Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ode to the Coconut: Vanilla Coconut Custard

I have something to admit, but I know if I admit it, people will think I'm strange: when it comes to chocolate, I could take it or leave it (except chocolate cake, and even that has to be a specific chocolate cake). Don’t misunderstand; I don’t hate chocolate. Not at all. But if you gave me a choice of something chocolate (even chocolate cake) or any Thai candy or dessert, I’d pick the Thai stuff every time.

I know, I know. I'm strange, right?

If you need to blame someone for my apathy towards chocolate, I would point the finger at my mom. She didn’t allow us to eat chocolate (or other sweets) very often. She never baked, so we didn’t get brownies or chocolate cake (unless it was our birthday). The only form of chocolate we got with any regularity was Ovaltine. So please don’t blame me, the victim.

Instead of chocolate sweets, I’m a big fan of sweets that contain coconut (milk, flakes, rum). Just about everyone who enjoys Thai food has tried sticky rice with mango in coconut sauce and liked it. However, most people haven’t tried the dozens of other Thai desserts containing coconut because they usually don't serve them at restaurants here in the US. To find them you need to frequent a Thai-Viet market. Many of these markets sell stuff made by women in their home kitchens local producers.

These are the types of sweets I grew up on. They contain coconut, sugar, and tapioca flour in some combination. The red one is dusted with finely shredded coconut and filled with something that tastes like mochi. The green and yellow one is a layered candy that tastes like coconut and is sticky and gummy. It was my favorite. The cake-like one also tastes like coconut and has a texture like a brownie.

Making my childhood sweets may be a little ambitious for me right now, but there are still dozens of desserts to be made using coconut. I’ve been wanting to try to make a coconut crème brulee-type dessert for a while. I tried once and it didn’t set. Then I thought I’d try using a regular crème brulee recipe and experimenting until I came up with something I liked. Luckily it took only one trial! Click here to see my inspiration recipe (FYI, you should download or print it now because they say it’s only going to be available for a limited time).

Coconut Crème Brulee
Serves 8
  • 1 egg
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups coconut milk (not lite)
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (use the pod for something else)
  • 1 tbs fresh lime juice
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
In a large bowl or a KitchenAid mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks and sugar until combined.

In a saucepan, heat the coconut milk, cream and vanilla just to the boiling point. If there are extra large flecks of vanilla or some of the pod bark, strain the mixture through a mesh sieve. Then add the cream mixture to the egg mix, stirring (or paddling) slowly but thoroughly. Don’t add the cream too fast, or you may get scrambled eggs. I don’t recommend using a whisk because bubbles will form and when you bake the custard, the top won’t be smooth. After you have added all the cream mixture, add the lime juice and salt.

Pour or ladle the mixture into ramekins or other oven-safe glass/ceramic bowl (volume capacity about 1/3 to ½ cup). Bake the ramekins in a water bath in a 300° oven for 35 to 45 minutes. You’ll know the custard is done if you give the pan a little shake and the centers of the custards are set. ( Getting a sense for what “set” means takes a lot of practice. Since I don’t dabble in the sweet kitchen very often, it took me a long time to learn. Basically if the custard is somewhat giggly but not liquid, it’s set.) Take out of the oven and cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge. I recommend chilling overnight, covered with plastic wrap.

To get a smooth top when you bake, don't use a whisk to mix the cream mixture with the eggs. If only I knew then...

Fill the pan with boiling water to about half way up the cups.

These custards should be served chilled. No need to embellish but sprinkling with a little toasted coconut or serving crème brulee-style, with burnt sugar on top, gives it a finished look. If you want to go the creme brulee route, I recommend putting the ramekins in the freezer for about 15 to 30 minute before torching. This will keep the custard chilled after you torch the top.

For creme brulee, I always use washed raw sugar, also known as turbinado sugar. I'm sure regular ol' granulated sugar works just fine.

If you go the creme brulee route, you'll get the best results with a kitchen torch. I used my broiler but I took it out a little early so as not to warm the custard too much. The custard should be chilled while the top barely warm and crackly.

Edited to add: I'm going to submit this to Sugar High Friday being hosted by Kochtopf. Why not?


Manggy said...

Ooh, thanks for reminding to one day make a Filipino coconut cream-based dessert. There are TONS of those. The ones you have are soo pretty!
I made creme brulée once (didn't have a blog yet), but I used a whisk 'cause that's what I learned from Gayle Gand. Didn't have a big problem with bubbles. To help with that, you sieve the custard into the pitcher you'll use for pouring. Discard the froth that stays in the sieve. There will still probably be bubbles, so give the bottom of the pitcher a hard rap on the counter. If there's still a lot, skim it away with a spoon.

dp said...

Manggy, Thanks! They tasted real good too. The sieve is a good idea. Why didn't I think of that? :-)

zorra said...

Look delicious! Good idea to submit to SHF # 38. ;-) Thank you.

tigerfish said...

I only like dark chocolates. I do like coconut millk stirred into curry dishes. Also, when coconut cream/milk is stirred into dessert soups (back in Asia).

SteamyKitchen said...

coconut is my favorite flavor, even more so than chocolate!

Phoenix Ascending said...

Mmmm... looks good. I love delicately flavored creme brulee. I'll have to give this a try.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on chocolate. I like it, but it's seldom my first choice when looking over a dessert menu.

Your custards look perfect! I've bookmarked the recipe.