Well obviously that’s not the most cheerful photograph you want to start your day looking at. But I am sort of tired of complaining about the weather. Especially one as stubborn and angry as the monsoon we’re having. Today marks 48 hours of near-zero visibility, noisy drops (or arrowheads) of rain, pitch black rooftops and trousers hiked up to your knees wading through the water-logged wonderlands that are urban Indian parking lots.
But I’m hoping this might cheer you up.
I’m sure you remember THE BAG. The one that sat on the counter and gave me the stink eye. That went on for a long time till I responded with cake. Cake kicked that bag’s ass. Cake is not just a shoulder to cry on, it is also a fighter of crime and injustice.
And for that matter so is pie. Pie, if need be, can be the hero you’ve been looking for. Or heroine.
I used up almost a fourth of the coconut I’d lugged home on that cake and it was all good. Another fourth went into some cocoa-coconut balls, and no, I’m embarrassed to say that I have no photo of them. They were gobbled up before I got a chance to fire up my camera. It’s as if they never existed.
And now, I’m almost half-way through THE BAG. There isn’t much to say about coconut pie that hasn’t been yelled out from the roof-tops already. The last time I did some yelling about coconut pie, I was pretty loud about ‘fool-proof’ short crust pastry recipes that I’d had no luck with. With one hand I waved a flag with Paule Caillat’s name on it praising her boiled pastry while a coconut custard tart balanced precariously on the other. It’s been a little more than year since, and I’m still here holding a coconut tart, cursing bad pastry, cataloguing the good ones and whining about monsoon.
This tart has no custard. Just flakes of coconut, egg whites, vanilla, milk and sugar for the filling. Oh, and one other thing. Saffron.
And now you’re expecting me to go into a long winding narrative of how I came about using saffron. I wish I could. I wish I could tell you how as a child I was drawn to this priceless spice watching my grand mother use it in cream-rich Indian curries. You’re expecting a memory of mine from my college days, when I was learning how to cook and made some obscure dessert infused with strands of red. Then I’ll go on to tell you how the dessert was obviously a semi-disaster but my love for saffron had only strengthened because of it.
No such luck for you, readers. I don’t have any memory of my grandmother cooking with saffron. And when in college, I was too much of a pauper to actually be able afford saffron. Cheap or otherwise. For today’s saffron induced tart though, I have to thank my parents’ friends, the Majumdars. They went on a fabulous trip to Kashmir at the beginning of summer and came back with a palm-sized burlap pouch of the deepest, reddest, most fragrant saffron I’ve ever encountered. I soaked a pinch in some warm milk, before bringing the coconut macaroon mix together. The milk turned a warm yellow-verging-on-orange and my pristine white coconut was all stained after.
The recipe for the macaroon batter comes from Molly Wizenberg. I find that it makes for a tender and moist crumb, rather than a few dry varieties I’ve had elsewhere. If you don’t go all pie-stuffing with them, try ice-cream scooping them into balls and baking them to make coconut macaroons. Of course, do dip them into chocolate ganache or drizzle some on top.
On second thoughts, forget the macaroons. Just bake this damn tart.
Coconut Macaroon Tart with Saffron
adapted from Molly Wizenberg & Foodbeam
2 1/2 cups of desiccated coconut [or 2 cups of shredded unsweetened coconut]
The whites of 3 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of warm milk [not piping hot]
A pinch of saffron, good quality please [I say 'a pinch', but what I mean is four or five strands]
Pre-bake the tart-crust according to whichever recipe you’re using.
In a small shallow bowl, put the strands of saffron in the milk and keep covered to seep.
Put the coconut, egg-whites and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and mix together. Put the saucepan on medium-low heat and keep stirring till the mixture goes from grainy to creamy. Keep it on heat and keep on stirring till it starts to dry up a bit. Only a bit, mind you. Don’t let it dry out too much because then the crumb will be too loose for filling and you’ll end up with a mess while cutting your tart into pieces. Take the mixture off heat while its still sticky and gluey. Stir in the vanilla and the saffron-milk, strands and all. You can aim for an even colour. I doubt your plans will be successful.
Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and let it cool on a rack, not in the refrigerator. Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.
Fill the pre-baked tart crust with the cooled coconut mixture evenly and bake for 20-30 minutes. The filling will still be slightly soft to the touch, but it won’t be sticky. Cool on a rack or in the refrigerator till you plan to serve it. The tart’s good both warm and cold and with either a drizzle of chocolate sauce or softly whipped cream. I prefer it plain, for breakfast.