My Thai: Coconut-Palm Sugar Ice Cream

My Thai

Traditional Thai cooking with a home-style bent.


[Photographs: Leela Punyaratabandhu]

Ice cream is, to put it simplistically, a custard which has been frozen. This ice cream is no different in that regards. It is a custard all right, but a custard with a very distinct Southeast Asian flavor and scent courtesy of coconut milk, palm sugar, eggs, and pandan leaves.


I've played around with different ingredient ratios before settling on this one. The taste isn't that hard to nail. I mean, how hard is it to make sugar, coconut, cream, and eggs taste good, right? Well, what makes this project a bit of a challenge is how to get the smooth texture.

Ounce for ounce, palm sugar isn't nearly as sweet as white granulated sugar. So, in order to achieve the level of sweetness that characterizes a good ice cream, a large amount of it needs to be used. This means a lot of moisture—the kind of fat-free moisture that will end up causing the end product to have a hard, icy texture as opposed to smooth and creamy.


Also, since we're aiming to mimic the flavor of Thai custard, coconut milk needs to be used. And the amount of fat in regular canned coconut milk isn't enough to counteract the amount of moisture which the palm sugar brings into the mix.

After a few tests, I've found a recipe that gives you both the true flavor (and scent) of Thai custard and the smooth, creamy texture which is desirable in an ice cream. The solution lies in the use of brown sugar which cuts down on the amount of palm sugar as well as the use of heavy whipping cream which lends its fatty helping hand to the leaner coconut milk without stealing the show.