Katie and Adrienne (my cousins’ wives) have been recent, and wonderful, additions to our extended family. Over and above everything else that is so great about them, is the fact that we share an intense love for food. Most of our emails, Facebook posts and text messages have revolved around food. In addition to exchanging food gifts and ingredients through anyone traveling between Delhi and the American East Coast, we also exchange recipes, meal plans, photos and troubleshoot very often.
From the time that Adrienne & Vinay married last year, she’s been describing this “traditional Puerto Rican coconut dessert, a bit like flan, but better” to me. That description caught my attention but I couldn’t wrap my head around the name! Tembleque, in English, translates to “trembling” – referring to the jelly-like trembling and wobbly appearance of the finished dish.
Because our visits to each other have been so action packed, she wasn’t able to make it for me. But it intrigued me and I asked her to send me the recipe. Since they’re in the middle of trying to sell their flat, the recipe took a while getting to me! She finally emailed it to me during this past Diwali and I just had to try it right away.
It’s an incredibly simple recipe, with very few ingredients and dominated by coconut milk. Since AK is very inconsistent about his views on coconut, specially if it’s the dominant flavour, I was a little wary but I decided to try a small fraction of the quantities she sent me. And lo behold! It was a runaway success.
Here’s what I used for 3-4 servings:
400 ml packaged coconut milk
1/4 cup cornflour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
A few slices of banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon & 1 tsp maple syrup for garnish
Here’s how I made it:
First, I measured out the cornflour into a heavy bottomed saucepan.
Then I added a little bit of the coconut milk and whisked it to combine well. Adding a little bit first is important to avoid lumps.
Once that was done, I added the sugar, vanilla, salt and the rest of the coconut milk and whisked to combine.
Placing it on the stove, I turned on the heat to medium and cooked it till it began to thicken – whisking continuously to avoid lumps and burning.
See the whisk going crazy? It develops a life of it’s own, I tell you!
Once it began to thicken, I lowered the heat and continued to cook and whisk until it became thick and shiny – the consistency was a cross between condensed milk and frosting. When it looked like this, I took it off the stove. With such small quantities, the whole cooking and thickening process took approx 10-12 minutes.
I wet the insides of my silicon muffin cups with water. I was a little worried about this since I didn’t have individual flan molds. Then I remembered that my brother sent me these extremely cute muffin cups from Ikea, which I was a bit hesitant to bake in. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to bring them out! Each cup could hold about 2/3 cup of the pudding.
I spooned the hot pudding into 3 cups and allowed it to cool down to room temperature.
Then I placed them in the fridge to set and chill completely. (If you’re using silicone cups too, then lace them on a plate or tray because each time you move them, you’ll disturb them. They’re not firm like metal molds.) Adrienne said they need 4 hours to overnight to set. But I made these around 9 pm yesterday, after work, and couldn’t wait to dig in beyond midnight, so I tried to flip and un-mold one. Predictably, the results were disastrous. It had set quite a bit but only half came on to the plate. So we sprinkled some cinnamon on it and ate it anyway!
It was extremely light and refreshing. The coconut didn’t overpower and the level of sweetness worked very well because I didn’t think it was too much and AK didn’t think it was too little. And I swear, that NEVER happens!
Anyhow, I left the other 2 in the fridge over-night. When I tried to un-mold them this morning, one came out perfectly while the other split almost exactly at the middle. Some notes on the molding & un-molding at the end.
I picked the best one and arranged some slices of banana on the side, sprinkled the tembleque and bananas with cinnamon and drizzled one teaspoon of maple syrup on the bananas. And voila!
- This pudding can be served warm as well. It’s very creamy and tastes wonderful warm too. I know because we swiped a few spoons of it before spooning into the molds!
- Adrienne’s recipe didn’t involve vanilla but I decided to use it.
- She suggested a variation of adding rosewater to the coconut milk and garnishing with grated nutmeg and rose petals (maybe candied?)
- Another variation she suggested was an Indian-Puerto Rican fusion of adding 2-3 crushed cardamom pods to the coconut while cooking. These should be removed before setting. I’m not sure whether I want to mix cardamom and coconut flavours but she seemed to love it so I might try that soon.
- Some basic google searches also showed other flavour suggestions like orange blossom water, almonds or dried fruit and garnishes like mint, chocolate shavings etc. I would have loved to add some toasted almond flakes to mine but I didn’t have any almonds handy.
Notes on the molding & un-molding:
- While un-molding, I ran a thin, small spatula between the pudding and the mold and then dipped the outside of the mold into a bowl of warm water to help release the pudding. Then I covered the mold with a plate and flipped the plate+mold over and carefully removed the mold, much like inverting a cake.
- Adrienne had suggested using a “wet” mold, by which she meant using water to dampen the inside of the mold to allow easy release later. Some online sources also suggest the use of butter or oil to grease the mold. I think I’ll try greasing the next time to judge the best result.
- I feel that shallower molds work better and reduce the chance of breakage. The molds should definitely be filled to the brim to avoid the “splash” space between the tembleque and the plate while flipping.
- I doubt metal/ silicone makes too much of a difference. Maybe the silcone is easier to “peel” off.
- I’m sure 1-2 practice runs will help get the hang of it, making the whole process more effortless.