Taste of the Tropics: Island desserts that will take you away

Food Styling by M. Lynne Miller
Recipes by M. Lynne Miller • photography by John Uher

Early Fall inevitably brings an Indian summer, when midday is as hot as the sultriest days of summer. This is the time for cool, refreshing tropical indulgences, made with ingredients such as pineapple, fresh mango and papaya, coconut, small red bananas and rum. With this in mind, we’ve created five tropically-inspired desserts
featuring the exotic flavors of the lush regions of the world. 

The simple Caramel Flan with Cocoa Nibs is similar to a classic crème caramel, with caramel poured into the bottom of the mold so that when the flan is inverted, it forms a glistening topping and sauce. The difference is that the flan is infused with the flavor of cocoa nibs, the crunchy centers of cocoa beans (which are grown, of course, in tropical regions). The flan can be prepared up to 2 days before serving and refrigerated, loosely covered. Unmold it right before serving. Chocolate Churros with Poached Tropical Fruit Compote is a twist on a traditional deep-fried snack sold at ‘churreria’ stands in California and Mexico. Ours are flavored with cocoa powder and served elegantly with a poached compote of rum-spiked pineapple, mango, papaya and red grapefruit. The Mexican Black-bottom Torte pairs a moist cake (made with traditional Mexican chocolate) with a cloudlike puff of coconut cream and drizzles of chocolate. It is a special occasion cake that is bound to delight family and dinner guests. The Pineapple Polenta Poundcake is anything but boring and certainly wonderful on its own, be we serve it with grilled pineapple and a toasted coconut cream. Finally, our Chocolate and Red Banana Trifle with Toasted Cashew Crunch is a carnival of tropical flavors and textures. Tiny, sweet red bananas play off the rich chocolate custard and crunchy caramelized cashews. Topped off with whipped cream, this dessert is a tropical dream. So if you need a dose of the tropics but the thought of packing has got you down, head to the kitchen instead. You’ll be someplace sweet sooner than you think.