I am in my first year at university in the picture, and that pathetic piece of foliage I am grinning next to is my Christmas tree. I got that tree under, shall we say, dubious circumstances. (I figure the statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions has expired but to protect the identity of my room-mate, her face is blurred in the photo.)
I couldn't go home that Christmas because of an inter-varsity sports meet (in Malaysia, universities don't get long breaks around Christmas, so activities go on). I was the only freshman on the team and some of my team-mates wanted to do something special for the rookie. We all stayed at one of the residential colleges on campus, and they decided to get a Christmas tree for my room.
There used to be a huge tract of woodlands (a real jungle!) near the playing fields on campus. It has since been cut down to grow ugly buildings.
Which makes what we did inconsequential by comparison.
Armed with a parang (machete), we managed to lop off a considerable branch from the nearest Casuarina tree only to find that it was to big to fit in the car.
So I hung out the window in the back holding on to one end while another girl had her arms around the other end in the front as the man who was going to graduate as a doctor in a few months drove quickly back to the dorms on the other side of campus.
The tree was lopsided and miserable but we found enough tchotchkes to decorate it with. We celebrated with coconut tarts from a bakery which I believe closed several years ago.
* * *
The tarts, I found out later, were made Hong Kong-style and can often be found in dim sum buffets. I tried a recipe but had to modify it because it resulted in too much coconut filling, so I have halved the amount here.
125g plain flour
A pinch of salt
75g butter, chopped and chilled
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp iced water
75g dessicated coconut
60ml condensed milk
1 egg yolk
Glaze and garnish
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp melted butter
Glacé cherries, optional
Make the pastry: Mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Rub in the butter until fine and crumbly. Add the yolk and enough water, and mix with a flat-bladed knife until mixture comes together in a smooth soft dough. Form into a disk, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
Make the filling: Mix the coconut and butter together until well-blended. Stir in the condensed milk and yolk.
Grease 10 quarter-cup tart cases (or a fluted or plain bun tin). Preheat the oven to 175°C. Divide the pastry into 12 equal portions; press into the base and side of the cases. Spoon the filling into the cases; smooth the mounded tops but do not press down. Bake for 25 minutes and the tops are golden.
For the glaze: Combine the yolk and melted butter and brush on the tops of the tart as soon as they come out of the oven. Place a cherry in the centre, if using.
* * *
Now, not being nearly as competent as Hong Kong dim sum chefs, my tarts were a little lacking in looks (just like my Christmas tree). I did like the coconut filling though and used it in another tart.
Unlike the pastry for the HK-style tarts, the cases for Lemon Coconut Tartlets – flavoured with lemon zest – are blind baked before the filling – flavoured with lemon juice – is put on. There's a little bit of jam in the base of the cases, which adds a pretty surprise to the tartlets.
Makes 12 quarter-cup tartlets
185g plain flour
3 tbsp icing sugar
125g butter, chopped
Grated rind of 2 lemons
1 egg yolk
Filling from Hong Kong-style Coconut Tarts
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg white
3 tbsp lemon juice
6 tsp blueberry or raspberry jam
Make the pastry: Sift the flour and icing sugar in a bowl. Rub in the butter until fine and crumbly. Sir in the lemon rind.
Add the egg yolk and 3 tbsp cold water. Mix with a flat-bladed knife to form a rough dough; add more water, drop by drop, if necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; gather into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven at 180°C. Roll the pastry out between 2 sheets of baking paper until 3mm thick. Cut into 12 rounds with a 7cm cutter and line greased patty tins or a muffin pan. Prick the pastry lightly and bake until slightly coloured, about 8 minutes.
Make the filling: Stir baking powder into coconut filling. Combine egg white and lemon juice and add to coconut. Mix well.
Put ½ tsp jam in the base of the pastry, spoon the filling on top and bake for 25 minutes, or until firm and golden.