I first realized spring was truly here the moment I stepped on an airplane with Oliver a few weeks ago headed to see my mom in Vermont. Some of you may know that it’s decidedly not spring in Vermont. But in Seattle we’d had a good sunny stretch and our daffodils were in full bloom; Sam mowed the lawn for the first time in months and the smell of fresh cut grass greeted us each time we walked down to the garage to get into the car. The season is slowly yet surely changing. I know many of you are parents of little ones — or of larger ones who used to be little, and you know that traveling with a toddler isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart. Well it turns out that traveling alone with a toddler really isn’t for the faint of heart — and my toddler happens to be a pretty good traveler. But we had a long layover in Newark on our way home and over six hours in the air after that and things devolved pretty quickly (for both of us). All of our typical rules went out the window: I was literally handing Oliver more lollipops and Pez to keep him happy, even when he wasn’t asking. More apple juice? Sure. More iPad? Absolutely. We covered ourselves with stickers; I closed my eyes and pretended I didn’t see him eating leftover goldfish off of the floor by his seat.
My favorite thing to do after a flight like that is to pretend it never happened, so the next day I jumped right into catching up on work, finishing this truly touching memoir, and menu planning for Easter. My dad and his partner Anja visited over the holiday weekend and we organized a kiddo egg hunt, went to our favorite weekend bakery Preserve and Gather, and I made lamb meatballs and a springy couscous from the cookbook Six Seasons, which I’m finding highly cookable and the spring chapter in particular is SPEAKING to me.
This coconut cream tart is from neither of those books, but it’s one I dreamt up before hopping on the plane to Vermont and one I’d planned to make (and write about) before Easter, but … life. So luckily it’s an occasion-worthy dessert that’ll be fitting all spring and summer season and after a bit of tweaking, it turned out exactly how I’d hoped: a fragrant and silky coconut custard sitting atop a toasted almond and chocolate crust — all topped with a simple, pillowy whipped cream.
I’m not going to lie to you: there are some steps here. None of them are difficult by any means, but this isn’t a weeknight dessert — at least in our house it wouldn’t be (if it is in your house, we’d love to come over!) The crust takes some time to chill before it’s baked off, and the coconut custard needs about an hour in the fridge to cool before filling the tart — so plan ahead and you’ll be just fine. I actually baked off the tart shell the day before making the custard and whipped cream, which saved quite a bit of time.
I hope you’re all staying off the floor of cramped airplanes, reading something good and eating things that make you happy. See you back here soon!
The crust shares the limelight with the filling in this special tart, and the toasted almonds are really the star. It’s a press-in-pan situation, so you can leave the rolling pan in the drawer, which simplifies things a bit. The custard is fragrant and silky and almost doesn’t need the cloud of whipped cream … but why not?
Cook’s Note: It can be a little hard to tell when the chocolate tart shell is done as you can’t use color as a gauge, so just set a timer and trust that when it cools, it’ll firm up just fine. Feel free to prepare the tart shell up to 2 days ahead of time and wrap with plastic wrap until ready to fill and serve. As for what to do with that leftover coconut milk? I like to add it to smoothies, soups or my morning oats.
Chocolate Almond Crust:
Coconut Cream Filling:
Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with butter.
Place the almonds on a small baking sheet and toast until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Scoop almonds into the bowl of a food processor and allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Once cool, process until a fine meal or flour forms (be careful not to over process as you don’t want to end up with almond butter!)
Add the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt to the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the dough comes together in clumps and the butter is thoroughly combined. You’re looking for a very clumpy, moist dough.
Turn the mixture into the prepared tart pan and press evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork and place in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes.
Once chilled, place the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, or until the crust feels dry to the touch. If the crust starts puffing up in the oven, take the back of a spatula and gently press it into the bottom of the crust to help it hold its shape. Remove tart shell from oven and set aside to cool.
Make the filling: Decrease oven temperature to 300 F. Spread coconut on a small, rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a medium heavy duty saucepan, heat the milk, coconut milk, sugar, and salt over medium heat until the mixture is hot and just starting to bubble. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and egg yolks. Slowly drizzle in 1/3 cup of the hot milk mixture, whisking as you go. Pour the egg mixture back into the big pot of hot milk and cook on medium-low heat, whisking constantly, for 5-6 minutes or until mixture is nice and thick and easily coats the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve and into a shallow glass or ceramic bowl. Let the custard sit and at room temperature for 10 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, 50-60 minutes.
Once the custard is cool, prepare the whipped cream topping: In a medium bowl, beat the cream, sour cream and sugar with hand beaters on medium speed until soft peaks form.
Assemble the tart: Spoon the cooled coconut cream filling into the prepared crust and spread evenly. Spoon the whipped cream filling on top and spread evenly. Sprinkle toasted coconut and chocolate shavings on top.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove sides of tart pan, and slice. Cover leftover tart and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.