Into the Fire Blog

For those who burn to learn


Feb 2020

Coconut Cream Caramel Tart

Posted by / in Into the Fire Blog, Recipes /

I never realized how much I loved the flavor of coconut and caramel until I was served a slice of both coconut cake and caramel cake at a birthday party this past October at the James Beard House. The honoree was my gracious, vivacious, and much loved 80-year-old friend, Nathalie Dupree, “the Queen of Southern Cuisine.” The cakes were light and moist and the icings were delightfully sweet and complementary. I assumed the recipes for the classic southern cakes came directly from the James Beard Award winning cookbook Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, written by Nathalie and Cynthia Graubart.  Nathalie signed my copy of that fat, fascinating book and when I got home, I immediately looked up those dessert recipes for inspiration. Since I prefer to bake pies rather than cakes, I decided to create a coconut cream caramel tart.  I wanted the pie crust to be crisp in spite of its custardy filling and although I love the flavors of caramel and coconut, I wanted to be sure the topping for the pie was not too sweet. In addition to Nathalie’s cookbook, I relied on tips from several other sources including Fine Cooking and Cook’s Illustrated.  My friend, Katie, who came over to taste the finished pie, says it tastes like a dream. It is fluffy and crispy and decadent and it will make you smile. Great for any happy occasion, but an especially perfect pie to serve for Easter. If you are nervous about homemade pie crusts and haven’t signed up for a pie class with me, you can always substitute a graham cracker crust for this recipe, This pie is especially spectacular, though, when made with a homemade all butter crust. Just make sure that you completely bake and cool the crust before you fill it.

Coconut Cream Caramel Tart
Serves 8
A decadent coconut cream pie, enhanced by a layer of caramel
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  1. *One fully baked and cooled all butter pie crust (I make mine in a 9 inch tart tin with a removable bottom, but this crust can also be made in a 9 inch glass pie plate)
  2. Condensed Coconut Milk
  3. 2 cans (13 1/3 oz. each) coconut milk
  4. 1 cup whole milk
  5. Caramel
  6. 1/2 cup heavy cream
  7. 5 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 10 small pieces at room temperature
  8. 11/2 cups granulated sugar
  9. 1/2 cup water
  10. 1/4 fine sea salt
  11. Filling
  12. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  13. 1/4 cup cornstarch, sifted
  14. 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
  15. 3 cups condensed coconut milk (see above)
  16. 4 large egg yolks
  17. 3 Tbs unsalted butter cut into 8 small pieces at room temperature
  18. 1 tsp coconut extract
  19. 1/4 cup large grated unsweetened coconut, toasted
  20. Topping
  21. 2 cups heavy cream
  22. scant 1/2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
  23. 1 1/2Tbs water
  24. 2-3 Tbs confectioners sugar
  25. 1 tsp coconut extract
  26. 1/3 cup large grated unsweetened coconut, toasted
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread 2/3 cup of large grated unsweetened coconut flakes on a medium sheet pan, lined with parchment paper. Place baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 3 or 4 minutes. Gently stir the flakes and bake another 3 or 4 minutes, until coconut flakes are golden brown. Allow flakes to cool and set aside (1/4 cup of the flakes will go into the filling, 2/3 cup of the flakes will garnish the top of the finished tart).
  3. Shake the coconut cans before opening, then carefully empty the coconut milk into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil, stirring the pan frequently until the contents are reduced to 2 cups. (It's a good idea to measure the coconut milk at this point to make sure it has reduced enough.This should take about 15 minutes.) Stir in the whole milk to bring the mixture up to 3 cups. Set aside until warm or cool completely, cover and refrigerate (up to 2 days before continuing with the recipe).
  4. Put the heavy cream in a small saucepan and heat until very warm. Keep the warm cream nearby along with the butter.
  5. Put the sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook, stirring gently, over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stop stirring! Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar begins to color around the edges of the pan, about 7 minutes. Swirl the pan over the heat until the caramel is an even amber color, another 3 minutes. If the caramel is not copper colored, keep swirling until it is. If the caramel is light brown, it will be too sweet. If it burns, throw it out and start again! Slide the pan off the heat and slowly add the warm heavy cream, butter, and salt. Whisk until the caramel is smooth. Set aside until slightly cooled, 15-20 minutes. Measure out 3/4 cup of the caramel and carefully pour caramel into the bottom of the completely baked and cooled crust. Immediately use a small offset spatula to evenly distribute and smooth the caramel around the bottom of the prebaked crust. Freeze the caramel filled tart while making the filling.
  6. Put the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan and whisk until well blended. Add 2/3 cup of the condensed coconut milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks and then the remaining 1/3 cup of condensed coconut milk. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a full boil. Reduce the the heat to medium and, whisking constantly, boil for one minute. Custard should be thick. Just after it has boiled, slide the pan off the heat. Add the butter and coconut extract and, with a wooden spoon, stir vigorously until the butter is melted and the pudding is smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup of toasted coconut. Pour the custard into a 4 cup measure and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Allow to cool down for 10 minutes and then refrigerate for 20 minutes (The pudding should be room temperature, NOT HOT).
  7. Remove the caramel lined tart from the freezer and pour the cooled custard over the cold caramel. Spread the custard evenly over the caramel and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate the pie until chilled and firm, at least 5 hours.
  8. To make whipped cream topping, sprinkle scant 1/2 teaspoon of unflavored powdered gelatin over 1 1/2 tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe bowl and let it stand for 3 minutes. Microwave the mixture in 5-second increments until the gelatin is dissolved and liquefied.
  9. Whip 3 cups of chilled heavy cream along with 2 Tablespoons of confectioners sugar and 1 teaspoon of coconut extract in a stand mixer, staying on low speed until small bubbles form, then increase the speed to medium. When the beaters begin to leave a trail in the cream, slowly pour in the gelatin mixture and then increase the speed to high and continue to beat until soft peaks form. If well covered, the whipped cream will retain its moisture and airiness for up to 24 hours. Best to top the pie with whipped cream a few hours before serving. Garnish the pie with reserved toasted coconut shavings.
  1. This luscious custard pie is a project, but if you spread the work over two days, the crust will stay crisp and the topping will not weep. You can completely bake the pie crust, toast the coconut and make the caramel the day before you make the pie. You can make the pie (sans whipped cream topping) the night before you serve the pie. The topping should be made the same day that the pie is to be served. It is stabilized with gelatin, which imparts no flavor and keeps the cream from getting soupy.
  2. The pie crust should be completely baked and cooled before adding the fillings.
  3. Large grated unsweetened coconut shavings can be found at most health food stores. The large shavings are delicious when toasted and add a dramatic touch to the pie.
  4. Make sure you use a large heavy saucepan when making the caramel as the hot sugar will sputter when you add the dairy. You will have more caramel than you need for this tart. You can save the extra in a jar and refrigerate. The caramel will keep for two weeks and can be used as a topping for ice cream sundaes.
  5. Pay special attention to the custard as it must thicken and come to a full boil for one minute. Once it boils for one minute, it is important to immediately take the custard off the heat while you stir in the other ingredients. Stir vigorously to make sure the custard is smooth and has fully incorporated all ingredients.
Adapted from Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, Fine Cooking, Cook's Illustrated
Adapted from Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, Fine Cooking, Cook's Illustrated
Jillyanna's Cooking School

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