Pichet Ong grew up eating hand-spun coconut ice cream all over Southeast Asia. On the streets of Bangkok, vendors wheel around carts with a freezing canister that houses the fluffy treat, kept frozen with dry ice. They always offer a choice of toppings, which generally include sweet sticky rice, sweet corn kernels, sliced jackfruit, and peanuts. Since then, as a pastry chef in California, New York, and now Washington, DC, Ong has served a dessert inspired by that classic combination, always with the addition of locally available, seasonal fruit.
Here is a version with peanuts, tapioca, corn, cherries, and a salted caramel sauce. This recipe uses whipped cream and egg whites to give the custard base a creamy, fluffy texture without an ice cream machine, but you can also skip that step and use your favorite store-bought coconut ice cream if needed.
Note: Canned coconut milk can be purchased at nearly any grocery store. Look for brands that contain only coconut and filtered water.
- In a 2-quart saucepan, cook the coconut milk, condensed milk, and salt over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pot so mixture doesn't stick or burn, and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, stir in vanilla extract, and set aside to cool.
- Whip egg whites in a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer at medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high, and add sugar about 1 tablespoon at a time. Whip until firm, glossy peaks form.
- To finish parfait, fold whipped cream into cooled coconut mixture, and then gently fold in the meringue.
- Spoon coconut parfait into 8 molds, glasses, or small bowls. Cover with plastic wrap, gently pressing plastic onto surface of parfait. Freeze parfaits until firm, at least 6 hours, or overnight. Parfaits can be kept in freezer, covered, up to 1 week.
- In a small saucepan, bring water, lime juice, and sugar to a boil. Do not stir. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until mixture caramelizes and turns a deep brown.
- Turn off heat, and add coconut milk. Mixture may splatter; stir to combine. Return pan to heat, and bring mixture to a boil, whisking away lumps. Stir in vanilla. Set aside to cool, for at least one hour. Sauce can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 2 days.
- In a 3-quart sauce pan, bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add tapioca, and cook over medium high heat for about 12 minutes, or until pearls are translucent. Drain and stir in 2 tablespoons of the cooled caramel sauce. Cover, and set aside to cool at room temperature, at least 1 hour, and up to 8 hours.
- In a small bowl, mix toasted peanuts with corn kernels.
- Divide tapioca among 8 chilled serving bowls. Unmold the frozen parfaits on top of the tapioca. Top with peanut caramel and 4-5 cherry halves per serving. Serve immediately.
Daniela Galarza is a writer and reporter who covers food, restaurants, cooking, and culture. She used to be a pastry chef. These days she puts her culinary degree to use by making birthday cakes for friends. She lives in New York with her dog Frito.