It’s hard not to fall in love with coconut sugar, the granulated, dehydrated and boiled nectar produced from coconut palm flowers. Rich, smoky, caramel and earthy, it’s a defining ingredient of south-east Asian sweets, alongside its cousin palm sugar, which is harvested from the sap of palm tree trunks. Coconut sugar is transformative in a pavlova, imparting flavours of honeycomb with a hint of bitterness that’s reminiscent of the top of a creme brulee. I’ve also combined it with bananas in my deep-fried lumpia for a taste of sunshine that will put sand between your toes.
Coconut sugar pavlova with caramelised pineapple
Caramelised pineapple and toasted coconut marry perfectly with the rich, honeycomb flavours of this pavlova. Coconut sugar gives the meringue a golden hue, reminiscent of fading sunlight. Blending the sugar in the food processor at the start ensures it dissolves easily; undissolved sugar causes pavlova to weep sugar syrup or collapse, so there are no shortcuts. Follow my timings for a perfect pavlova with a mallowy centre and crunchy exterior.
Prep 45 min
Cook 2 hr 20 min
For the pavlova
110g coconut sugar, or grated palm sugar
230g caster sugar
6 egg whites (220g)
⅛ tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp cornflour
1½ tsp white-wine vinegar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
For the topping
½ pineapple, cored and cut into 2½cm x 4cm pieces
2 tbsp coconut sugar or grated palm sugar
30g desiccated coconut
280ml double cream
Pulp of 2 passion fruits
½ mango, peeled, cut into thin slices and julienned
Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7. Put the pineapple in a single layer on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, dust with two tablespoons of coconut sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes, until caramelised. Remove and transfer the fruit to a plate.
Replace the paper on the tray with a fresh sheet, add the desiccated coconut, roast for three minutes, until golden, then remove and set aside.
Draw a 20cm circle on another fresh sheet of greaseproof paper and lay it pencil side down on a greased baking tray. Put the coconut and caster sugars in a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt to soft peaks, then add the sugar mix a tablespoon at a time, whisking for 30 seconds between each addition. Once all the sugar has been added, scrape down the edges and whisk for five minutes more. Rub some of the meringue mix between your thumb and forefinger: it should be smooth, so if you can feel any grains of sugar, keep whisking.
Add the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla to the meringue mix, and whisk briefly to combine. Spoon the meringue on to the circle outline on the paper and smooth out evenly. Make an indent in the centre (this will hold the cream later), then, using a palette knife, drag the meringue in upward strokes around the outside, creating little peaks.
Put in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 140C (120C fan)/275F/gas 1. Bake for two hours, until the pavlova is dry to the touch and lifts easily from the paper. Turn off the oven and leave inside to cool with the door slightly ajar for at least two hours, and preferably overnight.
To serve, whip the cream until thickened. Transfer the pavlova to a serving plate and top with the cream. Dust with the toasted coconut, then top with caramelised pineapple, passion fruit and mango. Serve immediately.
Banana and coconut sugar lumpia
Fried banana snacks are prolific in Asia and a feature of many childhoods, including my own. This recipe takes inspiration from lumpia pisang in Indonesia and turon in the Philippines: deep-fried spring rolls filled with sugar-coated bananas that caramelise as they cook, amplifying sweetness and flavour. My version folds the wrappers rather than rolling them, creating a textured, roti-like snack that is both crunchy and irresistibly gooey.
Prep 15 min
Cook 15 min
Makes 16 squares, to serve4-6
For the lumpia
400g over-ripe bananas (peeled weight), from about 5 medium-sized ripe bananas
50g coconut sugar, or grated palm sugar
⅛ tsp fine sea salt
70g plain flour, sifted
8 x 15cm square frozen spring roll wrappers, defrosted
500ml neutral cooking oil, such as sunflower oil
For the cinnamon sugar
20g caster sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
For the garnish
2 tsp black or white sesame seeds
4 tbsp condensed milk
Lightly mash the bananas with a fork in a large bowl, then add the coconut sugar and salt. Gradually add the flour, stirring between additions, to prevent lumps from forming. The batter will be slightly runny.
Lay a spring roll wrapper on a work surface, and cover the rest with a cloth to prevent them drying out. Spread three level tablespoons of the banana filling over one half of the wrapper, leaving a 1½cm border. Fill a bowl with water, wet your index fingers, then run them along the edges of the wrapper. Fold the other half of the wrapper over the filling and press the edges down to seal. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and banana mix until the filling has been used up.
Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed, deep-sided pan, making sure it is no more than two-thirds full. Heat the oil to 160C/325F, then add four lumpia and fry, turning once halfway, for about six to eight minutes, until golden. Remove from the oil using tongs and drain on a tray lined with kitchen towel. Return the oil temperature to 160C and fry the second batch of lumpia. (Frying in two batches ensures the temperature of the oil doesn’t drop too quickly.)
Leave the cooked lumpia to cool for five minutes, then transfer to a board and cut each one in half to make two squares. Meanwhile, mix the caster sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
To serve, put the lumpia on a large platter and dust each two-square serving with a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. Drizzle each serve with half a tablespoon of condensed milk and sprinkle over a quarter-teaspoon of sesame seeds then serve immediately.
Once fried, the lumpia will keep for up to two days in an airtight container in the fridge: to reheat, lay them on a an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake at 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 oven for 10 minutes.