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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)