September 6, 2004

lukewarm but not half-baked

Sunday, September 5

No, I didn't forget about this dessert of my dream for almost 10 years, really... it was just put into, eh, a subconscious state, hidden behind the constant waves of all other newer recipes. It was just a while ago that Santos's post about ginger-infused panna cotta reminded me that I had meant to try this one for so long: coconut spice pudding, whose recipe I first found in a Japanese cookbook by Midori Haruyama published in 1995.

This is another such dessert like baked custard, and this one uses cream infused with a mixture of spices, combined with and coconut milk, and served with a dash of freshly squeezed lime juice. I like spices, I like coconut milk, and I like lime - it had everything I like.

Yesterday was made to be the day to try this one at last. I warmed up half & half and milk (the recipe uses heavy cream and water, but I didn't have cream at hand) with a cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom pods, and fresh ginger slices, and oh well I didn't have vanilla beans either - never mind. I also threw in some black peppercorns, too.
Then I added all other ingredients - coconut milk, brown sugar, and eggs and some extra egg yolks - and baked the custard in the oven. Don't ask me how come it took me nine years to try such a simple recipe.

What seemed to have attracted my attention the most, other than such a tempting idea of mixing spices and coconut milk and lime, was a serving tip the author suggested in the book; to serve the pudding lukewarm.
It is my policy to serve and eat food at its "appropriate temperature" - eat it while it's burning hot if it is supposed to be, or serve it tooth-smarting cold if it should be eaten cold, for example (okay, maybe I had gone a bit too far, but you got my point). In her book Midori Haruyama does clearly mention this as her basic attitude, and still says this particular dessert, although very nice chilled as well, would taste good not so hot or warm. I was really curious about this idea.

So I did try one of the ramekins of custard that way. Having been let cool for a while, the custard still looked very soft and its center hadn't completely been settled. I drizzled it with a pinch of brown sugar and squeezed a wedge of lime over it, had my first spoonful.

Hummmm. Mmmmm. mmmmm. mmmmmmmmmm.

It wasn't bad, but it wasn't excellent, either... the thing was, the custard was still too soft and almost runny, and needed chilling to get firm enough to be served as custard. It also tasted a bit bland - something totally contrary to my expectation, considering all those strong-tasting ingredients used in it. My heart sunk.

And I refrigerated the rest of the custard overnight, and had one again this afternoon. It was still not very firm (it might probably have had something to do with the fact that I used thinner cream), but a lot more custard-like today. This time a little more amount of lime juice, along with the brown sugar, did a great job; The tartness of lime juice gave it snap, even complementing the rather subtle flavors from the spices and coconut milk that had otherwise been too faint. Both of us loved it a lot. (I certainly liked it better chilled, but I tried anyways.)

I had my serving of the custard with a nice cup of Tung Ting Oolong tea from The Republic of Tea; it was distinctly paler in color and milder in taste than any other regular oolong tea I have ever had. Very delicate.

Next time I might try this golden trio of spices/coconut milk/lime in something else, maybe in panna cotta (like Santos did) or mousse or something. Or maybe in baked goods, as well.


Santos said...

hey chika--as always, so beautiful. i've never used green cardamom pods, only the ground spice, but i may have to seek those out. i'm surprised that the spice was so faint, esp. lukewarm (i thought chilling would dull the flavour?).

i think i'd like to try those spices in a sweet risotto....

chika said...

Hi Santos,
Thanks for reminding me of the dessert :) How are you feeling?
I think it was because coconut milk as well as the egginess overpowered the spices while it was warm. Or I could have used more spices and steep them in the milk for longer, even though I think I did both enough.

Sweet risotto! Is it like rice pudding? Sounds interesting!

Santos said...

very much a hopped-up rice pudding. i've never made rice pudding though--is there cornstarch or eggs? i was thinking of just cooking risotto with sweetened milk instead of broth; i also remember a recipe that was basically 1 cup of arborio rice and 4 cups of whole milk, baked, until the milk is completely absorbed by the rice. i didn't think it would work, but it did.

purplegirl said...
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purplegirl said...

you have absolutely the most gorgeous photographs. very artsy. like the ones on cookbooks.

i went to barnes and noble bookstore today to get the Haruyama cookbook you mentioned. They don't have it. But even if they did, it won't be of any use to me because it's entirely in Japanese! so, pretty please, can you forward the recipe for this wonderful coconut spice pudding dessert?

chika said...

Hi there,

Santos - I've never thought of rice pudding in that way, a relative of risotto? possibly... I wouldn't use cornstarch or eggs in rice pudding, though they might be in mass-manufactured ones, I guess.

purplegirl - thanks a lot for your kind words and I am sorry you went to B&N just to find the book wasn't there; it is kind an old book and probably out of print even in Japan. If you allow me some time I will sure email you a translation of the recipe. Thanks again!