Friday, January 25, 2013

Coconut Plus Chocolate Pie

Question:  What do you do with a leftover bag of sweetened shredded coconut.

Answer:  Make a coconut cream pie with a chocolate bottom crust!

Typically, I'm not much of a coconut fan when it comes to desserts, but the combo of coconut and chocolate in this one appealed to me. Especially when I had a huge bag of shredded coconut in the fridge left over from my Lane Cake, which I made a while back. (Don't you hate when a recipe calls for two tablespoons of an ingredient that's only available in one-pound bags!)

Not only did I get to use up the coconut, but also I had some chocolate wafers, which I crushed up along with some butter and a bit of the coconut to make the crust. The filling was a fairly straightforward process: a stovetop custard that once cooked gets poured into the cooled pie shell.

The topping is simply whipped cream and some toasted coconut. Light, creamy, rich with a chocolate base. It's easy to eat several pieces...

Coconut Cream Pie
(from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts)

Ingredients:

For The Crust

30 chocolate wafer cookies, broken into pieces
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut

For The Topping And Filling

1 3/4 cups sweetened shredded coconut
2 3/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Directions

Make crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, combine cookies and salt; process until fine crumbs form. With machine running, slowly pour butter through feed tube and process until mixture resembles wet sand. Stir in coconut. Press crumbs in bottom and up side of a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Bake until crust is set, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely in pie plate on a wire rack.

Make topping: Increase heat to 350. Spread 1/2 cup coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Make filling: In a small saucepan, whisk together milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt. Cook over medium-high, whisking constantly, until bubbles form at the edge and mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and stir in 1 1/4 cups coconut. Pour filling into cooled crust and smooth top. Refrigerate until filling is chilled and completely set, about 2 hours (or wrap tightly with plastic and refrigerate, up to 2 days).

To serve, whip cream until soft peaks form. Top pie with whipped cream and toasted coconut.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Desserts and Dieting

Usually this time of year I get requests for low-fat, low-calorie dessert recipes.

I suppose there are a few out there that aren't completely awful, but that strategy does not work for me. What happens is that the low-fat version of the dessert I want is so unsatisfying that I go out looking for the real thing, which I crave all the more.

Over the last year, I've lost about thirty pounds by taking control of my eating habits (with some help from Weight Watchers!) In my experience, the key to eating dessert and not gaining weight (and even losing weight) is as follows:

1.  Have a small portion of a rich dessert. When you bake, always do so with a plan in mind of how you are going to get rid of most of what you make. Give most of the dessert to friends, co-workers, doormen, homeless people. Spread the love and the calories around.

2.  Eat less of other things or eat more nutritious things around the time you plan on consuming said dessert. I tend to put on the pounds when I'm eating unplanned sweets. If you're trying ton control your intake, spontaneity is your biggest danger. Conversely, if you know a rich dessert is coming up, like this caramel cake, then eat smaller meals all day leading up to it or on the next day. Try to eat meals with more vegetables and fruit and lean protein, and fewer carbohydrates.

3.  Exercise. I've found that exercise alone doesn't reduce weight in my experience, but exercising regularly with the steps above definitely helps in controlling weight and even losing a pound or two.

So plan to eat a small sliver of this so-called easy caramel cake, recipe from America's Test Kitchen. In fact, this cake is so rich, you probably wouldn't want more than a bit of it anyway!

"Easy" Caramel Cake
(from America's Test Kitchen)

Note: the frosting is a real pain, but people love it

Cake:
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temp
4 large eggs, room temp
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup a-p flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened

Frosting:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

Directions:
1.  Make the cake:  Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.  In large measuring cup, whisk buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla.  In a stand mixer on low speed, mix all dry ingredients to combine, then beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, until only pea-sized pieces remain. Pour in half the wet mixture and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Slowly add the remaining wet mixture and beat to incorporate, about 15 seconds.

2.  Divide batter equally among two pans and bake until golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks. Cool completely.

3. Now for the hard part, the frosting. In a large saucepan, heat 1 stick of butter (8 tbsp) brown sugar, and salt over medium until small bubbles appear around perimeter of pan, 4 to 8 minutes. Whisk in cream and cook until ring of bubbles reappears, about 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in vanilla.

4. Transfer hot frosting mixture to stand mixer bowl, and on low speed, gradually mix in confectioners sugar to incorporate. Increase speed to medium and beat until frosting is pale brown and just warm, about 5 minutes. Add remaining butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Don't overdo this step.

5.  The race is on to quickly frost the cake before the frosting turns into clay. You can always heat the frosting up in the microwave for 10 seconds or so to make it moldable if it seizes up. Place 1 cake round on serving plate. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over cake, then top with second cake round. (At this point, you might want to heat up the frosting again to make sure it's spreadable.) Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Don't fuss too much because as soon as this frosting cools, it hardens.

Good luck!