Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Linguine with Swiss Chard, Ricotta & Walnuts

If you take a quick look around the web, you will find an abundance of recipes for pasta tossed with a combination of Ricotta Cheese and Swiss Chard (or beet greens... or spinach... ricotta seems to have a universally acknowledged affinity for these dark green, leafy members of the Goosefoot family). I know this because I turned to the web for inspiration one evening a few weeks ago when I happened to have these two items in my pantry. And inspired I was—the pasta I eventually made for dinner that night was very good...an interesting and flavorful interplay of bitter, salty and sweet.

When I made my pasta, I drew most heavily on the recipes I found at Food52 and Whipped. The recipe at Food52 includes bacon and lemon zest. I have never made my version with bacon—but I think the bacon is a good idea. The sweet ricotta and bitter chard seem to require something salty. Thinly sliced, julienned prosciutto, added at the end with the chard, would also fill the bill. For my pasta I chose to get that nice salty tang from some aged Pecorino Romano.

As for the lemon, the first time I made this pasta I did include some zest. I wasn't too crazy about it. Perhaps it was my mood on that day, but I found it to be a bit jarring in combination with the other flavors. I should however point out that it is a popular addition and appears in many recipes that feature this combination of ricotta, chard and pasta. If you add it, you might find that you like it.

The remaining ingredients—garlic, nutmeg and walnuts—came from the recipe I found at Whipped. The garlic and nutmeg seem essential. The sweetness of garlic is almost never a bad idea with bitter greens...and it really adds some depth of flavor to this pasta. Use a nice fat clove. The nutmeg too adds a sweet and aromatic undercurrent...and is traditional with the ricotta. You don't need a lot—a pinch truly is sufficient (you aren't making dessert)—but I was surprised that I noticed its absence the one time I made this dish without it. Use freshly grated if you can.

As for the walnuts, they were simply my preference. The recipe at Food52 uses pine nuts...and I'm sure they would be good...but I thought the walnuts were a better choice. Their bitterness is a nice foil for the creamy, sweet ricotta...and they are particularly good when paired with Pecorino. They were perfect for this dish.

As we move into the growing season, I am looking forward to sampling this pasta with the beautiful, tender greens that always make their way to my farmers' market in the spring and early summer. If you happen to be looking for a way to use up some of the chard (or spinach...or beet greens...) that you purchase at the market...or find in your CSA box...I hope you will give this recipe a try. It has already become a favorite at our house.

Linguine with Swiss Chard, Ricotta & Walnuts

1 bunch Red Chard, ribs removed and leaves cut cross-wise in 1/4- to 1/2-inch ribbons
2 to 3 T. olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
a generous pinch hot pepper flakes
1/2 lb. linguine
3 1/2 to 4 oz. (1/2 cup) whole milk ricotta
pinch nutmeg
1/3 c. (1 oz.) finely grated Pecorino
1 oz. (1/4 cup) walnuts, lightly toasted and finely chopped

Rinse the chard in several changes of water. Transfer to a colander and set aside.

Place a tablespoon of oil in a wide sauté pan with the garlic and pepper flakes. Place the pan over moderate heat and cook until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant. Add the chard (along with any water clinging to the leaves) to the pan a handful at a time. Using a tongs, turn the chard to coat it in the oil as you add each successive handful to the pan. Season very sparingly with salt (the volume of greens is going to reduce significantly) and increase the heat to moderately high. Cook until the chard has collapsed. Reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook, stirring/turning occasionally, until the chard is tender, all of the water has evaporated and the collapsed chard has begun to sizzle a bit in the oil. If the chard is not yet tender when the water has evaporated, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pan and continue to cook until tender. Uncover and set aside.

While the chard cooks, place the ricotta in a small bowl along with a pinch of nutmeg, a drizzle of olive oil (1/2 T?) and some freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until smooth and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Season well with salt (it should taste salty—you'll want at least 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons per quart of water). Add the linguine and cook until almost al dente. Ladle out a cup or so of the pasta water and continue to cook the pasta.

Add a quarter cup of the pasta water to the ricotta and whisk until smooth. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the Pecorino. Taste and add salt if necessary.

