Somehow during my last year of university, I became addicted to cookbooks. I ordered a couple and then I ordered some more. By the end of year, my cookbooks outnumbered my textbooks 15 to 5. Whenever I needed to distract myself from the realities of school, I looked for dishes I wanted to make, and spent countless hours researching things like how to get those colourful stripes in joconde, and how to grill the perfect steak. Unfortunately at the time I lived in a residence where I shared a limited kitchen with a dozen other students. So instead of experimenting and driving all my floormates crazy, I made a list of dishes that I planned to someday prepare.
Over the past two years I've made quite a few of the dishes on my list including butter-poached lobster, Grand Marnier soufflés, and Plaisir Sucré. There are still many dishes that I've yet to cook, including a plethora of truffle and foie gras preparations that I'll only make if I win the lottery or if someone (maybe you) sends me money.
About a month ago, I found myself with the perfect opportunity to prepare a dish that's long been on my list. I had been asked to make a dessert for a Chinese New Year potluck, and I immediately thought of Claudia Fleming's Coconut Tapioca with Coconut Sorbet, Passion Fruit-Pineapple Sorbet, Passion Fruit Caramel, Cilantro Syrup, and a Coconut Tuile. Otherwise known as "Dessert Caviar", this was one of Fleming's signature desserts when she was the pastry chef at New York's Gramercy Tavern.
Although this dessert consists of six components, each one is there for a reason. One of Claudia Fleming's trademarks is that she never sacrifices taste for appearance. No unnecessary garnishes, and no over-the-top architectural masterpieces. In her cookbook The Last Course, she writes: “I don't want my desserts to be flashy or intimidating. I just want them to look harmonious and provide a few small, sweet bites after a wonderful meal... I think the ideal dessert is a few perfect, intense tastes filled with balanced flavors and textures.”
If you make this dessert, you'll almost certainly be delighted by its vibrant and clean flavours, but also by how well everything works together. Essentially it's a study in flavour, texture, and temperature. The combination of the coconut tapioca, passion fruit caramel, and cilantro syrup form a trio of complementary flavours. The contrast between the small and large tapioca, the crispy tuile, and the crunchy passion fruit seeds provide the dish with interesting textures. And finally, the two sorbets add contrast in temperature as well as additional layers of flavour.
The picture I took doesn't really do it justice – I know, it looks more like a puddle of rice pudding. But this is one of the most satisfying desserts I've made so far. I hope you'll give it a try sometime.
Coconut Tapioca with Coconut Sorbet, Passion Fruit-Pineapple Sorbet, Passion Fruit Caramel, and Cilantro Syrup
Adapted from The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming
- 5 cups whole milk
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup small pearl tapioca (not instant tapioca)
- ¼ cup large pearl tapioca
- 1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
In a medium saucepan, combine milk and sugar. Bring mixture to a simmer over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes or until milk thickens to a sauce consistency. Stir in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes.
Fill two large saucepans with water and bring to a boil. Add small tapioca and large tapioca pearls into separate saucepans. Bring the small tapioca to a boil, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for about 30 minutes or until their centres are no longer opaque. Drain tapioca, rinsing with cold water. Boil the large tapioca for 45 minutes, turn off heat and let them steep for 45 minutes, or until their centres are no longer opaque. Drain tapioca, rinsing with cold water.
Add tapioca to the milk mixture, and cover and refrigerate for at least 10 hours or overnight. Remove some of the coconut milk mixture so that milk serves as more of a coating for the tapioca than a soup.
Makes 6-8 servings.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp lime juice
In a medium saucepan, combine milk, coconut, and sugar, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until sugar dissolves. Turn off heat and let mixture cool for 1 hour.
Strain mixture into a container, add lime juice, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 3 hours to chill. Discard coconut solids.
Strain mixture into a bowl, freeze in an ice cream machine, and transfer to freezer to harden. Alternatively, place mixture in freezer, and stir every hour for the next 4 hours, or until smooth and firm.
Makes about 2 cups.
Passion Fruit Sorbet
- 1 cup fresh peeled, cubed pineapple
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/3 cups unsweetened passion fruit juice
In a food processor or blender, combine pineapple and ¼ cup sugar and puree until smooth. Wrap the puree in cheesecloth, and squeeze to extract pineapple juice. Measure out 2/3 cup juice for the sorbet, and reserve the rest for another use.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining sugar with 1 cup water and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and stir in pineapple juice and passion fruit juice. Refrigerate mixture overnight or at least 3 hours to chill.
Freeze in an ice cream machine, and transfer to freezer to harden. Alternatively, place mixture in freezer, and stir every hour for the next 4 hours, or until smooth and firm.
Makes about 4 cups.
Passion Fruit Caramel
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp light corn syrup
- ½ cup unsweetened passion fruit juice
- 2 tbsps unsalted butter
- Pulp from 2 ripe passion fruits
In a small saucepan, combine ¼ cup water, sugar, and corn syrup, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil the mixture, swirling the pan occasionally until the mixture turns deep amber and caramelized, about 10 minutes.
Remove the from heat and carefully whisk in the passion fruit juice and butter from a distance (as the caramel may splatter). Whisk the mixture over low heat until smooth. Pass through a fine mesh sieve, and reserve until ready to use, or refrigerate for up to two days.
Before serving, stir in the passion fruit pulp, including the seeds, into the caramel.
Makes about ¾ cup.
- ¼ cup tightly packed cilantro
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Fill a small bowl with ice cubes and water. Immerse cilantro leaves into the boiling water for 15 seconds, drain, and immerse into ice water. Drain leaves and pat dry with paper towel.
In a food processor or blender, combine the corn syrup and cilantro leaves, and puree. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes and strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the solids. Refrigerate the syrup for up to 1 day.
Makes about 1/3 cup.
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
- 2 ½ tbsps unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 7 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
In an electric mixer bowl, combine sugar and butter, and beat with the paddle attachment until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the egg whites and mix until the mixture is homogenous. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
In a small bowl, combine the coconut and flour. Add the coconut-flour mixture to the egg white mixture and mix well. Refrigerate the mixture overnight or for at least 8 hours.
Create a stencil by cutting out rectangular holes from a plastic sheet that’s about the thickness of an ice cream container lid. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Place the stencil on the sheet and use an offset spatula to spread a thin layer of batter onto the stencil. Remove the stencil, and bake the tuiles in a 325F/160C oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown, rotating the baking sheet after 8 minutes.
Use a spatula to remove the tuiles, and set on a wire rack to cool. Cool the baking sheet by rinsing it with cold water before using to bake another sheet of tuiles.
Makes about 3 dozen tuiles.
Ladle about 1/3 to ½ cup of coconut tapioca into a small shallow glass or bowl (such as a martini glass). Drizzle with passion fruit caramel and drizzle the cilantro syrup around the perimeter of the glass. Place two small scoops or quenelles of passion fruit sorbet and coconut sorbet on the coconut tapioca and top with a coconut tuile.
Makes 6-8 servings.