Thai”-mato soup” Tea Panna Cotta

Back in college, I made a Thai tea panna cotta and served it in a bowl. And everyone thought it was tomato soup. That was literally how this recipe came about, was people thinking I made tomato soup instead of a dessert. I personally love the flavor and color of Thai tea, and since this is a recipe for our Trick or Treat-inspired Masterchef recipe swap, I figured this would be the perfect submission! The poor soul who has to make this “soup” will need to make a coconut chiffon cake with a Thai basil-lime curd, and a coconut mousse, all of which are going to be in a bowl, underneath the Thai tea panna cotta that will be plated to look like a bowl of Panera tomato soup. I cut the cake into cubes, since that’s on brand for me, but also because I am toasting whatever cake I am not using on the bottom layer, and using those as sweet “croutons” for the top of the soup. There is also coconut flakes and more Thai basil leaves on top, just to really sell the aesthetic of this being a tomato soup and not a dessert. I wanted to do essentially a cake in a bowl, since I personally love eating bowl cakes around the holidays(it’s a tradition I’ve been doing since high school and I don’t even know why), and this pays homage to that as well. With the flavors, you have nutty and creamy with all of the coconut and Thai tea, which is why the usage of Thai basil brings some complexity and fragrance so it’s not all just one note, while the curd adds that tartness to keep everything from being super rich.

Some notes for this recipe, but if you are using Thai tea leaf bags, please read the actual panna cotta recipe first, as that would require steeping the tea overnight into your coconut milk. If you are using the Thai tea powder, then you can save the panna cotta recipe for last and follow the recipe in the order of reading. When making the chiffon cake, if you are using coconut oil, I recommend making sure the oil is melted, since that will be easier to incorporate into the batter. Microwave the coconut oil in a heatproof container(DO NOT USE THE JARS THEY ARE SOLD IN. THEY ARE NOT MICROWAVE-SAFE) for about 30 seconds to melt it down. I also used canned coconut milk, which has more fat and flavor, but you can use the coconut milk from a carton sold in the dairy section too, but only defer to that if you cannot get either the canned coconut milk or the boxed coconut milk that is sold in the Asian aisle of your local grocery store. I used Thai basil, which has more of a spice to it, with earthier notes, but you can substitute that out with regular basil if you do not want to commit to a $6 bag of it like how I did(though if you do, I totally recommend using it to make pesto, because it works gorgeously in that kind of application and basil pesto uses up SO MUCH basil that you’ll be left with little to any by the end of that process). All in all, this recipe was tons of fun to make, and it was my homage to a treat that tricks you!

For the coconut chiffon cake:
2 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp coconut or canola oil
a pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder

In a bowl, whip the egg whites with sugar to stiff peaks. In another bowl, whisk the coconut milk, coconut/canola oil, salt, and vanilla until combined. Sift the flour and baking powder into the coconut milk mixture, and then fold the egg whites through that to form your batter. Line a quarter sheet tray with parchment(you can use a 9-inch baking round or even a brownie pan too), and pour in your batter. Spread the batter into an even layer, and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Allow the cake to cool down before cutting it into 1/4-inch cubes. Store in an airtight container until time to plate.

For the Thai basil-lime curd:
1oz Thai basil leaves
zest from 3 limes
juice from 3 limes
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp coconut oil or unsalted butter

Blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for 5 seconds, then shock the basil in ice water. Squeeze out any excess liquid. In a pot, heat up the other ingredients, whisking them over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until thickened. Transfer everything to a blender and puree until smooth. Pass through a sieve and store in a bowl, with cling wrap pressed against the surface, in the refrigerator.

For the salted coconut cream:
2/3 cups coconut milk
1 tsp salt

Heat the two ingredients together in a pot over low heat until the salt is fully dissolved into the cream. Allow the mixture to cool down to room temperature before attempting to use.

For the coconut mousse:
1/3 cup salted coconut cream
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp gelatin powder + 1 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped stiff and kept cold

In a pot, heat up the coconut cream, cornstarch, gelatin, and sugar, whisking them together on medium heat until everything is combined and the coconut milk has thickened to the point of clinging to the sides of your whisk. Pour the mixture into a shallow bowl and allow it to cool down to just above room temperature, before folding in the whipped cream to form your mousse.

For initial assembly:
In a small bowl, place down a layer of your cake cubes, then drizzle on 1 tsp of the salted coconut cream. Pipe in the Thai basil-lime curd, then spread over that in an even layer your coconut mousse. Place into the freezer for at least 90 minutes – you want this mousse to be frozen solid for when you pour on the panna cotta mixture next! Make sure you reserve some of the salted coconut cream for garnishing the tops of the panna cotta with as well.

For the Thai tea panna cotta:
3 bags of Thai tea leaves
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tsp gelatin powder + 2 tbsp cold water
1/4 tsp ground cloves*
1/4 tsp ground star anise*

In a pot, heat up the Thai tea bags with the coconut milk on low heat for at least 10 minutes, allowing the tea leaves to steep into the milk while it is warm. Pour the milk, with the tea bags, into a container, and allow it to steep in the liquid overnight. I would recommend doing this step first so that you can do all of the other components while the steeping takes place. Before cooking, strain out the tea bags from the liquid.

Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to procure the Thai tea powder with milk and sugar, sub out the tea bags and the sugar with 1/4 cup of the tea powder, and skip the steeping step(if doing that, then make the Thai tea panna cotta last since you will be pouring that on top of everything else!).

In either case, heat up all of your ingredients until the gelatin is dissolved into the liquid. Allow the panna cotta mixture to cool down until it is about room temperature, then pour over your bowls that are layered with the already-frozen coconut mousse. Swirl the salted coconut cream on top of the panna cotta, then let them set in the freezer for at least 1 hour before attempting to garnish on top and serve.

*you can omit the spices if you want, I just have them there as an option!

To garnish:
Leftover cake cubes
Shredded coconut
Thai basil leaves

Bake the leftover cake cubes in a 400 degree F oven for 5 minutes, just to get them nice and toasty. Allow them to cool down before using! Garnish the tops of the panna cotta with your leftover cake cubes, some shredded coconut(to resemble parmesan cheese), and Thai basil leaves to finish. You can also dot the tops with some of the Thai basil curd as well!

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