When the linguine is al dente, drain in a colander. Return the linguine to the pot and add the chard along with a drizzle (1/2 T.?) of olive oil and half of the walnuts. Toss to separate and distribute the chard. Pour the ricotta mixture over and toss, adding more pasta water as necessary to obtain a light, smooth sauce that clings to the pasta, but is not sticky or tight (you may need as much as another 4 to 5 tablespoons of pasta water). If you like, finish with another drizzle of olive oil. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Divide the pasta among serving plates and top with the remaining walnuts and Pecorino. Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée.

Note: Recipe is easily be doubled to serve 5 or 6.

Printable Recipe


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hearts of Romaine with Bacon, Tomatoes(!) & Blue Cheese Dressing

A few weeks ago, while having lunch out with a friend, I ordered a classic Iceberg lettuce wedge salad. This is not the kind of salad that I would ordinarily order...most of the time, I wouldn't even order a separate salad course for lunch...but here in Kansas City we were in the middle of Restaurant Week. During Restaurant Week, participating restaurants offer limited choice, multi-course, prix fixe lunch and dinner menus. For this one week, the prix fixe price is much lower than it would normally be. Restaurant week gives the participating establishments a great opportunity to draw in new clients for whom they can hopefully really strut their stuff.

For my lunch on this particular occasion, when faced with my first course options, the lettuce wedge salad seemed to be the more appealing choice (which honestly doesn't say much for the other choice...it was so memorable I have forgotten what it was). Imagine my surprise when I found the salad to be downright delicious. The crisp and refreshing lettuce combined with the creamy tang of the blue cheese dressing and the salty-crunchy bacon hit all my taste buttons. Even the out-of-season tomatoes were shown off to advantage. It was so good I could have eaten another one right then and there. As always, when I sample a well-made classic, I understand why it became a classic in the first place.

One evening last week—when I wasn't really very hungry...and didn't feel much like cooking—I was standing in front of the open refrigerator, trying to decide what to prepare for dinner. Uncharacteristically, there wasn't a lot of selection in the vegetable drawer....a few Brussels sprouts...some cabbage....and a couple of hearts of Romaine. I rejected the sprouts and the cabbage (just too heavy...and too much work for my state of mind) and eyed the Romaine. When I discovered the wedge of Roquefort in the cheese bin, I remembered the lettuce wedge salad. I thought that Romaine would make a salad that was just as good (if not better) than the Iceberg. Since there is always bacon in my refrigerator, my salad was immediately three-quarters of the way there. Then, as good fortune would have it, there happened to be a couple of tomatoes on the counter.

Before I go any further, I feel I must point out that the tomatoes were not purchased by me. I really do try to eat seasonally, and tomatoes are high on my list of the things I pretty much avoid outside of their season. But, there they were...and they didn't look horrible....and I would hate to waste food... (and, now that I think about it, there is photographic record of another time when tomatoes in March proved to be just the thing).

For our dinner that night I made a large chopped salad of hearts of romaine, tomatoes, bacon and blue cheese. I am including my recipe for the dressing at the end of the post (a loose adaptation of the one in Joy of Cooking). Unfortunately, I don't have an exact recipe for the salad. What follows is a rough estimate of what I made that night. Actually, I'm glad I don't have exact amounts—in general, salads should be exuberant, "to-taste" affairs—and this one is no exception.

For two large salads, I used three big handfuls of romaine (cut cross-wise in 1/2-inch ribbons), a large-ish ripe tomato (6 to 7 ounces?—more would have been even better), and 5 strips of bacon. Core and dice the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut the bacon thinly cross-wise and cook until crisp (drain on paper towels). Place the lettuce, tomatoes and most of the bacon in a large bowl.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of dressing, some salt and some freshly ground pepper and toss with your hands. Add more dressing if necessary to coat everything to your liking. Taste and correct the seasoning. Divide between two plates and top with crumbled blue cheese (to taste) and the reserved bacon.

This salad really hit the spot on a dreary, late winter evening. I can only assume it will taste even better when tomato season is in full swing.

Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

2 t. red wine vinegar
1/2 of a small clove of garlic (just a small amount), smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/4 c. mayonnaise (60 g.)
1/4 c. sour cream (60 g.)
1 oz. blue cheese (I like Roquefort)
1 t. minced flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Place the red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in the garlic. Whisk in the mayonnaise and sour cream until smooth.

Add the cheese, placing it at the side of the bowl, and begin to mash it with the back of a spoon or a fork,

gradually incorporating the mayonnaise-sour cream mixture into it:

Continue to mix until the dressing is homogenous.  Your goal is to incorporate the blue cheese in such a way that the dressing is smooth and creamy.  

If you make a larger batch, you could do this more efficiently in the food processor, but this small batch wouldn't work very well in a large food processor.

Add the parsley and season to taste with salt & pepper. Makes a generous 2/3 cup dressing.

Printable Recipe

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Marking the Passage of Three Years: Pistachio Shortbread

Three years ago today I published my first blog post. On the occasion of my first blog anniversay I made a pistachio cake.  Then, when the second anniversary rolled around, I made another one. I commented at the end of last year's post that it was possible that I had started a tradition. And I really had planned to make a pistachio cake this year.... But developing yet another pistachio cake for anniversary number three just didn't happen (I didn't even have the opportunity to take a first stab at it). But not to worry, I was able to carry on with the tradition of a sweet treat featuring pistachios...in the form of a batch of Pistachio Shortbread cookies.

The dough for these cookies is a lovely pale green color.

Unfortunately after their stint in the oven the color fades. The baked cookies have a subtle green cast...and a few flecks of green color from the larger bits of pistachios...but if you didn't know what they were, you might not guess by looking. Fortunately there is no mistaking the flavor once you have them your mouth. The combination of the meltingly tender texture with the delicious flavor of pistachio is a surprise and a delight...making up for—if not enhanced by—their subtle color.

I like these cookies just the way they are...but as I mentioned last year, I love pistachio with orange and chocolate, too. So maybe next time I make them I will add a little bit of orange zest to the dough. This time I half-dipped some of the cookies in dark chocolate. They were delicious. And I noticed that the chocolate seemed to make the pistachio flavor even more pronounced.

The basic shortbread recipe from which I developed my pistachio version can be found in Emily Luchetti's Stars Desserts cookbook. I just added some pistachio flour and a little bit of sugar to her recipe. Later I observed that the quantities of the ingredients in my pistachio recipe were almost identical to what they are in my Scottish Shortbread recipe...entirely by coincidence I had simply replaced some of the flour with an equal weight of finely ground pistachios. Luchetti's recipe is for shortbread cutouts, while the Scottish shortbread is too stiff and dry to roll out (the cookies are formed by pressing the dough into a pan or mold). The "hybrid" pistachio dough is quite malleable and rolls out beautifully—even though it has a percentage of dry ingredients that is like the Scottish recipe. I can only assume this is due to the increased amount of fat in the nuts (which make up part of the "dry" ingredients). The pistachio dough also holds its shape well in the oven—scalloped edges are crisp and holes punched from the tines of a fork remain. You could roll and cut these cookies into pretty much any shape that you like.

Since the dough was such a gorgeous green, I decided to cut the first sheet of dough into shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day.

The resulting shamrock shortbread cookies were very cute (if not very green). And as I was taking pictures of them for this post, it occurred to me that the three lobes of the shamrock made a very nice visual tribute for a third anniversary. Maybe I wasn't really supposed to make a cake after all.

Pistachio Shortbread

1/2 cup (slightly mounded) raw, shelled pistachios (65 g)
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature (malleable, but not soft)
1/2 c. plus 1 T. sugar (112 g)
1/4 t. salt
2 1/3 cup all purpose flour (280 g)

Spread the pistachios on a small baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven until fragrant—about 5 minutes. Let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°. Using a rotary nut grater, grind the cooled pistachios to a flour.

Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt together just until combined and smooth...it is not necessary (or desirable) to cream until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and pistachio flour and mix on low speed until the dough comes together.

