Can you think of a dairy-free dessert ? It’s a tricky one isn’t it ? There are a few things, but most desserts contain cream, butter, milk etc.
One of my favourite weekend pastimes used to be going out for a coffee and some cake or cake-related dessert, and I used to have the pick of the whole cabinet…. but now, I’m lucky if I can find one thing that satisfies my food intolerance criteria. Even humble carrot cake (if you take the cream cheese off the top) contains carrots – and unfortunately carrots are in my next most serious batch of intolerances behind cow’s milk and guar. This weekend I had a soy iced coffee (no cream or ice cream, another little treat that has been diminished by this bombshell), and the only thing in the cabinet that looked vaguely acceptable was an apple slice – chopped apple filling between two thin layers of pastry – I just had to hope that the pastry wasn’t too butter-rich.
At home when making desserts, butter is ok – I have found Nutelex which is a suitable alternative and seems to be basically olive oil with emulsifiers added. For milk I can use rice milk or soy milk (although soy is something which I am very mildly intolerant to), but cream is a tricky one. Most things that are ‘fake’ cream are either unwhippable or contain guar E412.
So for desserts you really have to think outside the box – and one of the easiest ways to deal with a dairy intolerance is to think “what would the asians do?” because cow’s milk really doesn’t feature that much in asian cuisine. Today I have friends for lunch and this will be the first lunch for friends where I have cooked with non-dairy in mind. It’s okay because my friends are used to my ‘experiments’, but I really want the dessert to be good because Mike loves my desserts. So I thought long and hard and came up with the idea of dairy-free trifle. Sponge fingers – hmm they may contain some butter, but probably not enough to warrant me making my own right now – if I had more time, I would make some using Nutelex. Jelly – tick, dairy-free. Fruit – tick, dairy-free. Custard – oh dear – maybe I should use rice milk, but how do I make a nice rich custard with thin rice milk ? Coconut milk….mmmm…coconut milk custard – can it be done ? I think coconut milk/cream is what asians would use.
Well I did two experiments, first of all, I used the lite coconut milk – one tin with three egg yolks, a splash of vanilla, a third of a cup of sugar and a heaped teaspoon of cornflour. I heated and stirred and stirred and heated….. and it thickened, but didn’t thicken as much as I would have liked. I did the same with a tin of coconut cream and used an extra spoonful of cornflour – and this time it did thicken nicely. Rather than waste the first batch, I whisked it into the second batch, and it seems to have worked quite well and it tastes good too.
So now for the topping to the trifle – traditionally whipped cream – I checked to see if you can whip coconut cream, and yes you can. So the topping is whipped coconut cream with some gluten free amaretti biscuits (oh yes, I am mildly intolerant to gluten too), and some shaved dark chocolate.
Here is the recipe:
Take a nice large bowl, preferably glass, and put some sponge fingers or savoiardi biscuits in the bottom. Splash the biscuits with some sherry or brandy or any other liqueur you fancy (optional) and then a few tablespoons of fruit juice (juice from canned fruit is ideal – just enough for the sponges to soak up, but not so much that they fall apart).
Now take some fresh fruit (you can mix it up with canned if you like – I put a few canned lychees in mine) – I used strawberries, mango and cherries, and layer the fruit on top of the sponge.
Make up one or two packets of jelly – I needed one and a half packets of strawberry, so I just put the leftover jelly in a separate bowl for evening snacking purposes. When you make jelly you usually add boiling water to dissolve it, and then top it up with cold. When you top it up use really cold water from the fridge so that it cools more quickly, and when it is cold enough (no more than room temperature), pour it over the fruit so that it just covers the fruit and put it in the fridge to set (approx 4-6 hours or overnight).
For the custard, separate 3 large eggs and put the yolks in a bowl. Keep the whites for making meringue later. Whisk a third of a cup of caster sugar in to the eggs and keep whisking until the yolks go pale and creamy, then whisk two large teaspoons of cornflour into the eggs along with a splash of vanilla essence. Heat a 400ml can of coconut cream in a saucepan until almost boiling (you will see the bubbles rising around the edges) – pour the hot coconut milk onto the eggs and whisk them together like mad with a hand whisk – this is a delicate operation, so you may need a helper to pour while you whisk. If you don’t whisk straight away, the milk will cook the eggs and they will go omelettey. Now transfer the contents back to the saucepan and stir constantly while heating. You will feel the mixture thicken as you stir – be patient and heat it gently. When it is a nice custardy consistency, thick and luscious but not gloopy, it is done. Leave it to cool to room temperature, giving it the occasional stir, or if you are impatient like me, cool the saucepan down in cold water (don’t let the water get into your custard though). Gently pour the custard over the set fruit and jelly, and put back in the fridge to set a bit more. If you need more custard, just make a second batch and layer it on top.
Now – the plan was to whisk up some coconut cream with some icing sugar – pipe the cream onto the top and then garnish. My coconut cream didn’t whip very well (it was cold from the fridge, but had formed a few lumps), and it looked a greyish white in colour which was not very attractive – I think that I ended up overwhipping it, so I left it in a bowl on the side for guests to help themselves. I ended up garnishing the custard with grated chocolate and amaretti biscuits. Garnish with whatever you like e.g. glace cherries, candied peel, sliced almonds, crumbled honeycomb, maple syrup etc.