Easy Coconut Custard
This dreamy and intriguing end of the meal dessert skirts the biggest dietary restrictions: it is vegan, dairy-free, egg-free, and gluten-free. Wow! I don’t often manage to hit the brief for all those preferences at once so successfully. Indian-ish coconut pudding is as pretty as a picture; creamy with a citrus crown, and oh, it is make-ahead as well. Gently held together by gelatin, so there is no baking is required. Perfect for the hot summer months when you can’t bear to turn on the stove.
I’ve designed this dessert to be gently spiced, but if you want more flavor, you could play with adding some fresh ginger or allspice instead of star anise. I love the combination of star anise and grapefruit, which I discovered by referring to my single most favorite book about food: “The Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. The copyright is 2008, and my dear husband gave it to me as a Christmas present that year. I’ve been pouring over its pages ever since, figuring out what to cook based on the best flavor combinations.
Please do not be afraid of this recipe. Most of the instruction is around the garnishes. All of which can be dispensed with if you want to keep it simple. Lovely on its own or you can bedeck this coconut pudding with toasted nuts or with a light drizzle of honey. Maybe even serve some homemade shortbread cookies or your favorite dainty store-bought cookies on the side.
Present these coconut puddings individually in cute 3- to 4-ounce cups or scoop out of a single serving dish. I’ve had great fun with garnishes. At the minimum, consider supreming (there is a link to instructions below) a couple pink grapefruits or pomelos to lay on top. Or if you are feeling cheffy, use a trick to make grapefruit “pearls.” This is an easy and pretty way to up your garnishing game. Also, see the notes below on how to supreme and pearl citrus. Enjoy this special dessert.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Indian-ish Coconut Custard
For the Pudding:
- 3 cups full-fat coconut milk ~ About coconut milk and see Notes below.
- 2 3/4 teaspoons gelatin ~ I use Knox brand. See the last note below.
- 1/2 cup honey ~ Extra for drizzling on top before serving, optional
- 4 star anise ~ Broken into several pieces
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 grapefruits ~ Or pomelos
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 cup nuts ~ Candied or toasted, I prefer pistachios here
- 4 mint sprigs
- cookies ~ You may want to make my shortbread
- 1/2 cup neutral oil ~ If making citrus pearls
- In a 4 cup measuring cup or a medium bowl, pour the two cans coconut milk. The cream will be on the top so microwave for 1 or 2 minutes so you can blend the cream and milk together. If using two 13.5 ounce cans of coconut milk, measure out 1/4 cup to be used for another application. This should leave you with 3 cups of liquid.
- Pour 1/2 cup of the coconut milk into a medium bowl and sprinkle 2 3/4 teaspoons of gelatin over the surface. Let soften for 10 to 15 minutes. I like to push the gelatin under the surface at least once, so it can fully hydrate.
- Toast the star anise pieces over medium-high heat in a small pan for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant.
- Into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, pour 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk. Add the star anise and just barely bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for at least 10 minutes. Taste to see if the star anise flavor is strong enough for you. Steep and taste in 10-minute increments until you are happy with the result. Keep in mind that it will taste much better once the honey is added.
- Return to medium heat and whisk together gelatin mixture, honey, and salt. Bring to a very gentle simmer, stirring frequently, until the gelatin is dissolved. Do not bring to a boil or the gelatin may not work as well.
- In the medium-sized bowl you used for the gelatin, add the remaining 1 cup coconut milk. Place into a larger bowl half-filled with ice water. This will help the custard to cool down more quickly, and thicken the mixture to prevent the coconut cream from separating. The icing step is not necessary if you have used a brand of coconut milk that uses guar gum. See the Notes below.
- Strain heated, flavored coconut milk into the remaining one cup of coconut milk over ice, stirring occasionally so it cools evenly.
- When the pudding is cooler than room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Remove and stir with a whisk, making sure the coconut cream and milk have not separated. Repeat whisking at the next 30 minute mark.
- Pour into 6 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups, or one larger 4-cup serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 to 4 hours. Serve with garnishes of your choice.
Making Grapefruit Supremes (Sections)
- If you need it, here is a short video showing how to supreme a grapefruit by Emily Caruso on YouTube.
- Supreme grapefruits or pomelos.
- Place fruit in a small bowl and drain off any extra liquid.
- Add oil, stir briefly, and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Using your fingers separate the pearls (vesicles) and if they don’t separate easily, let sit for another 15 minutes and try again.
- After gently separating the pearls, using a strainer, drain off the oil, rinse, and let drain for a few more minutes. The pearls store well in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
- When ready to garnish, make a 1/3-inch layer of grapefruit pearls on top of your custard. Garnish with toasted or candied nuts and/or mint.
How to Candy Pistachios
- Use my Sweet & Spicy Nut recipe, skipping the spices. Make sure to use the salt and sugar partway through roasting though. You will only need 1/2 cup of candied nuts for this dessert, but I recommend at least making half the recipe, and throw them on salads, or they make a perfect snack.
- For time estimations in this recipe, please note that it does not include any garnishes you choose to use. Also, if topping with nuts, don’t sprinkle on much beyond an hour ahead, or they will lose their crunch.
- Pomelos make the ideal substitution if you can’t find grapefruit.
- Most coconut milk uses a stabilizer like guar gum, to prevent the cream and the milk from separating. If you do use coconut milk with guar gum, you can skip the icing step. Put in refrigerator, and an hour into the chill time give it a good whisk to ensure the cream is not coming to the top. From there you can pour the custard into the final serving dish or ramekins.
- If using coconut milk without stabilizers, the icing step prevents the cream from the coconut milk from rising to the top and forming a thin, hard layer.
- For Indian-ish coconut custard, you will need 6, 4-ounce ramekins, dishes, jars, or small cups, or a serving dish that holds 4 cups.
- Use full-fat coconut milk. Reduced-fat will not give you the creaminess you are wanting for this dessert.
- If you are wanting a vegan dessert, use agar agar to thicken the custard. The conventional wisdom is to use 2 teaspoons per cup of liquid. Unfortunately, I don't have experience with this thickener.
- Don’t skip toasting the star anise. This step brings out the essential oils, a much better flavor, and shortens the steeping time.
- This custard can be made the day before, though it will be set a little more firmly. If you like your puddings just softly set, and you are keeping it in the fridge overnight, use 2 1/2 tablespoons of gelatin instead of 2 3/4 teaspoons.