click to enlarge Small coconuts make great containers to hold coconut creme brulee. - PHOTO BY DAVID HINE
Small coconuts make great containers to hold coconut creme brulee.
Small coconuts make great containers to hold coconut creme brulee.
Most of my summer desserts focus on seasonal fruits at their succulently flavorful peak: berries, melons, peaches, nectarines and plums bought at farmers markets and roadside stands. But tropical desserts are also appropriate in summer. Here are four favorites including one of my very simplest recipes.

It doesn’t get any easier than this: Mix A and B and freeze, stirring occasionally. Mango purée can be found in the ethnic Indian sections of some groceries, at Little World Market and at Mini-Devon.

Mango coconut sorbet
• 1 lb. 14 oz. can sweetened mango purée
• 1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk (unsweetened)

Whisk together the mango purée and the coconut milk, making sure that no lumps of the coconut cream remain. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions or pour into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan and place in the freezer. Stir every 20-30 minutes until frozen.

Does basil in a sweet preparation sound strange? If so, you’re in for a pleasant surprise; both Asian and regular basils have a naturally affinity for fruit. Good as this syrup is with tropical fruits, it’s equally wonderful with seasonal fruit such as peaches, nectarines and blueberries.

Holy basil and ginger
• marinated tropical fruit
• 2 T. coarsely chopped ginger
• 1 c. holy basil leaves (also called Thai, Vietnamese or Asian basil), lightly packed, or substitute regular basil
• 1 c. sugar
• 3/4 c. water
• Assorted tropical fruit: mangoes, pineapples, bananas, star-fruit, etc. peeled if needed and cut into bite-sized pieces
• Thinly shredded basil leaves for garnish, optional

In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar and water together and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the syrup boils, add the ginger and basil, pushing them down under the syrup. Remove from the heat and let stand for about 1 hour. Strain out the ginger and basil and discard. Refrigerate the syrup until ready to use.

Allow about 1/2 cup fruit and 1 tablespoon syrup per serving. Toss the syrup and fruit together and marinate 1/2-1 hour before serving. Garnish with shredded basil leaves if desired.

The fruit can be served by itself or as a topping for ice cream or pound cake. Refrigerate leftover syrup. Makes about 1 cup syrup.
If you have a rotisserie on your grill and would like to make an impressive dessert at your next barbecue, this will definitely fill the bill. It’s equally delicious, however, for grilling pineapple slices or kebabs.

Grilled pineapple with lime, rum and coconut cream
• 1 ripe pineapple

Equal parts:
• Dark rum
• Butter
• Lime juice
• Unsweetened coconut milk, from a well-shaken can
• Dark brown sugar

To rotisserie a whole pineapple, you will need about 1/4 cup each of the basting liquid ingredients, depending on the size of the pineapple. To grill slices or chunks, you’ll need more (1/3-1/2 cup each), again depending on the size of the pineapple.

Combine the basting ingredients in a pan and heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

To rotisserie a whole pineapple: Leaving the leaves intact on top of the pineapple, with a sharp knife, trim the skin from the pineapple and cut out any large pockets of spines that remain.

Carefully insert the rotisserie skewer from the bottom of the pineapple up through the top and through the top leaves. If it doesn’t easily go through, try standing the skewer on end and pounding on a (protected) counter surface while pushing the pineapple downwards.

Secure the pineapple with the prongs that slide down the skewer. If you can’t get past the leaves on top, don’t worry: the bottom prongs work fine by themselves – in my experience the top prongs aren’t necessary. Press heavy-duty foil around the leaves.

Place the skewered pineapple over the grill that has been heated to medium-high heat. Brush the pineapple all over with the basting liquid. Cook, basting frequently, until the pineapple is caramelized, browned and tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Place on a large platter, remove the foil, and slice. Overlap the slices slightly, keeping them more or less in the pineapple shape for presentation. Serve over ice cream or with a dollop of sour cream, yogurt or whipped cream.

This basting liquid works equally well with pineapple slices or chunks skewered for kebabs placed directly on the grill. Grill 10-15 minutes or more or less depending on the heat of your grill, basting frequently until caramelized and browned.

This recipe is as simple as other crème brulées if the custard is put into ramekins. Using coconuts as containers for the brulées does take more effort, but make for a really spectacular presentation. Either way, they’re ideal for entertaining: they’re made ahead and chilled with only the torching of the sugar crust to do at the last minute.

Coconut crème brulee
• 2-3 small coconuts, optional (substitute individual ramekins if desired)
• 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
• 1 1/2 T. cornstarch
• 1 c. heavy cream
• 1 c. canned coconut milk (unsweetened) from a well-shaken can
• 1 T. dark rum, optional
• 1/2 vanilla bean or 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• Pinch of salt
• 4 large egg yolks
• 4-6 T. sugar (preferably baker’s sugar)

Check the coconuts for freshness by shaking them when you buy them. You should hear water sloshing inside. Most commercially available coconuts have been scored around their middle; making them easier to crack. Crack the coconuts by tapping them around their perimeter with a cleaver or thick end of a heavy knife. This is not a job for your best knives. Rotate the coconut as you tap. It is best to do this over a towel to catch the liquid. When the coconut is cracked, pour the water into a bowl and reserve for another use if desired. Blot the moisture from the insides with paper towels or a lint-free dishcloth. Put the coconuts in the freezer or refrigerator.

In a medium heavy-bottomed non-reactive pan, mix the brown sugar and cornstarch together well. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the pan. Whisk in the heavy cream, coconut milk, rum, and salt and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the mixture has thickened.

 Put the egg yolks in a blender or the container of a food processor. When the yolks are well blended, slowly add the cream mixture in a thin stream. Pour the mixture back into the pan, turn the heat to low, and return the pan to the stove. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and smooth, heavily coats a spoon, and just until bubbles start to form in the custard. Do not let it come to a boil, or it will curdle.

Remove from the heat and continue to whisk for a few minutes until the heat from the pan has died down. Cool to room temperature.

 Remove the coconuts from the refrigerator and prop them upright by placing them in large muffin pans, small bowls, or by forming a collar of foil around them. Divide the custard between the coconuts and rap them on the counter to smooth the tops. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap for several hours (or you can do it in the freezer in about 1 hour) until firm. They can be prepared 3-4 days ahead at this point.

Just before serving, remove the coconuts from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the tops of the custard evenly with the sugar – it will take about a scant tablespoon per coconut. Using a blowtorch in a slow circular motion, heat the sugar until it caramelizes and forms a hard crust. This can also be done under a broiler, checking as they brown and rotating if necessary.

Serve immediately. The coconuts can be stabilized with crushed ice, pebbles, a bed of small shells, foil collars hidden under flowers, etc. Serves 4-6.

Contact Julianne Glatz at

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