Tembleque - Coconut Supreme

Those of us from a Caribbean heritage have a thing about coconuts. We drink the coconut milk, snack on coconut meat, mix it in our rum drinks, and use it in our cooking, mainly in our desserts. And the prime dessert dish of all is tembleque, or coconut custard. It's rich, it's creamy, it's a delight. And a hell of a bother to cook. It's the only recipe (apart from pasteles) in my tome, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Book Group), that takes time to prepare. But, believe it, my friends, it's worth it.

First of all, to do the thing right, you need fresh, ripe coconuts. These can be acquired in any Caribbean, Asian or Indian market. You need to drain them, grate the coconut meat, cook it and strain it. Agreed. It's time consuming. But it's a hell of a lot better than the pre-packaged tembleque mix in stores, and much healthier. It doesn't have all the preservatives or chemicals in it.

If you still don't want to invest the time, you can shortcut by using canned coconut milk, which is readily available in most supermarkets. Omit the coconut part and use with the rest of the ingredients noted in the recipe given below. But, for the genuine taste of pure, luscious tembleque, nothing beats the original.


2 large ripe coconuts
1/2 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground nutmeg
Ground cinnamon

1. Pierce coconut (a big nail is best) and drain liquid into a small bowl. Reserve.
2. Split coconuts and remove white meat from shell. Separate the brown skin from coconut meat.
3. Break the coconut meat into pieces, rinse under cold water and grate finely.
4. Place grated coconut in a bowl. Add enough water to reserve coconut liquid so that it measures 3 1/2 cups. Bring liquid to a boil and add grated coconut.
5. Drain coconut in a colander or strainer, pressing with the hands to extract coconut milk into a bowl.
6. Heat one cup water. Add same coconut shreds as before and strain again into the same bowl that holds the coconut milk. Discard shreds.
7. In a large pot or saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in coconut milk, a little bit at a time and blend well.
8. Cook on moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture thickens.
9. Reduce heat to low and stir until mixture boils.
10. Remove from heat and pour into 8 slightly wet, individual molds or a large round pan or mold.
11. Let cool and invert into molds, serving dish or platter. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon and serve.
Yield: 8 servings.

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