By Alison Diven, Contributing Writer
Nothing says “Fall” like apples, caramel, and spice! And nothing says “festive” quite like the convivial sharing of food. This cool, smooth vanilla honey caramel custard with a touch of cardamom, smothered in tender apples and a puff of whipped coconut cream, wins on both counts—even if you or a loved one is on a GAPS, paleo, or allergen-free diet. This is wonderful dessert any day, but it is special enough to serve on a holiday as well (you can also find 25 other holiday worthy dishes here).
The limitations of a healing diet are challenging at the best of times, but during this season of autumn gatherings, divisions over food can be especially painful. If you love to feast with others as much as I do, you’ll appreciate that everyone around the table can lick every last drop of this dessert off their spoon—or yours. Forget your food over there and my food over here. Let’s share!
A trip with my toddler to our local apple orchard inspired this dessert. What a treat for this Houstonian, and just one of the many blessings of our new home in New Mexico! Overwhelmed by the selection at Kerby, the only orchard left in this once prolific valley, I hemmed and hawed and finally cobbled together a half-bushel of several sweet-tart varieties. Back at home, the race was on to create a special treat before the little guy gobbled up all the apples straight.
Memories of the magical trifecta of cardamom, vanilla, and honey drifted back to me for the custard’s flavoring, and when I mused that surely honey and coconut milk instead of sugar and cream could make caramel, things finally came together. I hope you enjoy this decadent treat as much as I do! It’s a true delight in our own present season of dietary restriction, as we seek healing for our son’s eczema and digestive difficulties.
While this recipe has several steps, you’ll find that each one is simple. Those who aren’t fond of cardamom can easily substitute cinnamon. Anyone with tree nut allergies can swap out toasted coconut flakes for the almonds. And about those almonds? Make extra to keep on hand. They’re addictive.
For the whipped coconut cream, I used Kimi’s ISI dispenser recipe, adding ½ tsp gelatin as a stabilizer (since I used guar gum-free coconut milk) and only 1 Tbsp of honey for the sweetener. (Kimi also has a stevia-sweetened version here.) You can see from my photos that my whipped cream was a bit looser than hers, but that could be the gelatin’s fault or my being a newbie with the ISI. It was still delicious! If you don’t have an ISI dispenser, try one of the many recipes online for making coconut whipped cream with a stand or hand mixer.
- 2 cans (14 oz each) full-fat coconut milk (Natural Value is BPA- and guar gum-free)
- 1 Tbsp good quality gelatin (I use Jensen brand)
- 6 Tbsp honey, preferably local
- ¼ - ⅜ tsp ground cardamom, to taste
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1½ tsp good quality vanilla
- 4 large semi-tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes (about 5 cups chopped apple)
- 2½ Tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 1½ Tbsp honey, preferably local
- ⅛ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 recipe whipped coconut cream
- 1 recipe Salted Cinnamon Almonds (recipe below) or toasted large coconut flakes
- ground cinnamon
- Whisk together the cans of coconut milk to reincorporate any separation or lumps. Measure out 6 Tbsp of coconut milk and place in a small heavy saucepan. Set aside.
- Over the remaining coconut milk, sprinkle 1 Tbsp gelatin and wait for 5 minutes. When the surface is wrinkly and no white granules remain, whisk the mixture thoroughly and set aside.
- To the saucepan with 6 Tbsp coconut milk in it, add the 6 Tbsp honey, ¼-3/8 tsp cardamom (to taste), and ¼ tsp salt. Gently bring to a boil, whisking to dissolve ingredients fully.
- Simmer on medium-low to medium heat for ~6-8 minutes, or until the mixture has a syrupy texture, a golden hue, and a caramel-y smell. Stir often as it progresses to prevent burning. When in doubt, remove early, taste, and return to heat if not yet caramelized enough.
- Remove saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla (it will foam). Then pour in all the coconut milk-gelatin mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly.
- Divide carefully among 6 dessert dishes or 8 oz mason jars, about ½ cup (4 oz) each. Chill in refrigerator for at least 6 hour, preferably overnight.
- Heat the coconut oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add apples, cinnamon, salt, and honey, stirring to combine. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring regularly, until apples are soft but not falling apart. The apples should release some juices.
- Allow to cool to room temperature. If making ahead, store in refrigerator, then leave at room temperature for an hour to warm up before serving.
- Roughly chop the almonds with a chef's knife or food processor.
- Divide the apple topping among the 6 dessert dishes or mason jars. Gently spoon about ½ cup (4 oz) of the apples atop the custard.
- Generously sprinkle chopped almonds over each serving.
- Top with whipped coconut cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
If you don't care for cardamom or can't find it, just use cinnamon instead.
Caramel can be a bit tricky, and the size of your pan may require a different cooking time. Use your eyes and nose to guide you.
When making the whipped coconut cream, I used Kimi's ISI dispenser recipe with 1 Tbsp to sweeten and ½ tsp gelatin, since my coconut milk doesn't have guar gum to stabilize it.
- 2 tsp virgin coconut oil, melted
- 1 cup whole unroasted almonds
- ¼ tsp finely ground sea salt
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
- Mix together oil, almonds, salt, and cinnamon, then spread evenly on a large baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then stir. Bake for 10 more minutes and stir again. Check them every few minutes after this point until they're perfectly toasty for your taste. (They will be soft while warm but crisp up as they cool.)
- Transfer nuts to a plate and allow to cool.
- Store in an air-tight container.
Other Apple Dishes on The Nourishing Gourmet.com:
- Easy Natural Caramel Apples
- Cranberry Apple Mini Pies
- Simple Baked Apples
- Spiced Oatmeal Apple Muffins (Gluten, dairy, and egg-free)
Latest posts by Alison Diven (see all)
- Spiced Currant Orange Baked Oatmeal Mini Muffins (Dairy-Free & Gluten-Free w/ Egg-Free Option) - November 7, 2014
- Easy Egg Muffins with Pesto & Ham (GF with DF options) - September 24, 2014
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Gorgeous and super yummy-looking!
Thank you, Anna!
Beautiful! And perfect timing – I want to get into custards!
Do you have to use canned coconut milk or can you use the refrigerated one by silk? Are they different?
Lisa, great question! Yes, it does need to be full-fat canned coconut milk. The refrigerated coconut milk beverage products have a much lower fat content and many additives, so they have a completely different taste, texture, and performance in cooking. I once made a rice pudding with a refrigerated coconut milk product, and it was inedible–a gritty, tasteless mess of nasty. I threw it out. Never again!
This looks amazing!! I’m obsessed with custard. Shared on my pages! 🙂
Thank you, Roz!
My sister made these for thanksgiving and it is one of the best things I have tasted… Ever!!!! Can I freeze these?!?!
Lynn, that’s fantastic! I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for telling me. I really don’t know if they would freeze well. I’m afraid the custard would separate and get weird if you wanted to serve it thawed. However, consider this: I have tried recipes for “milkshakes” that use a base of frozen cubes of gelatin-coconut milk mix. I bet that if you froze the caramel custard in cubes, then when you wanted to eat it, blended it with just enough liquid coconut milk (and/or egg yolks, if you can eat eggs) to get the mixture moving, you’d have a soft-serve version that you could layer parfait-style with the apple topping. (The apple topping would freeze just fine, by the way). What do you think? Let me know what happens if you try it!
YUM! Do you think it would work in a single bowl that I could set out for a buffet? The picture of your son is adorable – what a cutie he is!
Absolutely, Anne. It would be great served that way and certainly a lot less work for a crowd! And thank you. He sure melts my heart.