Many of us have special recipes that are in our lives because they have been passed down from our parents or grandparents, and these recipes are often deliciously wrapped up in our cultural identity. Recipes that are passed down from previous generations can take on an important significance in our lives, as a treasured link to our ancestry, to the passage of time, to the people who lived before us. A simple dish can become a much-needed connection to our roots, and the region and terrain and climate that it was born out of.
For a large chunk of this year, I’ve had the sweet pleasure of living under the same roof as a spritely little miss who is completely obsessed with brioche, or as she says it “baweeyoche!” Always with an exclamation mark. And since there are few things quite as enchanting as a warm festive sweet bread on Christmas morning, I decided this would be my pièce de résistance this year. It does not disappoint.
I’m always trying to think up new ways to eat squash at this time of year, and I thought this one was worthy of sharing with you all. I first tried these fries with butternut squash but was disappointed with the results. Butternut can be on the watery side and they just didn’t have the right texture. I wanted a fry that was a little more meaty so I opted for buttercup squash which has more of a rich and dense texture and is also sweeter, reminiscent of sweet potatoes which make my all-time favorite fries.
The first time I went to Tunisia when I was 19 years old, I remember watching my host mom in amazement as she nonchalantly plopped some green peppers, tomatoes, an onion, and a few cloves of garlic right on her stovetop burner. I had never seen anyone cook food directly on a burner like that before. As the vegetable skins began to sizzle and char, they released an intoxicating aroma into the house and before I had even tasted it, I was already smitten with this dish.
I’m so excited to share this post with you because this one’s a special collaboration with a fellow gardener and food blogger: the talented Sofia of From The Land We Live On. I’ve been admiring Sofia’s gorgeous food and gardening photography for quite sometime and I had the idea at the back of my mind that it would be fun to feature her in one of my videos. I was so thrilled when she agreed to join forces on this one! We spent a delightful day together: she made decadent mint and chocolate ice cream with freshly harvested mint from her garden (with the help of a very keen little helper as you’ll notice in the video!) and I filmed the whole wonderful adventure.
My brilliant friend Katie brought these coconut chocolate bars to a party a couple months ago and they disappeared in seconds, thanks to urgent whisperings traveling from room to room and ear to ear about the incredible bars someone had just put down on the kitchen counter.
This is one of the most delicious ways I know to eat carrots. Many people don’t know that carrot tops are edible. I didn’t either until fairly recently. But they have a lovely fresh carrot aroma that doesn’t really compare to anything else. (If I could bottle up that perfume, I would spray it on myself everyday!) It seems only right to serve carrot top pesto slathered on top of the beloved root it sprung out of.
There’s just something magical about cooking with fragrant colorful blooms and when it’s spring time, feasting on flowers feels like a fitting way to celebrate the world springing back to life after a long winter.
This recipe is delicate and delightful. Yes, it does requires a bit of time. (Though you can always cheat a bit and use store-bought tart shells to save time. Don’t tell anyone I said that). But the time you put into these is going to be enchanting and worthwhile.
I experimented quite a bit to get these right. I incorporated lilac sugar, lilac-infused milk and cream, made candied lilacs and lilac syrup, all in an effort to see what would most fully capture the potent aroma of that irresistible flower. In the end, the most successful experiment was the lilac whipping cream. The cream really seemed to absorb the lilacs’ perfume. The candied lilacs are an optional garnish, but a lot of fun to make.
I initially struggled a bit with my tart shells because tart dough is notorious for shrinking while it bakes and I am stubborn about not wanting to use pie weights. I wanted an easy recipe that would bake nicely in a simple muffin tin.
In the end, I found that a shortbread dough worked best, keeping its shape very well, especially if placed in the freezer before baking. It’s also incredibly delicious to eat, yielding a light buttery cookie-like tart base. I used a muffin tin, but if you have them, you could certainly use fancy fluted tart molds to create something more dainty. Either way… enjoy!
Happy spring to you all!
Lilac Coconut Cream Tarts
Fresh lilacs lend an enchanting aroma to this springtime twist on the classic coconut cream pie. (Recipe Credit: Aube Giroux of Kitchen Vignettes)
For the Coconut Shortbread Tart Shells:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 x 13.5 oz can of unsweetened full-fat coconut milk (about 1 1/2 cup)
1 1/4 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup fresh just-picked lilac blossoms (green base removed)
For the Toppings (optional but recommended):
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup fresh just-picked lilac blossoms (green base removed)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup lightly toasted unsweetened coconut
A couple dozen fresh or candied lilac blossoms for garnish
To make the tart shells: In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar (by hand or with an electric mixer). Add the vanilla or coconut extract and beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the unbleached flour, coconut flour, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar and mix until just incorporated. If the dough is very soft, refrigerate it for about 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 even-sized balls. In a buttered muffin pan (no need to butter if using a non-stick pan), press each ball of dough into the bottoms and sides of each individual muffin slot. Alternately, you can roll out the dough to 1/8 inch and use a large 5 to 6 inch circular cookie cutter to make dough circles that you delicately place and lightly press into each muffin slot. Prick the bottoms with a fork a couple times. Place the muffin pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes to harden the tart shells (this will prevent the dough from shrinking and puffing up during baking).
Preheat oven to 325F and bake the tart shells for approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. Check the tart shells at the 10-minute mark and if the bottoms are puffing up, prick them again gently with a fork. Once baked, let the tart shells cool in the muffin pan for about 10 minutes before removing and letting them cool on a rack. Now, they are ready to be filled.
To make the coconut lilac cream filling: Pull the lilac flowers off the branch, ensuring there is no green tip at the base, just the petals. Whisk the whole milk and coconut milk together and pour over the lilac blossoms in a medium-sized bowl. (If needed, you can warm the coconut milk slightly to melt the coconut fat so it will incorporate evenly into the whole milk when whisked). Allow the lilacs to sit and infuse in the milk for a few hours (or overnight) in the fridge, covered. Next, pour the infused lilac blossoms and milk into a small saucepan and slowly heat the milk until it begins to release some steam. (Don’t let it boil). Use a fine-mesh sieve to strain out the lilac blossoms and return the strained milk to the saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add about a quarter of the warm milk and mix well, then pour this mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk, whisking well. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until it thickens, about 6 or 7 minutes. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and then slowly pour the thick hot milk on top, whisking constantly until incorporated. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook at medium heat for another 2 minutes, stirring the whole time as it bubbles. Remove from heat. If you wish, strain the custard through a fine sieve.
In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the coconut for about 5 minutes or until it begins to turn slightly golden. Add the toasted coconut and vanilla to the custard, mixing well. Allow the mixture to cool slightly (10 minutes or so). Spoon into the prepared (and fully cooled) tart shells and refrigerate the tarts until filling is set (about 1 to 2 hours).
To make lilac-infused whipping cream: Several hours in advance of assembling the tarts (or the night before), mix the heavy cream and fresh lilac blossoms together. (If the lilac blossoms have been rinsed, make sure to very gently pat them dry first). Let the lilac cream infuse in a covered container in the fridge for several hours (or overnight). When ready to assemble, strain out the lilac blossoms. Whip the cream, adding the sugar halfway through. If you wish, add a few drops of food coloring (I use beet and blueberry juice) to lightly color the whipped cream. Top the tarts with the lilac whipped cream, toasted coconut, and lilac flowers. Candied lilacs are also lovely!
Yield: 12 tarts
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.