Simple Sundays | Coconut Panna Cotta with Papaya Gelee

  sou•ve•nir | sü-və-nir | noun a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place or event verb [trans.] informal take as a memento 06.28.11 The remaining scents of guava and papaya are wafting through the air, and it was with heavy…

Simple Sundays | Coconut Panna Cotta with Papaya Gelee


sou•ve•nir | sü-və-nir |


a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place or event

verb [trans.] informal

take as a memento


The remaining scents of guava and papaya are wafting through the air, and it was with heavy hearts that we packed our bags to return home. The time away was much needed, to escape the mundane, to celebrate the end to a busy year, and to remember life’s special moments. But most of all, to reconnect and remember the little things. To unplug and embrace the present.

When you write a food blog, it is easy to get trapped behind a lens, a computer screen, or hovered over a stove. To be free from cooking (and cleaning!) and capturing every single moment was…refreshing.

For me, I realized that I had begun to relax when I knelt down next to my daughter, and dug into the sand. Side by side, we dug and molded sand castles. I looked up to find my husband and son fervently working on a moat to preserve our castle, and this made my heart so full, I can’t even tell you.

This simple thing was one of the highlights of our trip. Better than witnessing my eight year old snorkel for the first time, better than savoring guava juice and fresh papayas for breakfast, better than swinging from banyan trees, better than the amazing dinner my husband and I were able to enjoy solo.

Working together on a project we knew would have a futile result…despite knowing it would be washed away by the ocean in mere minutes…this reminded me of what family is all about. We are here to help each other, no matter the outcome. I don’t have a photo of the sand castle, and it was, as expected, obliterated by wind and water. But that memory will be my everlasting souvenir.

For you, my souvenir is this Coconut Panna Cotta with Papaya Gelee. I ate my fill of papaya when I was in Maui, and yearn for them still. One spoonful of this creamy coconut custard swirled with the papaya gelee, and I can’t think of a better way to remember the tropics.

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Coconut Panna Cotta with Papaya Gelee

After our trip, I was excited to learn the art of macaron making from fellow Bay Area blogger and Self-Proclaimed Cookie Queen, Gina Stanley. I wanted to bring something tropical and refreshing to her home to help beat the July heat. For me, this panna cotta was an experiment, but my fellow food bloggers were eager guinea pigs. Their whole-hearted approval filled my heart, and I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

Makes 6-8 servings.


  • 1 14 oz can coconut cream
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 15 oz can Cream of Coconut (Coco Lopez)
  • 1 red papaya
  • 1 cup water, divided
  • 1-3 tablespoons agave nectar, simple syrup, or sugar (to taste)
  • sugar palm fruit (kaong), for garnish (optional)


For the Coconut Panna Cotta:

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of coconut cream with 1/4 cup of water. Sprinkle 1 package gelatin over the coconut cream and let it sit for 5 minutes. Warm the saucepan over low heat and stir, until the gelatin dissolves completely.

Add the remaining coconut cream and cream of coconut, and cook over medium heat until steam arises, stirring periodically. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.

Pour the mixture into your ramekins or serving cups and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

For the Papaya Gelee:

Slice the papaya in half and remove the seeds. Dice about 1 cup of papaya and blend thoroughly in a blender. Pass the pulp through a sieve. Set aside.

Sprinkle 1 package gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water, let stand 1 minute. Take other 1/2 cup of water and bring it to a boil, add to gelatin mixture and stir thoroughly, until the gelatin dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stir in the papaya puree. Sweeten to taste, depending on the ripeness and flavor of the papaya with sugar or simple syrup.

When the coconut panna cotta layer is firm, add a layer of papaya gelee to each ramekin/serving cup. Return to refrigerator and chill for another 4 hours.

Garnish before serving with fresh papaya and sugar palm fruit (kaong)*, if desired. Serve within 24 hours.

Sugar Palm Fruit (pictured left), or kaong as it is known in the Philippines, is the sweet fruit of the sugar palm, often used in special Philippine desserts. As a child, I used to love sneaking these chewy pearls from their syrupy jars and eating them cold. You can find them in your specialty Asian markets.

Coconut Panna Cotta adapted from Mark Bittman’s Recipe of the Day: Panna Cotta, New York Times, September 11, 2008.



