Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Coconut pudding parfaits brighten winter meals

This dessert was inspired by three things: Photos of a rich and labor-intensive banana pudding pie that a friend posted on Facebook; a half-empty bag of shredded coconut that I had used in my brownie recipe; and some bananas rapidly ripening on my kitchen counter.

I had a can of light coconut milk in the pantry, so I decided to use it to make pudding. You should be able to find light coconut milk in the Asian aisle of any well-stocked grocery or ethnic market. (I based my pudding on a recipe from the Food Network's Robert Irvine; you can find the original here.) To make enough pudding for four servings, I added 1/3 cup of nonfat milk to the coconut milk. For a nondairy dessert, use unsweetened almond milk or more coconut milk.

The pudding needs to be made in advance and chilled. Don't assemble the parfaits until you're ready to serve them. Otherwise, the enzymes from the fruit could cause the custard to become watery.

You can make layered parfaits or simply top bowls of pudding with fruit. Use your choice of fresh, frozen or even canned fruits. Berries, mango chunks, peaches, cut-up orange segments and pineapple chunks all come to mind. If you'd like a little crunch on top, garnish with a sprinkling of crushed gingersnaps or toasted sliced almonds. For a creamy topping, add a dollop of whipped cream.

Yield: 3 or 4 servings

1 (about 13 1/2-ounce) can light coconut milk
1/3 cup nonfat milk, unsweetened almond milk or additional coconut milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup loosely packed sweetened shredded coconut, plus more for optional garnish
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Slices or chunks of fruit (such as banana, mango, pineapple)

Pour coconut milk and nonfat milk, almond milk or 1/3 cup additional coconut milk into a 3-quart saucepan. Add sugar and salt. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add 1/4 cup shredded coconut. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the liquid begins to simmer.

In a small bowl or cup, mix together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water, making a slurry. Slowly stir the slurry into the simmering coconut milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir to prevent scorching.

Scrape the pudding into a medium bowl. Place that bowl into a larger bowl filled with several inches of ice water. Let cool, stirring frequently. When cool, cover the bowl of pudding with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

While pudding chills, toast coconut for the optional garnish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread shredded coconut into an 8-inch baking pan. Bake until the coconut turns golden, about 3 minutes, stirring every 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer coconut to a plate and let cool completely.

To make parfaits, alternate layers of pudding and fruit in tall glasses. Sprinkle the top of each parfait with toasted coconut and serve immediately.  (Any extra shredded coconut can be frozen.)

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