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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.