Who says lactose-intolerant people can’t have crème brûlée? A dessert with such a provocatively dairy-centric name should be off-limits, but there are in fact many ways to make it safe to eat. My favorite heavy cream substitute for crème brûlée is coconut cream because it lends such a lovely flavor. You get the luscious texture and the irresistible crackly crust, with an added exotic flavor. Of course, coconut cream is a natural match to tropical fruits, and passion fruit makes this dessert particularly outstanding. I like the added bonus of getting juicy pieces of mango with each creamy bite, a surprise that my guests swoon over every time. So go ahead and concoct this impressive yet approachable dessert; soon enough, it’ll become a classic in your dessert repertoire, and you’ll be coming up with your own variations, too.
Preheat oven to 300°F [140°C]. Set a large roasting pan, or a baking pan with high sides, close to the oven, and place 6 ¾-cup [175-ml] capacity ramekins or small bowls into the pan. Divide the mango cubes between the ramekins. Bring a water kettle to a boil and keep warm.
In a saucepan, bring the coconut cream and passion fruit juice to a simmer. Remove from the heat. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until well combined and the mixture is pale yellow. While constantly whisking, gradually pour the hot coconut cream mixture in a thin stream into the egg mixture. Important note: It’s essential to very slowly pour the hot liquid into the eggs to avoid curdling them. Pass the mixture through a sieve and into a measuring cup.
Pour an inch [2 cm] of hot water from the kettle into the roasting pan, around the ramekins. Carefully pour the custard over the mango cubes in the prepared ramekins, dividing it equally. Transfer the roasting pan to the oven, making sure to remain steady so the water doesn’t splash into the ramekins. Bake for 35 minutes or until the crèmes are set around the edges but still a bit jiggly in the center (they will set completely during the cooling process.) Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack (be careful not to burn yourself with the hot water) and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Right before serving, sprinkle a generous tablespoonful of sugar over each crème, shaking and swirling the ramekins to spread the sugar layer evenly. The sugar must form a thin, even layer all over the crèmes.
Blowtorch technique: If you’re using a kitchen blowtorch to caramelize the sugar, start with the flame about 6 in [15 cm] away from the surface, constantly moving your hand in a circle over the ramekins. Gradually move closer to the sugar as you start seeing the sugar liquefy. Make sure not to remain in a single spot for too long so you don’t burn the surface. The crackly surface is done when it’s shiny and a lovely golden caramel color. Repeat for all servings. Serve immediately.
Broiler technique: Place a rack at the top position in your oven and preheat the broiler to maximum heat (or turn on the broiler flame if you have a gas stove.) Set the ramekins on a baking sheet and place on the top rack, keeping the oven half open so you can carefully watch over the caramelization of the crust. Because broilers vary in strength and size, you should rotate the baking sheet at least once during the process and even shuffle the ramekins so the crusts caramelize evenly. Remove from the oven and serve immediately, advising your guests that the ramekins are extremely hot.
You can serve prepared crèmes covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Make sure only to caramelize the tops right before serving, or it will soften and loose that lovely crackly quality.
It’s important that the crèmes be served cool or at room temperature. The caramelization process will warm up the crèmes and even liquefy them if they’re heated for too long. If you’re using a blowtorch, make sure to caramelize the crèmes right as they come out of the refrigerator. If using a broiler, place the crèmes in the freezer 20 minutes before caramelizing so they remain at the right temperature and consistency.
For more dairy-free dessert inspiration, check out my eCookbook: Sweet Spot: Modern, Better-for-You Dessert Recipes, with Clever Tips to Bake (Mostly) Dairy Free.
In Sweet Spot, you’ll discover modern special occasions desserts, small cakes, cookies and bars, candies, and many more treats that your guests will swoon over, but only you will know that you actually made healthier choices for them. Through quality ingredients and complex flavor combinations, you will create dishes that reach a balance between rich and satisfying—that sweet spot that means you don’t need to over-indulge to feel like you treated yourself. The book features over 60 recipes ranging from basic to elegant, along with mouth watering photography, clever tips, a thorough chapter about essential baking ingredients, and information about the benefits of a dairy-free diet, which is relevant to all sweet lovers, lactose intolerant or not.