Put together butter, sugar and flour – voila! You have all the makings of a shortcrust pastry at your fingertips. And since I’ve recently begun a series of posts on baking with butter, naturally, I’d have to include a great sweet shortcrust pastry recipe. Living in the tropics means that I can enjoy baking with the fresh flesh (oops.. that was a bit of a tongue twister!) of tropical fruits that are always available all year round, like coconuts. So I decided that I would bake a very local snack – coconut tarts.
This is a wonderful recipe for a coconut custard-filled tart that is easy and quick to make. I like to use freshly grated coconut simply because it is easily available in local supermarkets in Singapore (these come packaged with a very short shelf-life, and are usually found in the chilled or refrigerated sections), but if these are hard to come by in your local area, dessicated coconut can be used with equally good results. And if you haven’t yet noticed, I kind of like to go over the top with my fillings. I immensely enjoy these tarts with their tops slightly crisped up and crusted by the top heat of the oven!
When I was growing up during the 70’s, getting freshly grated coconut always meant a trip to the local town market with my mother. I always relished our visits to the coconut vendor, where the sweet scent of coconuts always wafted around his little space of the wet market. I suppose the old uncle would have spent the early hours before dawn removing the husks off dozens of coconuts, toiling away with brute strength and skilful technique.
Once Mom requested what she needed, he would push large, broken sections of coconut flesh through a clunky-looking grinder to yield the aromatic, soft, fine white flesh. We would get the grated flesh of 1 or 2 coconuts for peanuts! And getting grated coconut always meant that Mom was going to prepare something yummy – delicious heat-searing spiced curries or tea treats and snacks like nonya kueh! It also meant that first, there was a lot of work to help out with in the kitchen.
In those days, we had to squeeze the dear life out of the grated flesh to obtain the creamy coconut milk – goodness gracious, not once, but twice! The milk yielded after the first round of squeezing and straining is commonly known as “No. 1 milk”, which is thicker, whiter and creamier. Water is then added to the grated coconut and the flesh is squeezed and strained again to yield a thinner and more dilute coconut milk, commonly referred to as “No. 2 milk”.
I didn’t realise how much effort it took my Mom to get fresh coconut milk until I tried doing it myself, as an adult years later. I did it that one time for the experience, and as much as I can appreciate the benefits of making my own freshly squeezed coconut milk that’s totally natural and wholesome, I really didn’t want to spend my time in the kitchen wracking my not-very-strong fingers around a muslin cloth sieve!
These days, we can get commercially fresh, canned or boxed coconut milk and packaged shredded coconut flesh in supermarkets without having to break an arm. The convenience of having these products readily available has really made our tasks in the kitchen very easy and fuss-free. What’s even better, over the years as Asian cooking and foods have become more popular and widespread, Asian supermarkets in Western countries readily stock these products as well so that baking and cooking with these have become that much easier.