I mentioned in a post I wrote last November that I wasn't a very big fan of coconut when I was a kid. As it turns out, it wasn't the taste I didn't like...it was all about the texture. I think the first time I began to realize I was missing out on something was when I had a sip of a virgin piña colada on a post high school trip. I couldn't believe the taste. Since then, I have learned to enjoy the texture of coconut...within reason, of course. I am still revolted by those chocolate coated wads of moist, sweetened coconut that masquerade as other chocolate coated candies...truffles, caramels, nougat, praline, etc. To this day if I get the coconut-filled chocolate in the box, it goes straight into the trash after the first nibble.
The recipe that I'm posting today is my idea of the perfect coconut dessert: a fluffy Bavarian Cream Tart. Because the pastry cream base is made partially of coconut milk, the flavor of the coconut is prominent. And unlike many cream or custard style coconut pies, the shredded coconut isn't folded into the pie filling (which—in my opinion—ruins a nice creamy filling). Instead, the coconut is toasted until it is golden and crisp. It is then sprinkled in a thick layer over the surface of the tart where it provides an understated and pleasant textural contrast as well as more coconut flavor.
Although I have called my tart a Bavarian Cream Tart, in reality it is a bit of a hybrid. For those who are unfamiliar with it, a Bavarian Cream is made by folding whipped cream into a base that has been stabilized with gelatin. Classically, the base is comprised of flavored crème anglaise, a fruit purée or a combination of the two. I wrote at length about Bavarian Cream a couple of years ago when I posted a recipe for a Strawberry-Rhubarb Bavarian. In that post I discussed the fact that many Bavarian Creams have an unpleasant, rubber ball-like texture due to the large quantity of gelatin required to help them hold their shape when they are turned out of a mold or sliced. I was able to use less gelatin in the Strawberry-Rhubarb Bavarian by serving it in the dish it was made in rather than turning it out. But since a pie or tart has to hold up well enough to be sliced, it was necessary to find another way to make it possible to reduce the quantity of gelatin in my tart.
In the end I was inspired by a recipe in Richard Sax's Cookbook Classic Home Desserts. His recipe for Coconut Cream Pie is a cross between a traditional cream pie (a crust filled with flavored pastry cream) and a traditional Bavarian Cream Pie (a crust filled with Bavarian cream). Instead of crème anglaise, Sax used a thinner than usual, gelatin-stabilized pastry cream as the base of his Bavarian filling. Because pastry cream is thicker than crème anglaise, the Bavarian needs less gelatin to achieve a good set. Beyond that, the more substantial pastry cream produces a filling with a bit more heft than the typical, somewhat foamy, Bavarian Cream and at the same time is lighter than an all pastry cream pie (which are sometimes a bit stodgy). The resulting pie has the best qualities of a Bavarian cream pie and a traditional cream pie. Creamy... tremble-y.... fluffy.... Perfect.
Coconut Bavarian Cream Tart
1 1/2 c. shredded, sweetened coconut (4 1/2 oz.)
5 oz. graham crackers (1 1/4 c. crumbs/10 full cracker sheets)
2 T. sugar
5 T. butter, melted
1/4 c. cold milk
1 1/2 t. powdered gelatin (2/3 of a quarter ounce packet)
3/4 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. sugar, divided
3 T. cornstarch (27 grams/1 oz.)
4 egg yolks
1 small can (5.46 oz./2/3 c.) unsweetened coconut milk—not low-fat!
1 1/3 c. whole milk
1 t. vanilla extract
Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven, stirring frequently, until light golden brown—7 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place the graham crackers and sugar in the food processor and process until finely ground. Add 1/2 cup of the cooled toasted coconut (reserving the remaining cup for the top of the pie) and pulse in. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the butter until thoroughly combined.
Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a lightly oiled (or sprayed) 9-inch removable bottom tart pan (or a 9-inch pie plate). Chill until ready to use. (If you prefer, you may bake the crust in a 350° oven for 8 to 10 minutes. This will produce a harder/crunchier crust. Cool and chill.)
Place 1/4 c. milk in a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over. Set aside until the gelatin has softened—no discernible dry granules should remain. It will take about 5 minutes for the gelatin to bloom, or soften.
Whip the cream until it is thickened and mounding softly. It will probably look too soft. Chill until ready to use.
Combine half of the sugar with the cornstarch. Place the egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk briefly. Add the sugar-cornstarch mixture and whisk until thick and smooth.
Place the coconut milk and the remaining 1 1/3 c. of whole milk in a medium saucepan along with the remaining sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. When the milk comes to a boil, whisk some of the hot milk into the egg mixture to temper and thin. Return the milk to the heat and bring back to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add the tempered egg yolks to the boiling milk, whisking constantly. The pastry cream will thicken almost immediately. Continue to cook and whisk until large bubbles regularly break the surface in the center of the pan—this will take about a minute. Remove from the heat and scrape into the bowl with the bloomed gelatin. Stir until well combined and the gelatin is completely melted (which should occur upon contact with the hot pastry cream). Whisk in the vanilla.
|After stirring over an ice bath...|
|The very softly whipped cream...ready to whisk in...|
|In the graham cracker & toasted coconut crust....ready to be topped with more toasted coconut...|
Place the bowl of custard in an ice bath (a larger bowl filled with ice and water) and stir with a rubber spatula until completely chilled and beginning to thicken. Remove the bowl from the ice. Scrape the already softly whipped cream onto the pastry cream base and whisk in (using a folding, rather than a circular motion). Finish folding with one or two strokes of a rubber spatula. Scrape the mixture into the chilled crust. Scatter the remaining cup of toasted coconut over all. Chill until set (at least 4 hours, preferably longer). This dessert is best eaten within 24 hours.