Sunday, June 10, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Puerto Rico III - The wind that shakes the tembleque

Many of us have seen the pre-packaged boxes of Goya-brand tembleque in the "Latino foods" section of the supermarket.  I tried making  this coconut milk pudding once using one of these box mixes.  It didn't work out too well.  How could I have known just how much more successful it would be to make the damn thing from scratch?

Official Name: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico)
Is it a state? Nope, it's a territory - the largest one in the United States
Official Languages: Spanish and English, with Spanish as the more widely spoken language
Territorial Nicknames: La Isla del Encanto (The Island of Enchantment); Borinquen (from the original Taíno name for the island, Borikén)
Cession to the US: December 10, 1898 (after winning autonomy from Spain on November 25, 1897)
Capital: San Juan (largest)
Other Important Cities: Bayamón (2nd largest), Carolina (3rd largest), Ponce (4th largest)
Region: Caribbean; South Atlantic (US Census)
Bordered by: the Caribbean Sea (all sides)
Closest land mass: Dominican Republic, a little more than 50 miles to the west
Official Territorial Foods and Edible Things: none
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Puerto Rican food (duh) - a mixture of Taíno, West African and Spanish influences, including: sofrito, tostones, arroz con habichuleas (con gandules around Christmas), mofongo, tembleque; ají dulce (sweet peppers indigenous to Puerto Rico); piña colada

Let me qualify what I said above: making it from scratch scratch is not easy.  Oswald Rivera, author of Puerto Rican Cuisine in America does just that, taking several coconuts, draining the liquid and reserving it while shredding the meat from each one.  This is a tedious process, not to mention the fact that coconuts at the local supermarket cost about $2 a pop.  Plus I don't have the time or the patience to do this.  So what does the modern girl, er, guy do to make tembleque from scratch instead of using a box mix?  Simple: buy canned coconut milk and a bag of pre-shredded coconut, which probably most modern home cooks do anyway.

Just a quick note: though tembleque (literally, "trembling") is most common in Puerto Rico, a similar dessert is found in much of Latin America, as far as Brazil which has its manjar branco, as Wikipedia points out.  Typically it is served with cinnamon, cloves or toasted coconut on top.  The recipe I used, from the Goya website - yes, they have a scratch version, too - finishes it off with cinnamon and coconut.

The Recipe: Tembleque

For your surprisingly simple tembleque you will need the following:

* coconut milk (two cans - instead of the less expensive Thai or Vietnamese varieties, I did go with the Goya brand, and it cost me about $2 a can)
* sugar (had it)
* corn starch (had it too - you will need a good bit of this)
* salt (had it)
* ground cinnamon (had it)
* shredded coconut (about $2.50 a bag)

Empty your coconut milk into a medium saucepan.

Add to that your sugar and salt...

...and your cornstarch.

Stir constantly for about five minutes, until the cornstarch is completely broken up and the mixture becomes thick.

It will happen quite suddenly, and turn out like this.

Pour into a mold or into smaller ramekins - or one large pan (a bread loaf pan works in this case).

Place in the fridge for at least three hours, or up to a few days.

When you are ready to serve it up, quickly toast your shredded coconut in a pan.

Loosen the tembleque by running a knife around the sides of the mold, and turn over.

Dust with cinnamon.

Then place the coconut on top.

This is one of the more successful recipes I have tried out.  Not only was it firm and jiggly, wonderfully smooth and rich with coconut milk flavor, but it actually came out of the ramekin in one piece!  This sort of success never happens for me.  This is a simple and delicious dessert.  Don't bother with the coconuts, and for goodness sake don't get the box mix.  The coconut milk method is definitely the way to go.


Deane, Zain.  "Mofongo".  Go Puerto Rico (, date unknown.  Copyright 2012,, All rights reserved.

El Boricua (  "Mofongo".  Date unknown.  Coyright 2012, El Boricua, All rights reserved.

Gill, Nicholas.  "The History of the Piña Colada".  New World Review, 2009.  Copyright 2009, New World Review, All rights reserved.

Goya.  "Piña Colada: How to Make Piña Colada".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012 Goya Foods, Inc., All rights reserved.

Goya.  "Tembleque - Coconut Pudding: Quick, Coconut Gelatin".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012 Goya Foods, Inc., All rights reserved.

International Bartender Association. "Piña Colada".  Last accessed 2010 (archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine,

Rivera, Oswald.  Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes.  Second edition.  Four Walls Eight Windows: New York, 2002.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Puerto Rico" and "Puerto Rican cuisine" pages and other pages.