July 4th in her city – there’s nothing safe nor sane about it. It starts early in the morning with fire crackers, cherry bombs and M80s and increases throughout the day to a crescendo of sky rockets and mortars with skyward explosions akin to a war zone, putting Disneyland’s nightly display to shame. By 10 p.m., a sulfuric haze has blanketed the city and she’s thankful her roof hasn’t caught fire.
Her dog-owning neighbors hate this time of year. She, on the other hand, delights in it, lucky to be owned by two unruffled felines. This one night, her city is alive and decidedly lawless. She celebrates with a backyard party each year – more anarchistic that patriotic, except for her choice of dessert.
Coconut in the crust, and coconut milk and shredded coconut in the pastry cream ensures coconut lovers won’t be disappointed.
Coconut Pastry Crème
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons corn starch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Graham Cracker Crust
7.5 oz. Graham crackers (2 cups crumbs)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
Assorted fresh berries
¼ cup apricot jam
Sweetened whipped cream
Make coconut pastry crème: In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour, corn starch, salt, and sugar. Whisk in eggs, then milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until custard is very thick, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter and vanilla extract. Scrape into bowl, press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard, and chill in refrigerator for several hours until cool.
Make graham cracker crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, coconut and salt until ground into crumbs. Add butter and pulse until combined and beginning to clump together. Press in the bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
To assemble: Pour pastry crème into crust and smooth. Cover with fresh berries. Heat apricot jam for 1 minute in microwave and strain. Brush berries with jam, decorate with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
I’m thrilled to talk about love today. Not my love, but other’s love – young love. To the surprise of both families and their friends, my best friend’s daughter eloped last month. I couldn’t be prouder for the happy couple; they did things in their own style, traditions that mean nothing to them be damned. Auntie Julie approves of any system-bucking in the name of Love! The parents of the newlyweds are hosting a “ring ceremony” in two weeks. I’m not exactly sure what a “ring ceremony” is, but I have an inkling it’s a sort of olive branch from the couple to their families for eschewing the expected. As a guest, I imagine it’s a kind of wedding-lite.
My friend asked me to make six dozen fruit tartlets for the occasion – the new bride’s favorite dessert. It’s an honor – I’m happy to be able to use my talents in such a special way. I’ve been around since the beginning – watching a little girl blossom into an independent woman who knows her own mind – and especially her own heart. I worked on the recipe this weekend (and last) and finally (after three crust versions, two pastry crème versions, and both white and dark chocolate) decided on this recipe.
This recipe makes a lot of tartlets – feel free to cut it in half if you don’t need quite so many. A layer of white chocolate between crust and pastry crème helps keep the crust crisp.
Shortbread Pastry Shells
5 ⅓ cups All-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
5 sticks unsalted butter, melted (Yikes!)
Vanilla Pastry Crème
4 cups whole milk
¾ cup sugar, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolk
6 Tablespoons corn starch
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon vanilla
Assorted fruit, sliced and berries
8 oz. white chocolate
Make pastry shells: Whisk together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add melted butter and stir together until a soft dough forms. Separate dough into 4 disks, wrap in plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Roll dough between two pieces of waxed paper, sprinkling with flour as needed to avoid sticking, to a thickness of 1/8th inch, cut with 3” round cutter and gently place in the bottom of muffin tins (the dough is soft). Chill for 10 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Cool and remove from tins.
Make Pastry Crème: Heat milk, half the sugar and salt on stovetop. Blend cornstarch and remaining sugar in a bowl. Add eggs and yolks to sugar mixture. Pour hot milk over eggs slowly to temper. Pour mixture back into saucepan. Add butter and vanilla and bring to a simmer while continuously whisking. Cook over low to medium low heat until thickened. Scrape pastry crème into a shallow pan, cover with plastic wrap touching surface of pastry crème, and chill.
Make Tartlets: Melt white chocolate by zapping it in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Spread a small bit of chocolate on the bottom of each tartlet shell. Scoop pastry crème into a pastry bag and pipe into tartlet shells. Decorate with fruit. Warm Apricot jam in microwave 30 seconds to 1 minute. Sieve jam and brush over fruit. Chill until ready to serve.
I’m, by definition, a planner, but when it comes to this blog, I feel utterly clueless and disorganized. Let’s take last week, for example, which was a banner week for any food blogger, containing TWO perfect opportunities for very relevant posts. Tuesday, March 14, was Pi day, one of the baker’s high holy days when, had I been properly prepared, I might have been crimping, latticing, and baking with my brethren. Instead, I posted a recipe for chicken stew (not even a pot pie!). Then, St. Paddy’s day made an appearance, the ideal opportunity to post a recipe for traditional corned beef (learning too late it requires salt peter and a week to prepare), or if I was to pick lower-hanging fruit, anything mint, green or containing Irish Cream. Nope – missed that occasion as well.
The sad thing is that I have an ersatz posting calendar – I’m obviously underutilizing its potential. Now Easter is a mere two weeks away and I haven’t posted anything resembling a bunny or baby chick, haven’t focused on uses for surplus hard boiled eggs or incorporated Peeps into any of my desserts. Today’s recipe is a lime tart with almond crust. I guess it’s kinda Spring-like – fresh and pale chartruse, I suppose I can claim it’s a timely Easter Sunday dessert though I’m not sure what limes have to do with Easter. In truth, I wasn’t inspired by Spring or Easter, but something decidedly more practical – an overflowing bowl of homegrown limes languishing on my kitchen counter.
