Why It Works
- Dissolving the cornstarch in cold water before adding it to the hot custard base prevents lumps from forming.
- Roasting the corn and the coconut flakes in the oven concentrates their flavors.
Maja blanca (sometimes spelled maha blanca) is a creamy, dense coconut pudding made with coconut milk, grated coconut, evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk, cornstarch, and sugar. It's a popular Filipino dessert that's similar to Hawaii’s haupia and Italy’s panna cotta―all of them use milk, sugar, and a thickener to create a sweet base that's poured into a mold, chilled until set, and enjoyed cold. Maja blanca can also include kernels of sweet corn, the introduction of which is credited to the arrival of affordable canned goods. Versions of maja blanca that contain corn are known as maja blanca con maíz, maja blanca maíz, or, simply, maja maíz.
Maja blanca was originally made with agar-agar―a gelling agent derived from red algae. In the Philippines, agar-agar is sold in multi-colored blocks at the open markets, where they’re suspended on strings and hung from stalls like oversized Christmas lights. These blocks of agar must be boiled in water until fully dissolved before they can be used. However, when cornstarch was introduced to the country during the American occupation, Filipinos adopted it as their primary thickener of choice due to its convenience and ease of use.
My recipe for maja blanca celebrates the union of buttery-sweet corn and creamy coconut. I prefer to use fresh corn instead of canned, and I like to roast the shucked corn cobs whole to concentrate their rich flavor. If fresh corn is unavailable, drained canned sweet corn is an acceptable substitute and will work in a pinch. Instead of calling for evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk, I rely solely on coconut milk, which puts its flavor front and center and also makes this dessert dairy-free.
Once you have your ingredients prepared, the pudding comes together quickly on the stove: You bring coconut milk, sugar, salt, macapuno (preserved young coconut strings), and the roasted corn to a simmer, add a slurry of cornstarch and water is added (which helps prevent lumps from forming), then you stir the mixture until it thickens, at which point I spread it out evenly on a greased baking dish. Once chilled and fully set, I top the maja blanca with a salty-sweet mix of toasted shredded coconut, brown sugar, and salt for added crunch. Portion it out and serve it as an after-meal dessert, or as a merienda (snack) during the day.
Maja blanca is a versatile dessert, and you can riff on it in many ways. A few of my favorite variations are adding fresh young coconut meat to the custard, finishing the set custard with a topping of grated cheddar cheese, and topping it off with latik (crispy coconut curds).
3 1/2 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut (1 cup; 100g)
2 teaspoons (6g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
2 tablespoons light brown sugar (1 ounce; 30g)
Pan spray, for greasing
2 ears fresh corn, shucked (see note)
2 tablespoons (30ml) coconut oil, virgin or refined, melted
5 ounces cornstarch (1 cup; 145g)
8 ounces (240ml) water
One 13.5-ounce (400ml) can full-fat coconut milk
5 1/4 ounces sugar (3/4 cup; 150g)
12 ounces (1 1/4 cups; 340g) macapuno (see note)
Adjust oven rack to top position and preheat to 375°F (190°C). Spread coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, shaking pan occasionally, until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer toasted coconut to a small bowl and let cool until room temperature, about 10 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and brown sugar and stir until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
Increase oven temperature to 425°F (220°C). Grease a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with pan spray; set aside. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place corn on prepared baking sheet and brush with coconut oil on all sides. Roast, rotating pan halfway through, until corn is tender and lightly brown, about 30 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.
To remove kernels from the cobs, place a large bowl on your work surface and invert a small bowl within the large bowl (this serves as a base on which to rest the corncob). Working with one ear of corn at a time, place one end of a cob on the inverted, smaller bowl. Using a sharp knife, slice downward as close to the base of the kernels as possible, while taking care not to angle the blade into the cob itself. Rotate the ear of corn, and continue until all kernels have been removed. Repeat with the remaining ear of corn. Set aside; discard cobs.
In a medium bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water until smooth; set aside.
In a 3-quart saucepan, whisk together coconut milk and sugar, and set over medium-high heat. Cook, whisking frequently, until sugar is fully dissolved, about 2 minutes. Bring to a boil then lower heat to maintain a steady simmer. Whisk in reserved corn kernels, macapuno, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt.
Re-whisk prepared cornstarch mixture. While whisking continuously, slowly pour cornstarch mixture into coconut mixture in a thin stream, until all of it has been added. Using a flexible spatula, cook, stirring constantly, until the coconut mixture is thick and sticks to the sides and bottom of the saucepan, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish, and smooth top into an even layer.
Let cool at room temperature for 1 hour, then refrigerate until fully set, at least 2 hours.
Slice into 24 2-inch squares. Top each square with 2 teaspoons of reserved toasted coconut mixture before serving.
9- by 13-inch glass baking dish, rimmed baking sheets
If you are unable to purchase fresh corn, you can substitute with 6 ounces (170g) drained canned whole kernel sweet corn. In Step 3, toss corn kernels with coconut oil in a medium bowl before roasting, then proceed to Step 5.
Macapuno, or coconut sport strings, are preserved young coconut strips made from a variety of coconut that has a soft jelly-like flesh and contains very little water. It tastes sweeter than typical coconut and is commonly used in Filipino desserts. Macapuno can be found in Filipino and Asian specialty markets as well as online. If you are unable to find macapuno, you can opt to not add it.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The toasted coconut topping can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
The corn can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Maja blanca can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||15%|
|Saturated Fat 10g||51%|
|Total Carbohydrate 24g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||8%|
|Total Sugars 13g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||3%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|