The sandy road into town is lined with ramshackle coconut stands. Hand-painted signage announce their short list of goods: “Pay de Coco” (coconut pie); “Pastel de Coco (coconut cake); and Cocos Frios” (a cold, green coconut stuck with a straw). One after another, every few feet, the same shabby post and lintel construction from dismantled wooden pallets, the same brightly colored coolers keeping the treats more or less tepid under the blazing Yucatecan sun. If you look up to the sky you see their source – the lithe swaying coco palms who give their fruit freely to the people of Chelem. Sitting in plastic Coca Cola chairs, the year-round residents of the poor village make what they can with what they have in abundance.
When we first were driven there by our realtor, we were blinded by the sun, stunned by the beauty and poverty, the small, remoteness of the place. She stopped at one of the stands, insisting we try the pie. She paid a handful of pesos for three small styrofoam plates with a handful of thin paper napkins and plastic spoons and we sat in the abandoned square around noon, sweat dripping into our dessert. I’m not sure whether I liked it or not. Neither answers seems right or real anymore. There was so much at stake. We were so thrilled and foreign and frightened. It was good? It was gross? The pay had a sort of flubbery texture and a strong, sweet flavor I’ll never forget. Locals wash it down with an ice cold coke.
This frozen confection has a lovely consistency and a taste reminiscent of cheesecake. Coconut oil is everywhere these days with many used in the kitchen and as a moisturizing beauty balm. There are also many kinds of coconut milk and creamer available in the cooler cases of my grocery store, but I elected to go with a good old can of Goya, because it seemed truer to my (not at all) Mexican roots. This is a lovely summer dessert, because it requires no cooking, is simple and cool. You could serve it with local berries, as I did, or some sliced pineapple, lemon or chocolate cookies!
Four-Ingredient Frozen Coconut Mousse
Adapted from a recipe on Dessert for Two; Makes 6 small ramekins
- 4 teaspoons coconut oil, plus more for greasing the ramekins
- 6 ounces softened cream cheese
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
Prepare ramekins by greasing them with a little coconut oil. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine coconut oil, cream cheese, coconut milk and sugar. Using the whisk attachment blend until the mixture is a smooth consistency. Pour or spoon into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze, 3-4 hours. Remove from freezer and submerge ramekin bottoms in hot water, then turn over onto a plate to extract the mousse. Serve with mixed berries.