An Idea to Chew On

I’d had a really yummy idea swimming around in my brain for a while, and like all swimmy ideas it changed and evolved over time, even getting so far as to be hypothetically written out in my notebook, along with recipes for accompanying elements. Also like many swimmy ideas, it sat fairly dormant until I came across something that caused a final change, very different to what I had been previously imagining.

cubes n stuff
It looks so exotic!

The large cubes of orangey stuff are a very firm Thai tea panna cotta. Not so much sexy-wobbly, more Jello-firm-set. I could have used less gelatin but I wanted a sliceable panna cotta, since I set it in a loaf pan. And then I ended up cubing it because it looked like crap on the plate with the other elements. Ah, evolution.

Just a few streaks of tamarind, it's powerful stuff!

To offset the wonderful tropical sweetness of the elements in this dish (relax, we’re getting to the rest of them), I used tamarind concentrate. Tamarind on its own is very sour and easily overpowering, so I ended up using a brush to stripe it onto the inside of the glass, so as the dish sat and got eaten every bite would have just a bit of tanginess in it. It worked great and made the dessert so much more complex.

into the void
So dramatic against that black background!

All right, now we’ll get to the other elements. Those little segments? Fresh mangosteen, something I’d never come across before. But there they were, in mesh bags, sitting alongside fat, juicy dragon fruits and gargantuan star fruits at a Chinatown fruit cart. They’re what prompted me to change this dessert from Thai tea panna cotta with pineapple, spices and tamarind to Thai tea jelly cubes with fresh mangosteen, nata de coco and tamarind.

Nata de coco is unique and addictive.

Nata de coco? What’s that? It’s, uhh…ok, according to Wikipedia it’s a fermented product made from coconut water and carrageenan. Basically, they’re really firm little jelly cubes in syrup that explode with juiciness when you bite into them. You can get them in a bunch of different flavors (I almost bought pandan but ended up going with the plain ones) and the particular wonderland of a grocery store that I bought my jar from carries other fruits processed the same way, which I hope to try soon.

Before I give up the recipe I’d like to tip my virtual hat (I don’t really wear hats besides my knit strawberry hat in the winter and you can’t really tip a knit winter hat) to Pichet Ong. I first had both Thai tea and nata de coco at Spot and have been enthralled ever since.

Time for a tropical treat!

Thai Tea Jelly with Tropical Flavors

Thai Tea Panna Cotta

  1. 1 1/2 cups cream
  2. 1 1/2 cups milk
  3. .75 oz. powdered gelatin (3 packets)
  4. 1/4 cup sugar
  5. 2 Tbsp Thai tea
  6. 1 tsp sweetened condensed milk

Pour the cream into a medium saucepan and sprinkle with the gelatin. Allow to bloom 5 minutes. Stir gently over low heat until the gelatin dissolves. Add the milk, sugar and tea, simmer over medium until it just begins to boil and foam. Remove from heat, cover and steep 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is orange and fragrant. Strain into a bowl over an ice bath, mix in the condensed milk and beat until the mixture is cooled and the consistency of softly whipped cream. Pour into a plastic-lined loaf pan to set. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for 4 hours before unmolding.

To unmold, invert the loaf pan onto a large plate and peel off the plastic. Using a hot, dry knife, cut into 1″ cubes, trimming as necessary.

To Serve

  1. Tamarind concentrate
  2. Thai tea jelly cubes (about 8 per serving)
  3. Fresh mangosteen segments (about 10 per serving, only use the smaller ones as the larger segments contain inedible pits)
  4. Nata de coco (about 6 cubes per serving)

Using a small pastry brush, brush the inside of a small goblet with 4 light but thick stripes of tamarind paste. Place a couple jelly cubes in the bottom and fill in the gaps with mangosteen and nata de coco, layering the elements until the goblet is almost full. Serve chilled.

Though this came out completely differently from what I originally intended, it was delicious, refreshing and a lot of fun to put together. Plus it turned out so pretty!

…And SPEAKING of pretty, you may have noticed that my lighting doesn’t suck anymore. That’s because I now have a Magical Photography Cube with Accompanying Lights, courtesy of my awesome parents. Hopefully my pictures will be back up to the caliber they used to be. Thanks Mom and Dad!


  1. Inventive dessert! Your yummy idea is definitely swimming in the right direction :-)

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

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