I had ideas for this dessert, but the end result is nothing like them. I started out aiming for a melon mousse, but it just wasn’t happening. Then, I started drooling over a honeydew sago soup, but it was too late for me to go in that direction. So I thought this was a very tasty nod to both ideas with a sexy looking twist. So what is it? A crenshaw melon (a cousin of the cantaloupe), pureed with a bit of Port and mint, transformed into a creamy, tapioca pudding, and topped off with a Port & spice poached fig.
First off, if you’ve never tried a crenshaw melon (this was my first time trying it), you could very easily substitute a cantaloupe and probably be none the wiser. I wanted to do something light and refreshing with this velvetty melon, and while my immediate response to just about any fruit is “I’ll make it into an ice cream/sorbet!,” I thought maybe, just maybe, some variety would be in order.
I diced up the melon and was nibbling on it, walking through my pantry sampling various things that I thought might pair with it nicely, and I was really impressed with how both Port and mint seemed to strengthen the otherwise subtle flavor of this melon without competing with it. However, the next issue is one of body–once I had the melon, Port, and mint together in a liquid state, things were, well, really liquidy.
After a lot of experimentation (e.g. here’s a lesson I don’t understand: gelatin won’t set in the presence of these ingredients. Go figure that one out!), I decided to turn this into something of a pudding by thickening it with a creamy tapioca mix, and thankfully, it worked quite well. The melon flavors were still strong, the flavor light and refreshing, and texturally, this had some very pleasing body with those tender tapioca pearls.
But it was almost too light and refreshing. This needed something more to contrast it. This is where the figs came in. I chose to make a syrup out of Port (since Port was a part of the melon pudding, I thought it would bridge the two flavors nicely) and poach the figs in it. The syrup was infused with various spices (vanilla, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, lemon peel). All together, this added some visual drama and a nibble of the stronger, dark, fruity, spicy, earthy flavors gave this pudding just what it needed to be a complete dessert. After all the putzing around in the kitchen, I was delighted with the results.
- 3 cups pureed and strained chenshaw melon/cantaloupe juice (~1/2 a melon)
- 4 Tbsp port
- small handful of mint leaves
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup tapioca pearls (I used instant–I know! I know!)
- Poached Figs & Port Syrup
- Brown turkey figs (~1 per serving, figure 8 or so)
- enough Port to roughly cover the figs
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- peel of ~1/4 lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 clove
- 6 peppercorns
- 1 vanilla bean (I prefer Tahitian for this)
Begin by infusing the Port with mint. Crush the leaves a bit, warm up the Port, and then turn off the heat, letting the mixture sit for 30 minutes or so.
And now, the melon. Picking out a good crenshaw is very much like picking out a good canteloupe or honeydew. It should have a slight, sweet, musky smell and should slightly give to the touch on the flower end of the melon up near the base with a bright yellow rind.
So cut the melon in half, spoon out the seeds and fibers, cut off the peel and a little bit deeper (its a little harder and not so flavorful, kind of like the white part of a watermelon).
Now, chop up the melon and puree half of it in the food processor along with the Port and mint mixture from earlier (save the other half of the melon for eating, garnish, whatever). I wasn’t thrilled with the tiny chunks of melon and mint leaves throughout, so I passed this through a fine mesh strainer to pretty things up a bit. In the end, you should get about 3 cups or so of juice.
At this point, mix lime juice, honey, and sugar in with the juice. Set this aside for now.
The mixture you’ve made so far tastes great, but its pretty much juice. So now, its time to thicken it up. Since I only used instant tapioca, this was pretty quick. If you have “real” tapioca, in all likelihood, you’ll need to do things like soak it over night before you cook it, so do what’s appropriate for what you’re using.
Anyways, using the quicky stuff, let it sit in a saucepan (no heat) with the milk and cream for 5 minutes or so. Once time is up, this mixture will be surprisingly thick…probably too thick to really stir, so remedy this by pouring in some of the melon juice mixture from earlier to thin things out. Warm up the pan, until you get this mix to a boil and stir constantly.
Once you’ve hit a boil, simply pour the tapioca mixture into the melon juice mixture, stir well, and transfer this to the fridge for a few hours so it can firm up a bit.
So now while you wait for the pudding to firm up, its time to poach the figs. Choose the smallest pan you can that will hold your figs. Put the figs in, and pour in enough Port to get about 75% or so up the height of the figs. Take the figs out and set them aside for now.
Slit and scrape the vanilla, cut off a peel of lemon, and add those along with all of the spices to the Port. Simmer this on medium heat for about 20-30 minutes to infuse it with the spices and reduce it a bit. Then, add in the figs, cover the pot, and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes, after which, you should remove the pot from the heat and let the figs cool down in the syrup.
So now, its time to eat! Simply fill a glass/bowl with a food scoop of pudding, top with a poached fig, and ladle on a bit of that delicious poaching syrup. Enjoy!