Coconut and Mango Panna Cotta

Coconut & mango are two of my favourite flavours which remind so much of my time spent in Mangalore. Since coconut is a staple all year round, the majestic mango made its appearance only during the summer. We ate plenty and never got tired, such is the charm of this wonderful fruit. Since my mum cooked a lot of dishes using coconut milk I love it and still continue to use it in my kitchen today. However, since I don't make too many curries with it I decided to use this very versatile ingredient in a summery, melt-in-the mouth dessert that is just perfect for this weather. 

This recipe was in the pile of recipe cuttings given to me by my brother. He used to collect the recipes like I do now and at some point realised that if this pile was just a pile, lying unutilized then it was fit to be called junk. He decided to ask me one last time before discarding it and needless to say, I welcomed this pile with open arms (bollywood style). They say one man's junk is another man's treasure. True in my case. 

When I came across this recipe in the pile of paper cuttings I knew I wanted to try it right away. However, I wasn't sure how agar agar looked like as I had never seen it before. Luckily I found it in Lulu supermarket but it was not in powdered form. Despite searching for it everywhere I couldn't find what I wanted and so I decided I would go ahead with whatever I had. I chopped up the agar strands into smaller bits and proceeded with the recipe. Since the agar is extremely light (pretty much like hay) it was very hard to measure it right on my kitchen scale and perhaps I measured out too much of it. As the recipe was for plain coconut panna cotta I did just that. However, I guess the excess agar that I used made it pretty hard - something like hardened Jell-O, can't describe it. The taste was good but the texture was a disaster. To my bad luck I had not tasted panna cotta before but my neighbour Mitchelle who is my baking buddy described it for me and I decided to give this dessert another go.

Panna cotta by the way is a dessert that originated in Italy. It is traditionally made by blending cooking cream, egg whites and honey and then baked in a bain marie (the same techqnique used to make caramel custard). However, the more popular versions use the gelatin to set the dessert to perfection and hence is a no bake method (requires only refrigeration). The use of agar agar (a kind of seaweed) makes it a perfect dessert for vegetarians or those looking to avoid gelatin.

A couple of days ago when I attempted it I decided to use up the mango that had been lying around without any takers. Coconut and mango are a match made in heaven so I was pretty excited to taste the final outcome. My good ol' Facebook friend Caroline had once told me that the powdered form was best as it dissolved properly. This time I decided to powder the agar strands and I am glad that the final result was far better than that of my first attempt. My mixie did a pretty good job at powdering the agar and I recommend you to do the same if you are stuck with the strands and can't find it in the powdered form.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever as it has been rightly said by some great person. This dessert turned out such a pleasing sight that I went crazy taking pictures after pictures on a Friday morning. I simply love photography. And making desserts. And eating them. And blogging about them. I know I sound like a looney, but I can't help feeling this way and falling in love with this dessert. 

As soon as I was done with the photoshoot I invited Mitchelle for a tasting session and she fell in love with it and said it was perfect. This time around the texture turned out exactly the way it should be - light, delicate and melt-in-the-mouth. The coconut flavour was mild although the mango was a tad too dominating but maybe if I had made it without the mango it would be bang on!

You should make this dessert when the mango season is still on. However, don't limit yourself to the mango, you can make this dessert with any fruit coulis on top, make sure it isn't too sweet though. Although I haven't tried it, you could pair the coconut panna cotta with chocolate, kiwi or peach puree. If you do give it a try let me know how you made it and whether you liked it. 

I now leave you with these pictures - I clicked a crazy number and couldn't decide which ones to use. The last shot is my favourite though as I feel it pretty much sums up what this dessert did to my senses.

Coconut and Mango Panna Cotta
Prep time: 30 mins | Chilling time: 4-6 hours or overnight | Yield: approx 10-12 shot glasses (30ml)

For the coconut layer:
  • 1 cup freshly extracted coconut milk * see notes for substitutes
  • 1/2 cup (125 grams) fresh cream *see notes
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
  • 2/3rd cup (75 grams) caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (2 grams) agar agar (china grass), powdered for best results * see notes
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
For the mango layer:
  • 1 medium sized mango (I used alphonso)
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (optional, adjust to taste)
  • 2 grams agar agar (china grass)
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
To garnish (as per your choice):
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Chocolate curls
  • Whipped cream
  • Fresh mango pieces
  • Mint leaves
To make the coconut layer:
1. In a small bowl place the agar agar and pour the hot water over it. Let it sit for 5-10mins or until it has bloomed.
2. Place the coconut milk, cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan and whisk the mixture well to remove any lumps. 
3. On a medium heat bring the mixture to a boil and add the soaked agar agar and its water. Simmer for half a minute whisking continuously and remove from heat.
4. Strain the mixture into a bowl and allow it to cool slightly and then pour into serving bowls or shot glasses or wine glasses (whatever you prefer). If you plan to unmould the pana cotta before serving then lightly grease the moulds with oil before pouring the mixture in. Let the mixture cool completely and then transfer into the fridge for approx 30 mins or until you are ready with the second layer

To make the mango layer:
1. Soak the agar agar in hot water to bloom. 
2. Peel the mango and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add sugar to taste (only if required) and puree the mixture till smooth.
3. Heat the milk and add the soaked agar agar and its water to the puree and mix well till the agar agar is dissolved. Add this to the mango puree and pass the mixture through a fine sieve - this is an optional step but recommended since it will help remove the undissolved agar agar bits and also any fibre from the mango. 
4. Using a teaspoon carefully pour this mixture over the coconut layer and smoothen the surface gently. Suggestion: If you plan to serve the panna cotta in shot glasses, without unmoulding them, then layer with the puree on top and decorate. If you will unmould, then pour the puree around the panna cotta (the big round panna cotta as seen in the picture) just before serving. 
5. Cover the glasses/bowls with cling film/aluminium foil and refrigerate for at least another 2 hours or overnight before serving
6. Garnish with any of the given choices in the 'To garnish' section above. Serve!

1. If you are unable to extract fresh coconut milk you can use coconut milk powder or use tinned coconut milk. To make it using coconut milk powder, dissolve 4 level tablespoons of the powder in 3/4th cup (180 ml) or warm water (otherwise it won't dissolve). Unless you are making plain coconut panna cotta (without mango) add another 2 tablespoons of coconut milk powder (total 6 tbsp instead of 4) - this is because the mango flavour can dominate the coconut flavour. If you are making plain coconut panna cotta (without mango or any other fruit puree topping) then 4 tablespoons is enough.
2. I used Al Marai fresh cream that comes in tubs of 100 grams each. In India you may use Amul fresh cream. You could use heavy cream or whipping cream too if fresh cream is unavailable.
3. Agar agar strands are available at Lulu supermarket and Al Adil stores in Dubai - I was unable to find it in the powdered form which is preferable as the strands take very long to dissolve. After one failed attempt at making this dessert I simply chopped up the strands into fine bits and pulsed it to an almost fine powder in the dry mixer jar of my mixie. This helped a lot for the coconut layer as it dissolved in the boiling liquid, however, the mango layer didn't set as well as I expected as the agar agar was added to the mango puree and perhaps didn't dissolve completely. For best results you could heat up some milk (about 2-3 tablespoons) and dissolve the soaked agar agar in it before adding it to the mango puree. Anyway, even if the mango layer doesn't set fully it will still taste very good.
4. Since the flavour of mango can dominate the flavour of the coconut panna cotta it is recommended not to use too much of it.
5. When mangoes are not in season substitute them with any other fruit of your choice or just make plain coconut panna cotta and serve it with candied orange peels or chocolate curls. 

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