I haven't made a coconut cream pie or tart in years. After discovering Tartine's velvety indulgence, I figured what was the point. How could I replicate their flaky crust topped with a layer of dark chocolate and caramel (and, I think, a few flecks of fleur de sel?) and then crowned with a rich coconut pastry cream? And then something happened. I began to crave coconut cream but was too busy and lazy to drive across the bridge to purchase one from Tartine. So, with Easter only a few days away and a holiday dessert in order, I decided I would create my own coconut concoction -- something that reminded me of the sweet perfection available across the bay, but different enough that I wouldn't constantly compare my tart to it.
While deciding how to make my tart, I mentally ran through a possible list of ingredients. More than anything I knew what I DIDN'T want to use. Sweetened coconut flakes -- which are essentially coconut that has been shriveled under the weight of excess sugar and preservatives --was out. Although Americans have become used to the flavor of this ingredient in coconut desserts, I wanted my tart to have a purer coconut flavor which meant avoiding a saccharine sweetness. I also had no interest in using coconut extract. Although I couldn't live without my bottles of vanilla, orange and almond extracts, in this case, I felt this type of addition would perfume the pie with a coconut flavor while I wanted it to be imbued with the taste of real coconut.
So what did I use? I started by making a simple pastry cream, but instead of using only milk and eggs, I added in a little coconut milk for a burst of tropical flavor. I then chose unsweetened coconut flakes, which are, and therefore taste like, real coconut to add in some texture. All this helped to make a lush and thick coconut cream that tasted like the real deal. I also wanted to add a whisper of chocolate and caramel into the mix to mimic the flavors in Tartine's dessert, but wasn't sure how to go about doing this. Although melting chocolate and making homemade caramel seemed like the right path, I eventually rejected this plan as I feared creating a thick layer of candy that would detract from the tart and its flavors. So, with my microplane in hand, I simply shaved some Scharffen Berger onto my just-baked pie crust and then sprinkled on some sugar before I set the shell under the broiler for about a minute. When I removed the crust from the oven the chocolate was perfectly melted and the sugar had caramelized
After assembling my tart, I had a dessert I was proud of. The cream filling, which was rich and silky, was infused with a genuine coconut flavor that was authentic without being overbearing. The subtle additions of chocolate and caramelized sugar to the crust then added nuance and helped to balance the flavors in the tart. Was it Tartine? No. Was it worth making? Definitely.