Friday, April 22, 2011

Vegan Coconut-Mango Pudding with Rose Gelée

My dad's birthday was a few weeks ago, and, as I do for everyone in my family, I make them a birthday cake.  In the case of my dad, I always make his favorite cake - my signature pistachio-cardamom cake with rosewater frosting - but even though I love it, too, I was starting to get a little tired of it.  I considered making a mango kulfi cake, but that's my mom's birthday cake, and I was also just not in the mood to make a cake this year (I blame it on the interminable stretch of damp grey days).

A few weeks ago, I had spent some time conjuring up a short menu of simple spring desserts (for a now-defunct project), one of which was a meyer lemon pudding with brown sugar-sesame seed tuiles.  For whatever reason, that one had really stuck in my head, so I ran with the idea of pudding and decided to make it mango.

But that was a little too boring...I needed to do something to make it a little more special.  Rose gelée!  I developed a minor obsession with agar a few months ago and I haven't dropped it yet given that it's so easy to use and it's vegan.

For the past few months, I've decided that to make my desserts vegan when it's easily possible to do so - there's so much more demand these days for vegan desserts, so if it's easy for me to change something from vegetarian to vegan, why not?  In this instance, cornstarch-thickened pudding was the perfect candidate, as it takes no effort to swap out regular milk for plant-based substitutes (coconut milk as well as some rice or almond milk to cut the coconut milk).  [Not that making vegan cakes is hard, but I have yet to find a vegan frosting that holds a candle to a well-made meringue-based buttercream frosting.]

This pudding is a snap to make, but it does require some ingredients that aren't necessary available in every grocery store, although you can find everything online.  Alphonso mango puree gives this a distinctly Indian flavor, but if you can't find it, you can make your own puree from regular fresh mangoes or frozen chunks.  Rosewater is also widely available - I've seen it at Whole Foods for years now, but I have the luxury of being able to buy mine from Sahadi's, the amazing Middle Eastern grocery store that happens to be just a 10 minute walk from my apartment.  Agar is also starting to show up in more places, but it's been available at Asian grocery stores for years.  It's also not as complicated to use as modern recipes make it out to be; just mix, boil, and set - no need for numerous trips through the blender.

The bottom line here, though, is that my dad, the birthday boy, loved it.  It was different - I've never seen mango pudding anywhere - and, most importantly, delicious.  Because it's a cornstarch-thickened pudding (i.e., no egg yolks in it), the texture is light and silky; the flavors provide the richness. The rose gelée adds a bit of textural contrast and the floral note really complements the mango.  All in all, a perfect birthday treat.


Vegan Coconut-Mango Pudding with Rose Gelée
makes 6 servings
vegan and gluten-free

For the pudding
1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup unflavored rice milk (soy or almond milk would be fine, but I wanted something with as little flavor as possible)
Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 3/4 cup sweetened Alphonso mango puree*

For the gelée
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon agar powder
3 tablespoons cane sugar
1/2 dried hibiscus flower (optional; I used this to make the gelee pink, but you can use food coloring)
1 teaspoon rosewater


Add the coconut milk and rice milk to a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.  Crumble the saffron into the pot, add the salt, and bring to a bare simmer.

Put the cornstarch in a medium bowl, add 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture, and whisk to combine.  Scrape the cornstarch mixture back into the pot, add the mango puree, and mix to combine.  Cook over medium heat until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Distribute the pudding between 6 8-ounce ramekins, jelly jars, or bowls (each one will get a little more than a half cup), cover, and refrigerate until thick, about 2 hours.

Once the puddings are set, remove them from the fridge and wipe away any condensation that may have formed along the inner rims of the bowls.

To make the gelée, put the water, agar, sugar, and hibiscus flower into a small saucepan and whisk well to combine.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the rosewater.  Use a tablespoon measure to evenly distribute the mixture between the bowls - each one will get a little more than 2 tablespoons - then let the gel set at room temperature (no need to refrigerate).

Serve the puddings slightly cooler than room temperature - by the time the gel sets, the pudding will have warmed up a bit.  The pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week but I doubt they'll be around that long.
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