This thickened not-to-sweet coconut dessert is scented with cinnamon and the subtle undertone of lime. Tembleque (tehm-BLEH-kay), from the Spanish temblar, which means “to shake,” describes this wiggly coconut dessert to a tee. It’s poured into a mold and shaped. It’s similar in texture to Jello. (Even though we consider it a pudding, which I know doesn’t make any sense.)
You can make this simple cinnamon-flavored coconut custard in about 20 minutes. Just let it chill for a few hours and enjoy it as a snack, a special treat or a mid-day pick-me-up.
The Best Coconut Milk for Tembleque
Because I truly believe that my late Abuela Leria is reading this from beyond the grave, freshly extracted coconut milk from a real coconut is the best type of milk to use in tembleque. However, because we are all busy people and coconuts don’t always fall out of the trees in our neighborhoods, canned, full-fat coconut milk is the next best option. Sorry, Grandma.
Canned coconut milks are available in abundance, but because tembleque is supposed to be as white in appearance as possible, it’s best to use a coconut milk with the least number of additives in it. While I haven’t researched this theory in depth, my personal experience is that the more additives and preservatives the coconut milk contains, the greyer in color it is.
Thai Kitchen’s coconut milk is the closest to fresh coconut milk, in my opinion, so that’s what I prefer to use.
You’ll find that most canned coconut milks (especially the organic ones) need to be stirred before using. If yours has a layer of viscous liquid underneath a thick cap of white coconut fat, whisk the two together before pouring it into the sugar mixture.
Most important: Use full-fat coconut milk. Light coconut milk won’t give your tembleque the same body or mouthfeel that you’re looking for. The watery stuff in the refrigerated section should also be avoided for the same reason.
The Best Molds for Tembleque
Tembleque can be poured into large molds for sharing, but if you’re a non-sharer, like me, individual molds for hoarding this pudding all to yourself are better.
- If I plan to serve tembleque to a crowd, and I know we’ll demolish it one sitting, I pour the hot mixture into a large decorative bundt pan. This pan is my favorite.
- When I’m serving tembleque to my family, I use these smaller, individual molds. The smaller molds accommodate our varied dessert-eating schedules without exposing the cut tembleque to the cold, refrigerated air.
Don’t feel like fussing with the unmolding process? Don’t! Eat it straight from the pan – YOLO, right?!?
Switching up the size of the mold is no biggie, but I prefer to use metal molds because the dessert chills faster. If you don’t have access to individual molds, you can also use a regular bundt pan or cake pan! Just refrigerate it for five to six hours, or until firm.
When Is Coconut Pudding Ready?
Tembleque is ready to be unmolded when the custard feels slightly firm and springy when pressed with your fingers. The mold should feel very cold to the touch as well. Both are signs that the custard is completely chilled and has set up properly.
Tips and Tricks for Unmolding Tembleque
When it’s time for the big reveal, the inverted tembleque should emit a “SCHLOOP!” sound when it releases onto a plate. That glorious sound will let you know your custard is ready to be “ooh’d and ahh’d” over.
Here are a few tricks to make sure the tembleque unmolds easily:
- Rinse the inside of the mold in cold water before pouring the warm tembleque custard into it. This thin layer of moisture creates a tasteless barrier between the mold and the custard that will assist with unmolding after the tembleque has firmed up.
- When the custard is properly set up, gently pulling the custard from the mold with your fingertips (recommended if you’ve used a decorative mold) or running a thin knife between the tembleque and the mold will loosen it further.
Why didn't my tembleque set up? What went wrong?
Tembleque is thickened with cornstarch, which is a very forgiving thickener. If, for some reason, an excess of water gets whisked into the custard as it cooks, it will inhibit the thickening. This may also happen if you’ve purposely added more sugar than is called for to the mixture.
THE SOLUTION: Create a slurry of equal parts cold water and cornstarch (one tablespoon of water to one tablespoon of cornstarch) and slowly whisk it into the cooking custard. Allow the tembleque to cook until it thickens.
What if I can’t get them out of the molds?
If you find your molds aren’t releasing within a minute of inverting them, we can fix that.
THE SOLUTION: Flip them back over and set them in a shallow dish partially filled with hot water for five to ten minutes. The heat from the water will warm the mold and release the tembleque.
