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.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.