On a lightly floured surface (working with 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough at a time and adding the scraps from each rolling into the next, fresh portion of dough) roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/4-inch and stamp out cookies in whatever shape you desire.

Transfer the cookies to parchment lined baking sheets, spacing them evenly (about 1 to 2 inches apart—they can be pretty close together since they don't spread). Chill the stamped cookies until they are firm. If you like, use the tines of a fork to decoratively prick the cookies. You may also sprinkle some granulated sugar over the cookies before baking.

Bake the cookies in a 300° oven until set. They should not brown...although they may begin to take on a light golden color at the edges. Let the cookies cool briefly on the sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Store the cookies air-tight.

Depending on the size of your cutters, the recipe will yield about 4 to 5 dozen Pistachio Shortbread Cookies.

Printable Recipe

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Curried Quinoa Pilaf with Tuscan Kale

Tonight I will be teaching a class called "Cooking for a Small Household". The four recipes that I teach in this class are presented as representatives of four "types" or categories: Dinners from the Pantry, Meals that Freeze Well, Baked Goods, and The Traditional Meal (protein-vegetable-starch). In the latter category I will be teaching a spice rubbed salmon served with a curried quinoa pilaf. With the addition of a side vegetable, this makes a fast, nutritious and very tasty meal (no matter what the size of your household).

The pilaf portion of this "traditional meal" is quite versatile. It would be nice with shrimp...or chicken...or as the centerpiece of a big platter of vegetables. It pairs well with so many different vegetables (blanched broccoli, braised greens, roasted cauliflower or carrots, blanched green beans, grilled/sautéed summer squash, etc.), you could hardly go wrong.

For our dinner a few nights ago, I made the pilaf (and salmon) along with some sautéed Tuscan Kale. But this time, instead of serving the kale as a true "side vegetable", I chopped it up and folded it into the pilaf. I was very pleased with the result. Not only was it delicious....it was beautiful. And if you happen to have any leftovers (next time I might make a double batch so I will...) they would make for a very nice one-dish lunch the next day.

Curried Quinoa Pilaf with Tuscan Kale

1 bunch Tuscan Kale, stems stripped away and discarded
1/2 T. unsalted butter (or more, as needed)
1/2 c. finely diced onion 
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. coriander
1/8 t. turmeric
1/2 c. quinoa, well-rinsed and drained
2 T. currants
1 T. olive oil
3 T. toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 or 2 T. chopped parsley 

Pilaf ingredients (without the kale)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until tender. Lift out and spread on a baking sheet until cool enough to handle. Working with one handful of greens at a time, squeeze out the excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside. 

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and cook until tender and translucent (add more butter or some olive oil if the onions seem dry). Add the spices and toast for a minute or two. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring to coat in the fat until hot through. Add 2/3 c. of water (see notes) along with 1/4t. of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes—or until cooked through. The grain will be translucent and the thin germ coil will be white. Remove from the heat, scatter the raisins over the surface of the quinoa and let rest, covered for 5 to 10 minutes. 

While the quinoa rests, warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan set over moderate heat. Add the greens and toss to heat through, breaking up the clumps as you do. (If you like, you may add a small clove of minced garlic and/or a pinch of pepper flakes to the oil as it is heating up—allow it to begin to sizzle before adding the greens.)

To serve the pilaf, add the warm greens, the pistachios and the parsley. Fluff with a fork. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serves 2 to 3 (but the recipe is easily multiplied to serve more). 


  • Typically when I cook quinoa I use a ratio of 1 1/4 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa (which is much less than the standard recommendation of 2 to 1, which I think yields a soggy final product). However, when cooked in smaller quantities, a little extra liquid is needed...so for 1/2 cup of quinoa I use 2/3 cup liquid. If this produces a result that is firmer than you would like, increase the liquid to 3/4 cup.
  • If you are unfamiliar grain pilafs, check out my "basics" post from a couple of years ago. 
  • As with any spiced dish, you should increase or decrease the amount of spice to suit your palate.
  • This dish may of course be made in its original form...without the addition of the kale.

