Dessert Essentials: Graham Cracker Crust and Homemade Whipped Cream

Graham cracker crust was one of the first things I learned how to cook myself.  I remember being in elementary school crushing graham crackers with a rolling pin (too little to work a food processor), melting butter in the microwave in what always seemed to be the wrong container (plastic, metal), and stirring in a little sugar to make it all come together with a fork.  Over the years I’ve improved my original recipe, but sometimes I still use the rolling pin just for nostalgia’s sake.  I use salted butter and I typically add a little extra salt because I love salt, but definitely taste before you do – it typically needs none unless you use unsalted butter.

As for homemade whipped cream, it’s one of my most favorite things in the world.  It classes up the simplest of desserts, comes together in about 4 minutes, and is light years ahead of anything you could purchase.

I’m putting these two recipes together because you need both to make my two favorite summer pies: key lime and coconut, both of which I’ll be sharing soon.  You could also make a graham cracker crust, fill with chocolate Jello pudding pie filling (the directions are on the box!), top with whipped cream, and have a pretty excellent chocolate pie in no time.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 sleeve “Nabisco Graham” graham crackers in the red box.  No cinnamon, no honey, just the red nabisco box.  A box comes with 3 sleeves, I think there are 8 long crackers in each.

2-3 Tbsp sugar

5 Tbsp butter (salted or unsalted – add 1/2 tsp of salt if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

1. Crush the graham crackers in either a food processor or using a rolling pin.  Add the sugar and melted butter and stir with a fork until well combined.  Fold in the coconut (if using).

2. Preheat the oven to 350.  Press the crust into a pie pan using the bottom of a smooth glass or measuring cup and/or your fingers to cover the bottom and sides.  Bake the pie for 10-15 minutes until brown and fragrant.  Allow to cool before filling.

Note: if you’re making a pie that requires no additional baking, bake for closer to 15 minutes.  If you will be doing additional baking, only bake for about 10.

 

Homemade Whipped Cream

8 oz. whipping cream

3 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1. Combine ingredients in a bowl and beat at high speed using either a hand mixer or stand mixer until soft peaks form.

2. You can easily add coconut or almond extract in lieu of (or in addition to) the vanilla to give the cream a different flavor – it works well!

Note:

Toasted Coconut Cookies

When it comes to desserts, I have very little discretion.  The only things I truly dislike are flan and creme brulee (a texture issue), I’m not really a cake or cheesecake lover, and chocolate and fruit aren’t so much my jam, but, of course, if there’s a chocolate cake with fruit available I’m not one to exercise any restraint.  I will, however, skip the meal and go straight to dessert whenever there’s coconut involved.  Toasted coconut is one of life’s greatest pleasures – and, in my opinion, makes for a great garnish to any dessert.  A sprinkling of toasted coconut is great on ice cream, cupcakes, in a pie, and especially baked into a cookie.  These cookies go beyond a garnishing of coconut and really put the coconut on display.  The result is a crispy, chewy, buttery coconut cookie.

The original recipe calls for coconut chips, which I had trouble locating.  Usually I use sweetened coconut for toasting purposes because it’s cheap and easy to locate, but this time I bought a bag of unsweetened coconut flakes at Target and it worked really well.  The flakes were really fine and incorporated well into the dough.  You could use sweetened coconut if it’s all you have at the grocery store, but if you do, I would consider really backing off on the sugar (starting with half and tasting) or rinsing the sweetened coconut in a strainer and letting it dry out (apparently this removes most of the sweetness).  Unsweetened coconut is hard to find, but I generally can find it at Target or Trader Joe’s and stock up when I see it.

I also browned the butter, which is easy, but takes some time.  You could just use softened butter and skip step 1, but that sort of goes against my life’s mantra of “anything worth doing is worth overdoing”.  Browned butter is just so darn decadent and delicious that it’s worth the effort.  If you use regular butter, omit the 2T of water.

