Sometimes my dad gives me recipes. This means that he vaguely describes a delicious thing and suggests that I make it. Last Saturday we had tea and toast together.
‘We recently experimented with a pumpkin and coconut tart at the restaurant. We got a ready-made pastry case, filled it with coconut custard and pieces of pumpkin. Squirty cream and sprinkles on top. It was decent,’ he said, looking at me carefully before continuing. ‘I think it would have been better if the pastry were homemade. Shortcrust pastry, no more than 5mm thick. We don’t have so much time at the restaurant, you see.’
‘I’d like to make that tart,’ I said, feigning only mild interest.
‘Well,’ dad said, ‘I’ve got half a pumpkin for you.’
And so I was sent home with a chunk of kabocha squash about the same size as my head.
I knew what I wanted. A striking black sesame crust holding silky coconut custard (sangkaya) that wasn’t too sweet. The sangkaya would be studded with jewel-bright kabocha squash. The sesame, sangkaya, and squash would all come together harmoniously, with different types of nuttiness and richness working together. A little sea salt would keep it from being too much of a muchness.
Something like that, anyway. At the very least I wanted something that would work and taste good, certainly not something restaurant-perfect.
Because I’m an amateur home cook, the recipe here is cobbled together from many other ones. The proportion of black sesame seeds to flour in pastry was taken from Sara’s recipe at Fischer & Paykel’s Our Kitchen, the idea of diced pumpkin in coconut custard from Leela in her My Thai column at Serious Eats, the coconut custard itself is adapted from Kasma, and I followed the general guidelines for baking a custard tart from Delia Smith and Marcus Wareing. Phew.
The result was the best I could hope for. I can’t seem to ever make tarts without something odd (but not disastrous) happening, but they always turn out to be an enjoyable treat. Some of the filling leaked out, and the black sesame dough didn’t turn out as beautifully black as I wanted to, but otherwise the custard was perfectly set, the squash was cooked as I wanted, and the pastry was crumbly and fragrant with sesame.
You certainly don’t have to go to the extra effort of making black sesame pastry – it’s really not that easy to find black sesame in the shops, even where I am in London. Just plain shortcrust will be perfectly delicious.
I also think this tart would work in a deeper pan and with more custard filling and perhaps nutmeg as a call to English custard tarts. In the meantime, I’ve got to thoroughly taste-test this tart in particular. If you’ll excuse me…
PUMPKIN AND COCONUT CUSTARD TART
The squash isn’t too strong in this tart, almost melting into the smooth coconut custard. I think it’s rich enough to serve on its own but I’m sure there are interesting accompaniments to be had with this tart.
Makes 1 x 23 cm tart, at least 6 generous servings. Best eaten as soon as possible but will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
for the black sesame pastry
200g plain flour
75g black sesame seeds
Pinch of sea salt
125g cold butter, diced
1 medium/large egg, beaten
Water (if needed)
* Alternatively, use 300g shortcrust pastry.
for the sangkaya
200g kabocha or calabaza squash flesh, trimmed and peeled weight, in small dice
1 x 400ml can good quality coconut milk (I always use Chaokoh)
175g palm sugar, chopped. (Substitute same weight demerara or light brown sugar)
2 whole eggs (medium/large)
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few pinches sea salt
You will need a 23 cm loose-bottomed tart/quiche/flan tin, with sides about 2 -3 cm high.
Make the pastry. Grind black sesame seeds in jug blender or food processor, adding enough flour to help cover the blades. Scrape the bottom and sides between pulses to ensure even grinding. When most of the seeds have broken down and are tinting the flour grey, that’s enough.
If making by hand, put ground sesame, flour, salt and diced butter into a large bowl and use a pastry cutter or cool fingertips to reduce everything into crumbs. Add most of the beaten egg, mixing with a round-bladed knife and gently gathering the clumps into dough. Continue to add egg or extra water to only the dry parts. Press the lumps into a rough ball, wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight. (You can do all this in a food processor if you want.)
When ready to make the pastry case, bring out the dough and let it sit for about 10 minutes at room temp. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to about 3 – 5 mm thick and approximately 30cm wide, enough to completely line the bottom and sides of the tart tin with decent overhang. Line tart tin with the dough, pushing and adjusting the pastry so it sits snugly inside and pressing dough firmly into the sides. Trim off obvious excess, leaving an inch of overhang. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius (170 fan). Set the tart tin on a tray. Line the pastry with baking paper or foil and fill with rice, beans, or pastry weights. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes til edges are dry and set. Remove the lining and weights from tart, bake for a further 5 minutes or until base is cooked.
Cut the kabocha squash into very small dice (about 5mm) and scatter over the base of pastry case.
Make the sangkaya: Melt the coconut milk and palm sugar together in a saucepan over a very low heat. Leave to cool to room temperature. Beat the eggs and egg yolks with the vanilla extract and pour into the coconut and sugar mixture, blending until completely smooth.
To bake the tart, preheat oven to 130 degrees Celsius (or 110 fan). Put the tart tin on a baking tray and place in the oven. Ladle the coconut custard into the tart, covering the squash, until quite full – you might not need all the custard. Lightly sprinkle the surface with sea salt. Bake for about 1 hour, checking at 45 minutes. The custard should be set but still jiggly in the middle.
Cool completely in the tin. Trim excess pastry before turning out to slice and serve.