P. has always been the one with a passion for coconut. Me? I used to not even bear the thought of looking at one. Anything with coconut simply sounded wrong. Perhaps from the memory — of the story that I pretend never happened — of too many Bounty Bars eaten when I was a little girl with a sweet tooth. You have too, haven’t you? At the time — as I am told — I was capable of spending every single centime my parents gave me as pocket money — fifty francs a week — on candies at Madame Boyon’s. Of course, I deny that this has ever happened. Ce n’est pas vrai ! Moi et les bonbons ? I even did not like the famous macarons de Nancy, a specialty from my region in France.
When I first met P., we used to have debates about coconut. “Mais je te dis que je n’aime pas !” I insisted when he tried to tempt me by holding, in front of my lips, a spoonful of the coconut cake he had ordered. He really loved it as much as I hated it.
“How can you dislike it?” he would reply, laughing. “It is soooooo good!”
In his book. Not in mine.
Until one night a few years ago, when I finally gave in. In 1999, is it that long ago, already?
That evening, like every week, we drove to our favorite local Vietnamese restaurant. As soon as we walked into the tiny room, we noticed that it was still quite empty for that time of the day. The owner, a short skinny Asian man with a face not showing any sign of age, stood by the large fish tank next to the counter. When he turned his head towards us, he recognized us right away. His entire face lit up with a wide smile. It was so large that all I could see was the perfect line of his white teeth glowing in the poorly-lit place, with the exception of a front one, slightly chipped. We never really needed to talk too much together. But we seemed to smile a lot at each others, perhaps the only language that we needed to communicate, beside the use of our indexes to point at dishes on the menu. As P. and I are people of habits, he also knew that we would most likely order the same dishes. Why change? They were scrumptious, made fresh and did not require too much thinking. P. ordered a coconut juice. He always did. I was never interested. “Do you want to try?” he asked me casually, convinced already of my response.
“D’accord, pourquoi pas ?” (Ok, why not?)
He looked back at me, assuredly surprised and uncertain whether I was joking or not.
“Mmmmmmm, c’est doux, c’est sucré, léger comme un nuage de lait ! (Yum, it is soft and sweet. It is light like a cloud of milk),” I murmured after the first sip. “Can I have some more?”
Quite soon, I was fully sold on the whole coconut idea. In juices, granola bars, cakes, muffins, Asian food, and in panna cotta.
But then it changed. Or I changed. Not sure which. Not sure why. Not sure I clearly remember when. Not sure it actually matters. Because the point is that now, place a panna cotta in front of me, and I feel an irresistible desire to dip my finger into it. It probably all happened the day I had a taste of a similar panna cotta that seduced me, in a restaurant I even forget the name of. I, however, certainly did not forget the panna cotta. How could I?
For this panna cotta, use coconut milk instead of the most commonly used cream. I like to eat this dessert without any attire, plain, or with a sweet juicy stew of fruit, like these quickly stewed blackberries. Add to them vanilla langues de chat, and you then have a pretty festive dessert. Yet, don’t be fooled: it is really simple to make. Whenever I am running short of ideas for a quick sweet treat, I always think about making a batch which I keep in the fridge. That is, if I can wait until the custard is set, which is assuredly the hardest part in the making of the dessert. And, as anyone fond of the taste of buttermilk — and always having some in the fridge for emergencies — this dessert is just made for me, and P., two official coconut and panna cotta converts.
And perhaps you too.
Now I just have to wonder: why did I ever dislike coconut?
Stewed Blackberries and
Vanilla Cat’s Tongues
For the coconut panna cotta:
- One can (14 fl oz) unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 + 1/3 cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cup cane sugar
- 4 gelatin sheets
For the blackberry stew:
- 5 1/2 oz blackberries (4.5 oz + 1 oz to decorate)
- 1/8 cup cane sugar
- 1 Tbsp water
- To prepare the panna cotta, soak the gelatin sheets in a large volume of cold water, for 5 min.
- In the meantime, heat the coconut milk and sugar in a pot. Do not boil but reach almost boiling point and cook for 5 min. Remove.
- Squeeze the excess water from the gelatin sheets between your fingers and add to the coconut milk. Stir until they are dissolved.
- Add the buttermilk and stir well.
- Pour this cream in small oiled ramekins. Place them in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
- To prepare the blackberry stew, dissolve the sugar with the water in a small pot. Add the berries and let stew for 5 min on medium to low heat. Let cool.
- Unmold* your panna cotta and serve alone, or with the blackberry stew.
*To unmold them more easily, dip the ramekins in hot water first and run a knife around the edge. Then flip onto a plate.
Pour la panna cotta à la noix de coco :
- une conserve (414 ml) de lait de coco non sucré
- 300 ml de lait fermenté
- 100 g de sucre de canne
- 4 feuilles de gélatine
Pour la compote rapide de mûres :
- 150 g de mûres (125 g + 25 g pour decoration)
- 25 g de sucre
- 1 càs d’eau
- Pour réaliser les panna cotta, faites tremper les feuilles de gélatine dans un grand volume d’eau froide pendant 5 min.
- En attendant, faites chauffer le lait de coco et le sucre dans une casserole. Ne faites pas bouillir. Cuisez sur feu doux pendant 5 min puis retirez du feu.
- Ajoutez les feuilles de gélatine essorées. Faites dissoudre.
- Ajoutez le lait fermenté et mélangez bien.
- Versez cette préparation dans des ramequins huilés. Mettez au frigo pendant au moins 4 heures.
- Pour réaliser la compote de mûres, faites dissoudre le sucre sur feu doux dans une petite casserole. Mettez-y les mûres et faites compoter pendant 5 min sur feux doux. Laissez refroidir.
- Démoulez* les panna cotta et servez seules ou avec la compote de mûres.
*Pour démouler les panna cotta plus facilement, faites tremper les ramequins dans de l’eau chaude pendant 1 à 2 min et passez la lame d’un couteau le long de la paroi. Renversez ensuite sur une assiette.