Coconut Pandan Tart

Getting a doctor to prescribe you a soft food diet used to sound like a dream to me. I mean, who in their right mind would complain about being required to eat ice cream and yogurt all day, right?

Well, last week I got all 4 of my wisdom teeth removed and was put on an ice cream diet. It hurt like a b*, but I was quietly consoled by the fact that I get to have all the ice cream I want as an excuse. Contrary to what I imagined though, after going through a whole tub of greek yogurt and bowls of Kapiti fig and honey ice cream for breakfast for days on end (yup I really let my boujee self go), I was miserable. I couldn’t open my mouth much, let alone chew. So everything I ate had to either instantly dissolve or just slip down my throat immediately. Oh, and coupled with the fever and (hopefully not permanent) nerve damage that came after the surgery, the last week has been quite the torturous ordeal.

Like a child weaning off breast milk and purees though, I’m slowly introducing more not-so-soft food into my diet as the days progress. 5 days post-surgery, I got my first taste of semi-solid food – in the form of plain, cooked rice in a pool of watery tea-broth – and I remember being more excited to eat that than when I had MyBurgerLab’s Nasi Lemak Burger for the first time! Mmm, watered-down ochazuke never tasted so good! The texture of the bits of rice in the savoury tea, mushy and bland as it was, was close to revelatory! It made me realise how important of a role texture plays in the food we eat. Because sure, ice cream and yogurt might taste really good individually, but with the same food texture coating your mouth 3 meals a day, it becomes a real drag. So it’s not just always about the taste y’all!

So after that revelation, to hasten my recovery back to solid foods, I made a tart. It’s made of three of the most familiar, comforting flavours to me (and probably to any Malaysian for that matter) - coconut, gula melaka, and pandan. But more importantly, it has three distinct textures to it – a crunching but yielding shortcrust base, a moist layer of coconut flake custard, topped with supple, melt-in-your-mouth pandan cream.

Coconut Pandan Tart
Coconut Pandan Tart

The tart itself is based off a traditional French coconut pie/tart, commonly made of a desiccated coconut custard-mix baked in a tart shell. But instead of using dried, packaged desiccated coconut, I used freshly grated coconut flakes and santan (coconut milk) I got from the market, and gave the tart a whole lot more body with the classic Malaysian dessert combination of pandan and gula melaka (here in the form of the cream and 'caviar').

The verdict? It's pretty dang good! Not owing to any genius on my part of course, but rather to the Malaysian ancestors who discovered the Holy Trinity of Malaysian desserts - coconut milk, pandan, and gula melaka. Also, I know the photos of the tart doesn't look particularly appetising (not least because I am terrible at finessing and doing dainty garnishes), but I think it tastes marvelous all the same. That aromatic, almost-gooey coconut custard layer and that herbaceous pandan cream, bound together by the fragrance of the gula melaka throughout - ethereal. Most of all though, the tart definitely stimulates the textural part of the palate. So I’d say if anything, this tart makes for a great transition food for babies weaning off soft foods and purees, and for adults post-teeth-surgery. 😉

Coconut Tart Base
Coconut Pandan Tart
Coconut Pandan Tart
Coconut Pandan Tart

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Coconut Pandan Tart

Makes 1 tart

Ingredients

Shortcrust Pastry (makes enough for 2 tarts)
200g all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
100g butter, cut into rough cubes and chilled
1 egg
1 teaspoon water, plus more if need

Coconut Filling
3 eggs
50g butter, melted
50ml fresh coconut milk
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g caster sugar
100g gula melaka, melted in 50ml water, can be substituted with brown sugar
120g fresh coconut flakes, or desiccated coconut
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon flour

Pandan Cream
100ml milk
100ml fresh coconut milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
50g sugar
30g cornstarch
200ml whipping cream
1 tablespoon fresh pandan liquid (obtained by blending pandan leaves with a bit of water), or ½ teaspoon pandan extract

Garnish (optional)
mint leaves
dessicated coconut
toasted kerisik (coconut butter)
gula melaka 'caviar', made by boiling 50g gula melaka, 50ml water, and 1g agar powder and dripping the solution into chilled oil. (It's a bit of a science-y trick called cold-oil spherification; Refer to this for more details.)

Directions

  1. Shortcrust pastry: Put the flour, salt, and cubes of cold butter into a stand mixer (with a paddle attachment) or food processor. Then, mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes until it becomes sandy, with little to no large lumps of butter left. Then, add the egg and a teaspoon of water and mix briefly until the dough comes together. If you find the dough doesn’t come together, add in a bit more water until it does. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. (The recipe above makes enough for 2 tarts, so you can split it in half and store it separately if you wish.)
  2. Rolling out the tart shell: On a well-floured surface, roll out the shortcrust pastry dough using a rolling pin until it is at least 4 cm/1.5 inches larger than your tart pan all around, and about 2-4mm thick. Lay the dough into the tart pan, making sure to fit the dough snugly into the edges, and trim off the excess dough using a knife or by rolling a rolling pin over the sides of the tart pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before filling and baking it.
  3. Coconut filling: This couldn’t be easier. Just put everything from the ingredients list in a bowl and whisk until they're all well-combined!
  4. Pandan cream: This starts off with a basic crème patissiere. Heat the milk, coconut milk, vanilla extract and salt in a saucepan until it starts to steam. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl until it becomes slightly pale and fluffy. Pour half of the heated milk mixture into the egg yolks, and whisk until well-combined, then add in the rest of the hot milk. Pour all of this liquid back into the saucepan, and heat until it thickens and starts to bubble, whisking vigorously all the time (around 2-3 minutes). Place this crème patissiere in a tray or bowl, cover the exposed surface with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until it’s cool to the touch. Meanwhile, whip the whipping cream until it forms medium peaks, and add in the pandan liquid/extract. Then, fold the pandan whipped cream into the cooled crème patissiere in 3-4 batches until well-combined.
  5. Baking: Pour the coconut filling into the tart, and bake it in an oven preheated to 180°C for 50-60 minutes, until the top of the tart is nicely browned. You can stick a cake tester or skewer into the middle of tart to check its doneness; The tart is done when it comes out clean! When done, remove the tart from the oven and cool it on a wire rack.
  6. Decorating: When the tart is cool, spread the pandan cream over the top of tart and smooth it out. Garnish it with mint leaves, coconut flakes, kerisik, and gula melaka 'caviar'. Alternatively, you could pipe the cream and decorate the tart as fancily as you like too. Channel your inner Cédric Grolet!
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