If some, by some crazy twist of fate, the tembleque still won’t schloop from the mold, just take a spoon to it, eat it straight from the mold, and call it day.
Suggestions, Swaps, and Substitutions
- Swap out the coconut milk: If you don’t enjoy a strong coconut flavor, you can replace one can of coconut milk with one can of evaporated milk. Or replace all the coconut milk with evaporated milk.
- Swap the sugar: A caramel flavor can be mimicked by using brown sugar instead of white sugar.
- Swap the citrus: I used lime peel in this recipe, but you can use any type of citrus peel.
- Use an extract: One of the original tembleque recipes, written by Carmen Aboy de Valldejuli (she’s basically the Julia Child of Puerto Rican cooking), uses orange blossom water. You can go the original route and stir in orange blossom water instead of the vanilla extract. In fact, there’s also a whole host of extracts that can be used in place of the vanilla.
How to Decorate Tembleque
I stick to the basic decoration when it comes to prettifying my tembleque:
- Dust with ground cinnamon
- Sprinkle with toasted, sweetened coconut flakes
- Or, do what I do, and sprinkle BOTH over it!
Can You Make Tembleque Ahead of Time?
Yes! In fact, you should make it at least four hours in advance of unmolding because tembleque needs time to chill and develop its trademark jiggle. Tembleque will keep in its mold refrigerated, overnight (or up to 12 hours).
Beyond that, it’s best if you unmold it and cover with a layer of plastic wrap. If you find you have leftover custard, wrap it snugly in plastic wrap to keep it from becoming gummy and hard.
More Custard Recipes
- Creamy Chai-Spiced Vegan Rice Pudding
- Vegan Chocolate Pudding
- Rose Petal Flan
- Tapioca Pudding
- Panna Cotta with Summer Berries
Tembleque (Puerto Rican Coconut Pudding)
Tembleque is a molded dessert similar to jello in texture, but not nearly as sweet. If you prefer a sweeter dessert feel free to add 1 to 2 additional tablespoons of sugar.
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 2 (13.5 ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3-inch peel of lime, optional
- 1 cinnamon stick, optional
- To garnish:
- 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes, toasted
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Whisk together dry ingredients:
In a large, heavy-bottom pot (preferably one with sloping sides) whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, ground cinnamon, and salt. You are doing this in a cold pot off heat.
Gradually add the coconut milk:
Gradually whisk one can of coconut milk and vanilla into the sugar. This will smooth out the sugar and cornstarch mixture and prevent any clumps. Once a thick, lump-free paste has been created, whisk in the remaining coconut milk.
Add the lime and cinnamon stick:
Add the lime peel and cinnamon stick.
Cook the tembleque:
Place the pot over medium heat. Whisk frequently while bringing the mixture up to a simmer. Once small bubbles form on the edges of the pan, begin whisking constantly, but not vigorously. If you whisk too aggressively, it will cause too much air to incorporate into the tembleque, which will create bubbles in the final molded dessert.
Ultimately, you will cook the tembleque on medium for 5-10 minutes, or until the whisk leaves behind a ribbon when lifted from the pot.
Remove the pot from the heat. Fish out and discard the lime peel and cinnamon stick and allow the tembleque to cool slightly while you rinse the mold(s).
Rinse the molds:
Pour cold water into your mold and swish it around, kind of like you’re washing dishes and rinsing the soap from it.
Fill your molds:
Shake any excess water out of the molds, but don’t dry them. Fill each mold using a ladle or spoon. If you’re using individual molds spoon a cup of the hot liquid into each mold. If you’re making dessert for a crowd, pour all of the custard into a large 10-inch mold.
Release the air bubbles:
Gently tap the bottom of the mold against the countertop to release any bubbles trapped in the custard.
Chill the tembleque:
Press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the tembleque and refrigerate until completely chilled. This may take anywhere from two to four hours depending on the size of your molds.
Carefully unmold and garnish:
Gently pull the custard from the mold with your fingertip or run a thin, sharp knife between the tembleque and the mold. Invert the mold over a plate and allow gravity to release the custard from the mold.
Garnish and serve:
Sprinkle the tembleque with toasted coconut flakes and ground cinnamon. Store the unmolded tembleque in an air-tight container or covered in plastic wrap (touching the custard) in the fridge.