An almond crust gives this Springtime tart the added benefit of being gluten-free.
2 ½ cups almond meal
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
28 oz. sweetened condensed milk
½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
¾ cup lime juice
1 ½ Tablespoons grated lime zest
Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together almond meal, sugar, ginger and salt. Add melted butter and stir until fully combined. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart pan and, using your fingers, pat crust firmly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan.
Place the crust in the oven and par-bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. If the crust puffs up too much, you can carefully and gently pat it back into the pan with your fingers. Careful, though, it will be hot.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, Greek yogurt, lime juice, and lime zest. Stir until combined and pour into crust. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. Do not brown. Chill pie thoroughly before serving. Garnish with whipped cream, shaved white chocolate or grated lime zest. Happy Easter!
Christmas in London! Such a brilliant notion. Those powder-dusted cobbled lane pics in my Instagram feed seduced me. Granted, we have just a week to plan, yet our passports are current, we know where we want to go, what we want to do – and we’re both quite experienced travelers. All we really need is a London hotel and a cheap, last minute flight. But, alas, there’s the rub – nothing less than $1800 per person, even with a layover. Sigh, Christmas in London – again, not this year.
I console myself, as I decorate the tree, with these British-inspired confections – bite-sized Cranberry Bakewell Tarts. At least my taste buds can travel there.
3 Tablespoons smooth cranberry sauce or cranberry jelly
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 Tablespoon water
16 sliced almonds, toasted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 16 mini muffin cups. Make crust by beating together 6 Tablespoons butter and sugar. Add vanilla, flour and salt and combine until fully blended. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces, pressing dough along bottom and up sides of each muffin cup. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until just beginning to brown. If crust rises too much after baking, gently press back down into cups.
While crusts are baking, make frangipane by whisking together 4 Tablespoons butter, confectioner’s sugar, egg, almond flour and cornstarch. Spoon frangipane into a piping bag with a ¼ to ½” tip.
Dollop about ½ teaspoon of cranberry sauce in the bottom of each cup. Pipe frangipane over cranberry sauce, covering sauce completely. Bake tarts for an additional 20-25 minutes until tops are puffed and slightly golden brown. Cool completely
To make glaze, mix 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar with water. Drizzle over cooled tarts. Garnish each with a sliced almond.
Me: “What are some of your favorite things to eat?”
Him: “I dunno, I like lots of things…I think I told you, Chocolate soufflé.”
Me: “Yeah, but it’s difficult to keep and photograph a soufflé without it collapsing. It’s more of an à la minute dessert. What about nuts? Do you like nuts?”
Him: “Sure, I like nuts. What about a tart – a fruit tart?”
Me: “Hmmm…maybe. I could bake a tart with autumn fruit…”
We had “the talk.” That’s the talk where I explain baking for him doesn’t mean he’s earmarked for fathering my children. A cake doesn’t mean I want him to put a ring on it. Sometimes an éclair is just an éclair. I bake – it’s what I do. I bake for people I like – it makes me happy. It’s the perk of knowing me – don’t overthink it; enjoy it.
I decided on this impressive looking yet relatively simple autumn apple and dried cherry tart flavored with warming Chinese 5-spice – an ideal holiday dessert to provide the wow-factor to any table. Plus, it’s a good classic dessert when baking for a guy for the first time – who doesn’t like apples and buttery pastry?
Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated French Apple Tart. This easy no-roll, no-chill crust is my go-to crust for many types of tarts.
1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
5 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 oz. tart dried cherries, coarsely chopped
10 Golden Delicious apples (about 5 lbs.), peeled and cored
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 Tablespoon water
½ cup apricot preserves
¾ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
¼ teaspoon salt
To make the crust, adjust 1 oven rack to the lowest position and the second rack about 5” from the broiler element. Heat oven to 350⁰ F. Stir together flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Add melted butter and stir until dough forms. Press dough smoothly and evenly on the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Place pan on a wire rack set on a baking sheet and bake on lowest rack until golden brown, 30-35 minutes. Set aside.
For the filling, cover the dried cherries with boiling water and soften until ready to use. Cut 5 apples into quarters and each quarter into 4 slices (each apple should yield 16 slices). Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apple slices, and water and stir to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until apples begin to turn translucent and slightly pliable, about 5 minutes. Spread apples on a plate in a single layer to cool. Pour any accumulated liquid from the skillet.
While the apples cook, microwave apricot preserves until fluid, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Strain 3 Tablespoons of preserves through a small mesh strainer and set aside for step 7.
Cut remaining apples into ½” cubes. Melt remaining 2 Tablespoons butter in skillet. Add drained cherries, remaining un-strained apricot preserves, cubed apples, Chinese 5-spice and salt to skillet. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until apples are soft, about 10 minutes. Mash apples to puree with a fork or potato masher. Continue to cook, uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated and puree is reduced to about 2 cups, about 5 minutes.
Transfer puree to tart shell and smooth. Arrange apple slices, tightly overlapping in concentric circles with outside curve of slices pointing up (see photo above). Bake tart, still on wire rack in baking sheet, on lowest rack for about 30 minutes. Remove tart from oven and heat broiler.
While broiler heats, warm reserved strained preserves in microwave until fluid, about 30 seconds. Brush over apples, avoiding tart crust. Broil tart, checking every 30 seconds, and moving if necessary until apples are caramelized, about 2 minutes total. Let tart cool for 1 ½ hours before removing ring and slicing.