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Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet

Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

Inspiration can come from the craziest of places, including a nail salon. My friend and I were having our nails done when a man carrying stacks and stacks of baskets filled with Rambutan (see the pictures of the fruit and my sassy pedicure on instagram), a tropical fruit related to Lychee, walked in to sell them. Apparently he drives in from Florida with a truck full of fruit on a monthly basis and we just happened to hit it right this time. So, we walked out with sassy toes and 10 pounds of Rambutan. What was I to do with 10 pounds of this unusual fruit? I headed straight to Instagram and asked my community there what they would do. Sorbet and panna cotta came up several times, so, here you go, my interpretation of those suggestions, Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet.

I added the caramel spiral to the top when I heard that Aretha Franklin passed away. During my very first job in catering, back in the 1990s, we catered a charity event at the Viking’s Stadium for 3000 people and Aretha Franklin was performing. It was the one and only time I saw her and I will never, ever, ever forget it. I have no idea what the dessert was, likely an opera torte or something equally regal to serve such a legend, but I do remember with painful clarity that we had to make 3000 sugar spirals to balance on top. They are not hard to make, but they are a tricky dance of timing and they’re as delicate as paper thin crystal. And, don’t get me started on sugar decor and humidity. It was a level of stress that only the craziest of people thrive on. After we put down the last plate of dessert we ran to watch Aretha in her fur coat sing to the angels and all the stress of that event melted away!

Make it Vegan?!

Many people have asked if this dessert can be made vegan. I think this would be a fairly simple recipe to veganize. The only things you’ll need to adjust are to use agar agar in place of the gelatin and replace the 1 cup of heavy cream with additional full-fat coconut milk! If you try this, please let me know how it goes as I haven’t tried it myself. If you haven’t used agar agar before, here is a good resource to read before embarking on it: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Agar Agar. From

“As a general rule, you can substitute powdered agar for gelatin in equal amounts. So if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of gelatin, you can use one teaspoon of agar powder and this will set one cup of liquid. However, if you have agar flakes or bars, it is NOT a 1:1 ratio because the powder is more powerful than the flakes and bars. Basically, one tablespoon of agar flakes is equal to one teaspoon of agar powder or half of an agar bar. So if you are trying to set one cup of liquid, use either: one teaspoon agar powder, one tablespoon agar flakes or half an agar bar.”

Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François
Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François
Plates of coconut panna cotta with tropical sorbet

Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet

The inspiration for this dessert came from Instagram. I asked my followers what to make with 10 pounds of rambutan, the response was overwhelming for sorbet and panna cotta. So, this is my interpretation of those suggestions: Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet.
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  • 2 packages (15g) gelatin bloomed in 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 can (400g) coconut milk not lite or low fat in any way
  • 1 can (400g) coconut cream
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean cut and scraped
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp almond extract optional, but makes it taste more coconut-y
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted coconut flakes

Rose Simple Syrup

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp dried edible rose petals
  • 3 hibiscus flowers if you want it to be pink
  • 1/2 tsp rose water

Rambutan or Lychee Sorbet (Find more information about sorbet here)

  • 4 dozen rambutan or lychees peeled, pitted, pureed and strained (or 2 cups juice of your choice), plus a few for garnish
  • Rose simple syrup until an egg will float

Caramel Decor

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp corn syrup or glycerin


Panna Cotta

  • Bloom the gelatin in water.
  • Heat the coconut milk with sugar to simmer, add the bloomed gelatin. Stir over low heat until the gelatin dissolves. Add the coconut cream, heavy cream whipping cream and toasted coconut, allow to sit for at least 15 minutes. Strain and then pour into 6 cups. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours, or overnight. Can be made 2 days ahead.

Simple Syrup

  • Heat the sugar, water, rose petals, hibiscus and rose water until all of the sugar has dissolved, if you rush this, it will recrystallize. Allow to cool. Strain and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Can be made a week ahead.


  • Add enough simple syrup to the fruit juice so that an egg floats and you can see a quarter-sized piece of it about the surface. Freeze according to your ice cream maker.

Sugar Decoration

  • In a saucepan, cook sugar, water and corn syrup together over high heat, DO NOT TOUCH. Once it starts to caramelize you can stir. When it smokes it is done and you can remove it from heat. Let the caramel cool until it is super stiff, but still pliable. I wrapped mine around a Knife Steel. If the sugar gets too hard, just melt it over low heat and start again.


  • When ready to serve, dip the cups in hot water, run a small blade around the edge and unmold onto the plate. Serve with a drizzle of the remaining simple syrup, a scoop of sorbet and diced fruit.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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4 thoughts to “Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet”

  1. So want to try this recipe, but am wondering where the 1cup of heavy cream comes in? I don’t want to get started without knowing and goof it up!
    Thank you Zoë, love your creativity, everything always is so beautiful ~ eatable works of art.

    1. Hi Jeanne, Thank you for letting us know! I have updated the recipe. You can add the heavy cream when you add the coconut cream. Happy baking!

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