Printable Recipe

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pizza Topped with Ricotta, Prosciutto & Sautéed Brussels Sprouts

This winter I have been experimenting with topping a pizza with Brussels Sprouts (whenever I happened to have a handful left at the bottom of a bag—it doesn't take too many sprouts to top a pizza). Most of the toppings involved slicing the sprouts thinly before sautéing them—similar to the treatment I give them for a favorite winter pasta. The results were always delicious, but unfortunately not terribly attractive.

For the most recent rendition I decided to sauté large pieces (quarters) of the sprouts instead.

The results were very good with this method. Not only was the finished pizza nicer to look at, preparing the sprouts this way provides some textural interest to the topping as well. Instead of a soft, continuous layer of wilted greens (which is not necessarily a bad thing), the surface of the pizza is punctuated by chunks of the just tender sprouts.

The success of this recent rendition however, was probably not wholly due to the adjusted preparation of the Brussels sprouts. It is more likely that it was due to the happy combination of all of the ingredients involved...beginning with the introduction of some ricotta cheese into the mix. Recently when I was looking for a home for some ricotta that I had on hand, it occurred to me that the ricotta would pair nicely with the Brussels Sprouts. I decided to use some of it as a "sauce" for the pizza instead of my more usual sauce of seasoned olive oil. Then, instead of adding bacon or pancetta to the sautéed sprouts (see the aforementioned pasta sauce), I layered some thinly sliced prosciutto over the ricotta. The combination of the sweet ricotta, salty prosciutto and the slightly bitter sprouts was exceptional.

Because we love to have pizza for dinner at my house...and we love Brussels sprouts...I will continue to occasionally experiment with ways to use up those last few sprouts on top of a pizza (although, maybe not this year...the season for Brussels sprouts is rapidly drawing to a close). But there will probably not be quite so many experimental variations in the future. We have already had this particular version twice...it has definitely taken its place in our regular rotation of winter favorites.

Brussels Sprouts, Ricotta & Prosciutto Pizza

2 1/2 to 3 T. olive oil
1 shallot (1 to 1 1/2 oz.), peeled and thinly sliced
6 oz. Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and quartered
Salt & Pepper
1 ball of pizza dough (see below), rested
3 1/2 oz. Whole milk ricotta (a slightly mounded 1/3 cup)
2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into large pieces
4 oz. Fontina, coarsely grated

Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-sized sauté pan set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until wilted and beginning to caramelize—3 or 4 minutes (regulate the heat so that they don't burn). Transfer to a plate and return the pan to medium-high heat.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan along with a generous pinch of salt, tossing to coat the sprouts in the oil. Sauté the sprouts, tossing occasionally until they are golden brown in spots—adding another half tablespoon or so of oil if the sprouts seem dry. Reduce the heat and continue to cook until they are tender—about 5 to 7 minutes total cooking time. (Regulate the heat as necessary so that the sprouts cook through, but don't burn.) Return the shallots to the pan and continue to cook for another minute. Taste and correct the seasoning and set aside to cool.

Place the ricotta cheese in a small bowl and beat until smooth, seasoning with salt and a generous grinding of pepper.

Build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 10 to 11-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with flour. Using your fingers, push up the edges of the dough to make a slight rim. Quickly spread a thin layer of oil (about half a tablespoon) over the crust. Spread the ricotta over the crust to within a half inch of the edge of the dough.   Arrange the prosciutto evenly over the ricotta.

Spread half of the Fontina over the prosciutto. Scatter the sautéed Brussels sprouts evenly over the Fontina and top with the remaining Fontina.

Bake the pizza: If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 450° to 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes).

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 12 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.

Variation: This pizza is also delicious with the addition of some chopped thyme (about 1 t. picked). Add to the Brussels sprouts when you return the shallots to the pan.

Printable Recipe

Pizza Dough:
1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast. Let soften for a minute or two. Add 3/4 cup of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more of the flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen.

Food Processor Method: Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved. Place 1 1/3 cups of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend. Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous. Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute. If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Printable Pizza Dough Recipe

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Coconut Bavarian Cream Tart (or Pie)

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.

Printable Recipe