture into a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Pack it tightly and evenly using a flat-bottomed object. Chill in the fridge while you make the cheesecake filling.
Make the cheesecake filling
- In a small bowl, mix the cold water and unflavored gelatin and let set for 3 to 5 minutes to bloom. Microwave for 20 seconds or until the gelatin dissolves. Alternatively, you can transfer the water-gelatin mixture into a small saucepan and heat over low heat until the gelatin dissolves. Let cool for 5 minutes while you prepare the cheesecake base.
- In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese and sugar until creamy and smooth. Add in soy milk and beat until well combined.
- In a separate bowl, whip the cream until doubled in volume and stiff. Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese-soy mixture using a spatula until combined. Make sure not to deflate the mixture.
- If your gelatin has cooled too much and has started to gel, warm in the microwave for about 10 seconds until it becomes liquid again. (It shouldn't be too hot when you add it in, but it should also be liquid.) Slowly pour in the gelatin as you continue to fold, again making sure not to overbeat or deflate the mixture. Mix until smooth and homogenous.
- Pour batter into the springform pan over the crust. (You can pour it through a fine mesh strainer if you want.) Tilt around to even out the top. Cover and chill at least 2 hours, preferably overnight to completely firm up.
Make the arnibal
- In a saucepan over medium heat, cook water and brown sugar until sugar is completely melted. Give it a little mix and allow to cook further, until slightly thickened, mixing occasionally. If the mixture starts to boil, lower the heat. We want to gently cook this just until thickened but not reduced.
- Remove from heat and mix in vanilla and salt. Allow to cool completely. It will continue to thicken as it cools. As this point, you can transfer the arnibal to a container or a jug with a spout.
Cook the sago
- In a large pot, bring 1.5 Liters of water to a boil over high heat. Add in the small tapioca pearls and allow to cook in the boiling water over high heat for 15 minutes.
- Once the 15 minutes is over, check if your pearls are done. The should be completely clear, without any white eyes or centers. If not, boil an additional 5 minutes, then cover the pot and allow the residual heat to finish cooking the pearls for at least 10 more minutes.
- Drain the tapioca pearls. Any time it starts clumping together, run under water to get them to separate. Take about ½ cup of the arnibal and place in a bowl or container, then add in the tapioca. Allow to soak until ready to serve.
- When the cheesecake is set, run a knife around the cheesecake gently, then carefully unmold. Slice the cheesecake into desired size, then serve with the sago and arnibal on the side. It's best to add the toppings only when you're about to eat the cheesecake so that it doesn't turn the cheesecake soggy.
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