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  1. Kevin Baker

    This is an amazing recipe — the panna cotta is sublime. I do have a question, however. I had always heard that an enzyme in fresh papaya would prevent gelatin from setting, and sure enough, my papaya gelee never set up properly. The whole thing was still incredibly good, but I am curious about why this worked for you. Did you perhaps cook the papaya-gelatin mixture longer than the recipe suggests? I ask because heat will destroy papain (the enzyme that inhibits gelling). Anyway, thanks for a truly delicious recipe!

    • Liren

      Hi Kevin! Glad you enjoyed the panna cotta. When I was making it, I was a little worried that the papaya would not set up as well, as I have heard that the enzyme could inhibit the gelatin; that was the reason I put as much gelatin in the gelee, just to be safe. In my case, it did actually work — the papaya gelee was definitely set. However, it did soften a tad if left to stand at room temperature, which I was ok with because I liked how it contrasted with the more firm panna cotta. Either way, I am very pleased you enjoyed it!

  2. Karina Andalon

    What is the difference between cream of coconut and coconut cream????

    • Liren

      Hi Karina! Really great question. Coconut cream is produced in a similar fashion to coconut milk, that is, by cooking a combination of shredded coconut with coconut water. However, coconut cream has less water and is thicker in consistency.

      Cream of Coconut, on the other hand, is coconut cream that has been sweetened, and is used in things like pina coladas. Think Coco Lopez brand (I prefer this by far).

      See also this Slashfood article for more on the difference between coconut milk, cream & cream of coconut!

      Hope this helps!

  3. Gina

    It was my pleasure having you over. I put one of the leftovers in the back of the fridge so no one else could find it. I just printed this recipe so I can add it to my collection. I will be on the look out for the palm fruit and a nice ripe papaya. Isn’t it nice to have time with the family and just unwind completely. Your photos are amazing.

  4. Ann

    Wow – what a beautiful post! The panna cotta looks incredible and I enjoy papaya as well. Your pictures are incredible….

  5. Alan Cooke

    Sounds like you hada great vacation! That panna cotta looks very elegant and delicious. Don’t eat much papaya in S.C., but love coconut. Thanks for sharing :-)

  6. Aileen @kitchenkwento

    This looks so refreshing and elegant. I love coconut panna cotta and it’s relative I ate growing up on the Big Island, the Hawaiian haupia (did you have some during your visit?). Wouldn’t have thought of a papaya gelee, I’ll have to try this now! Thanks for sharing.

  7. pachecopatty

    Hi Liren, Happy 4th! It was good to see you at Gina’s for the macaron baking day and as Lisa mentioned it will be fun to experiment with macaron making in our own kitchens. I was one of the happy willing guinea pigs for your panna cotta dessert and I’m still savoring the memory of tasting your delicious tempting works of art that you so generously shared with us. I look forward to our next get together;-) Thanks for sharing all your gorgeous photos from your trip, sounds like a wonderful trip and I love the sand castle memories.

    • Liren

      Hi Patty, thank you so much for your sweet words! I wish the ones I transported to Gina’s were as pretty as the ones photographed here, but I am glad they still tasted good! *I* am still thinking of your smoked sablefish – I forgot how much I missed it till I tasted yours! Looking forward to the next gathering!

  8. Nelly Rodriguez

    It looks gorgeous. I’m not the biggest fan of panna cotta but…papaya and coconut are two of my favorite fruits, so might need to try this out!

    • Liren

      Hi Nelly! I can appreciate that – I know it took several tries of panna cotta (different varieties) before I fell in love with the dessert. If you love coconut and papaya, I really encourage you to try this – it’s wonderful!

  9. norma

    I am so happy that you enjoyed your time with the family and this panna cotta is absolutely gorgeous and I am sure it tastes like heaven. I have to make this.

  10. Vanille

    Liren, we are on the same tune, I planned to make a coconut panna cotta today ;)
    Yours look so refreshing and I like the association of coconut and papaya !
    Hope you enjoy your long week-end ;)

  11. Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet }

    Liren – I was SO happy to see that you posted this so soon! I was actually thinking about how delicious it was this morning. You have created a complete award winning dessert! I think that I need to make this soon – may try with some of my peaches that I have. Great photos of the kids and so happy you had such a terrific time on your vacation. (BTW – Happy that we now know how to make macarons – can hardly wait to experiment) Happy Sunday!!!! :-)

    • Liren

      Lisa, I am SO glad you were at Gina’s Macaron event – I absolutely can’t wait to get crackin’ on those macarons. And I really do appreciate your thoughts on the dessert – I trust your honest opinion :) Peaches would be absolutely wonderful in this panna cotta!

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