LAST week, you’ll remember, we made a sweet little edible vegetable garden, and this seems to have been very popular.

Today, entirely by chance, we’re at it again. It just came up in my list of ‘things to do’, and seemed seasonally appropriate. This recipe is very much a “trompe l’oeil” dish – your brain suggests you’re about to eat something familiar, yet your palate begs to differ.

We’re making dippy eggs and soldiers, but using a smooth, clean-flavoured coconut pannacotta as the soft-boiled egg, with the yolk effect provided by a sweet mango jelly.

I decided to make the soldiers from a rich coconut sponge cake, toasted golden brown, and then at the last minute, decided to make a little fake Marmite using sugar and spices, which I thought would work well with the tropical flavours of the rest of the dish.

It’s not essential, but it looks brilliant, and tastes nice with the toasted cake and clean, sharp, tangy pannacotta.

Served up at the end of a meal, this will certainly attract some attention, but it’s important that it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

Coconut is one of my favourite ingredients, whether it’s lending its seductive, unique flavour to a creamy curry sauce for seafood, adding to the crunch of a spicy batter around a deep-fried tiger prawn, or marrying up with all manner of dessert ingredients like strawberries and chocolate.

Endlessly versatile, you can use it in rich, deep curried lamb or venison dishes, where it adds a captivating layer of extra sweet-savoury flavour, or toast it and roll scoops of ice-cream in it for a textural treat.

It’s something I don’t use often, and regret doing so each time I taste it, because it really is delicious – a hard-to-pinpoint flavour, fresh and yet creamy, delicate yet forceful, that immediately puts me in mind of hot weather, the tang of sea salt in the air, and the taste of fresh, sun-warmed tropical fruit.

The latter seems to have a great affinity with coconut, which is perhaps unsurprising if we stick to the adage that ‘what grows together goes together’.

Coconut’s unmistakable flavour goes brilliantly with pineapple, mango, papaya, banana and passionfruit, and while it’s nice with some of our native berries, I think it does its best work with the fruit grown around the equator.

Hence today’s selection of mango to accompany the pannacotta – the scented piquancy of the mango is perfectly matched with the cool, creamy custard, especially when eaten with a bite of warm, biscuit-y coconut cake.

This recipe is incredibly easy to make, despite how it looks, and will entertain a willing junior participant for a couple of hours.

Endless amusement for all and a brilliant dessert to boot. Have fun with it! Aprons on!

For the egg shells:

12 fresh free-range eggs

For the coconut pannacotta:

500ml coconut milk

100ml double cream

120g white chocolate

4 leaves gelatine

For the mango jelly:

2 ripe mangoes

2 leaves gelatine

60g caster sugar

A splash of lemon juice

For the coconut cake soldiers:

175g soft butterŠ

175g golden caster sugarŠ

3 fresh, free-range eggs

175g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

75g desiccated coconut

A little vanilla extract

A little coconut essence (optional)

For the sugar “Marmite”:

3tsp unrefined molasses sugar

2 tsp black treacle

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

A pinch of fresh nutmeg

A pinch of Maldon salt

1 tbsp milk


An 8” square cake tin or silicone mould


First, the fiddly part – topping the eggs. Preheat the oven to 100°C. If you have a special egg topper, which is a nifty bit of kit, you can cut the tops off neatly and use the fresh eggs.

Otherwise, you’re probably going to have to hard-boil the eggs, neatly cut the tops off, and scoop out the egg. You can always make a nice egg mayonnaise sandwich!

Wash the insides of the egg shells, and remove all the membrane. Turn upside down and place on a wire rack over a baking tray.

Bake the eggs to sterilise them for 20 minutes, then remove and allow to cool.

Next, let’s bake the cake; turn the oven up to 170°C/Gas 3.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one by one, and add a few drops of vanilla essence, plus a little coconut essence, if using.

Sift the flour with the baking powder, and fold into the egg mixture, along with the desiccated coconut. Tip into your prepared baking tin and bake until golden and set, about 25-35 minutes. Allow to cool, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Now for the Marmite; heat the spices and salt in a very small pan until they begin to smell fragrant, then add the treacle and sugar, and stir the whole lot together until it begins to bubble.

Stir in the milk until smooth. Tip into a small pot and chill until needed. Now, prepare the jelly.

Peel the mangoes, and dice the flesh. Pop this in a pan with a good splash of lemon juice, and bring to a low simmer.

Cook the fruit for about 30-40 minutes until tender. While this is happening, prepare the pannacotta custard.

Soak the gelatine in a little cold water. Heat the coconut milk and cream to boiling point, then remove from the heat, and whisk in the white chocolate.

Squeeze the gelatine dry, and add this to the cream, making sure it dissolves completely.

Pour the pannacotta custard into the egg shells (any left over can go into small pots and be used the same way) and refrigerate until they are completely set.

By now, the mango should be ready. Liquidise the fruit until it is completely smooth, then return to a pan, and add the sugar.

Soak the gelatine, and when it’s soft, squeeze dry and add to the warm mango purée. Stir until you have a smooth mixture, and allow to cool. When the pannacottas are set, use a tiny spoon or melon-baller to remove the centres of the custards, and fill with the cooled mango jelly. Re-set in the fridge until required.

Cut the cake into suitable soldier-shaped sticks, and lay on a baking tray. Bake at 200ºC / Gas 6 until golden brown all over.

Serve with the chilled eggs and a little pot of the sugar-Marmite.