Toasted Coconut Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2 Tbsp water

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp coarse salt

2 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut

1. Cook the butter in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring frequently until it begins to foam and brown.  It will burn in no time at all, so once the foaming begins, keep a close eye on it and remove from the heat when it starts to smell nutty and turn brown.  Transfer to a small container (I used a glass pyrex measuring cup) and place it in the refrigerator for a few hours to solidify.

2. Preheat the oven to 350.  Beat the butter, sugars, and 2T of water together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, beat to combine.  Add the baking soda, flour and salt and mix until well combined.  Fold in the coconut.

3. Scoop the dough into 1T sized balls and bake for about 11 minutes until golden brown.  Allow the cookies to cool and set on the cookie sheet before transferring to a plate.  Store in an airtight container.

Strawberry Short-Cup-Cakes

My toddler loves strawberries.  She requests that I always cut off the leaves, and insists that I do NOT sugar them, and then can eat roughly half a pound a day.  She essentially exists on strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and cheese.  It’s a good life.  Because we always need to have strawberries on hand for her, I buy a carton every time I see them (sort of like milk – it’s never on the list because it’s ALWAYS on the list) – the grocery store, Costco, Target, etc.  So sometimes I don’t pay enough attention and end up with 5 pounds of strawberries.  While my little cutie COULD consume 5 pounds of strawberries in a matter of days before they go bad, it would be awfully hard on her stomach.  Enter strawberry shortcupcakes.  They’re basically a vanilla cupcake with a strawberry balsamic filling and a strawberry buttercream on top.  Pure heaven.

Unfortunately my strawberry-lovin’ daughter takes books very seriously and had recently become obsessed with Pinkalicious before I made these.  In the story, the little girl makes pink cupcakes with her mom, eats too many, and turns pink.  To my two year old literalist, it was not a risk worth taking, so she wouldn’t eat them at all.  Her loss.

Note: if you don’t have/want to buy cake flour, you can substitute AP flour, just take 2T of each cup out and replace it with cornstarch.  Also, all in all, you’ll need 5 sticks of  butter, 1.5-2lbs of strawberries, and 9 eggs so, just be aware.  These really are a lot of work, but if you’re looking for something impressive and outstanding, their worth the effort.  I’d recommend baking the cupcakes the evening before, and filling/frosting the next morning.

Strawberry ShortCupCakes

for the cakes:

2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

5 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

3 cups cake flour

1Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

for the filling:

12 oz strawberries (fresh or frozen)

3 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

for the frosting:

12 oz strawberries (fresh or frozen)

1T balsamic vinegar

1 and 1/4 cup sugar

4 egg whites

3 sticks of butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350. To make the cakes, begin by beating the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.  Stir the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) together and alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk until everything is incorporated.  Fill cupcake liners to 2/3 full (mine made roughly 24).  Bake for 15-18 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before proceeding.

2. To make the filling, hull and finely dice the strawberries and toss with the sugar and balsamic vinegar.  Allow the mixture to set while you core the cupcakes.  You can either use a knife or a handy coring tool (like this).  Spoon a bit of the strawberry mixture in each cupcake until full – sort of mashing the strawberries in with the back of the spoon.  They can mound a little over the top, they will be covered by the frosting.

3. To make the frosting, hull and roughly chop the strawberries and toss with balsamic vinegar.  Cook the mixture over medium heat in a small saucepan for several minutes until fragrant.  Allow to cool.  Meanwhile, stir the egg whites and sugar together in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, whisking constantly until it hits 160 degrees.  Transfer to a stand mixer with the whisk and beat on medium high until the mixture is completely cool and stiff peaks form.  This takes 10-12 minutes for me.  While it’s beating, pour the strawberries into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Put it in the freezer while you finish the frosting so it’s nice and cool.  Once the stiff peaks are achieved, turn the mixer down a notch or two and add in the butter, in small chunks until it’s all incorporated.  Bump the speed back up and beat another 4 minutes until the frosting is fluffy.  Add in the strawberry puree until incorporated.

4. Frost the cupcakes using a piping bag to cover the strawberry filling.

Nutrition:

If you yield 24 cupcakes: 352 calories per cupcake, 18g fat, 31g sugar.