Coconut Cream Pie.

Genius happens everyday and it’s there, always. It hides behind bookcases, follows you down sidewalks, hangs out in trees. Specifically, genius in food is everywhere. It’s in the perfectly crafted cortado, nestled amongst dim sum plates on that little cart. Genius is the perfectly dipped hard chocolate shell on a soft serve cone. It’s the brilliant balance of caramelized onions, gooey cheese, and butter-grilled rye bread on a patty melt. Sometimes however genius surprises, even when you should be expecting it. Enter the Coconut Cream Pie at Tartine in San Francisco. Beautiful and petite, it looks as delicious as a pie has the right to be. And yet, there is a bit of hidden genius beneath that cool custard and peaked cream.

It’s there, in the perfectly thin chocolate and salted caramel layers underneath the whipped cream and coconut custard. Those two layers keep the crust dry and flaky, and add that necessary, surprising, and absolutely fantastic hint of salty sweetness. Those two hidden layers are pure genius, the kind of addition that makes any other coconut cream pie seem incomplete. From that first bite forward, it’s clear that no other coconut cream pie should ever be sans those two perfect layers. After all, nobody likes soggy crust, and everybody likes salted caramel and bittersweet chocolate.

The chocolate is painted onto the crust in a layer so thin so as not to be obtrusive yet still be effective as a moisture barrier. And while the caramel is just a frivolous flavor addition, it’s genius to be sure. A show-off kind of genius.

Which as it turns out is great, when it comes in pies. All pies should contain a bit of genius. One could argue, in fact, that most delicious pies already do.

Recipe on the following page.

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Salted Caramel Butter Ice Cream, with Espresso.

I would say that ice cream is relatively easy to make. It requires only a little stirring, some whisking, and low amounts of heat. What really anchors most ice cream recipes is the time spent in that helpful little kitchen tool, the ice cream maker. And what’s that all about? The ice cream maker is really one of the few tools that has only one function, to make ice cream, sorbets, and slurpees. To churn whilst freezing. Okay, maybe technically two functions.

But unlike most other tools, the blender, the food processor, my dearly beloved stand-up mixer Paulo (who lives far away in California), the ice cream can’t turn out a variety of foodstuffs. Only ice cream. And yet, it really is quite necessary for ice creamery.

Once you get your hands on an ice cream maker however, the possibilities for ice cream creation are endless. Since the base for ice cream is relatively easy to master, once you get going on the ice cream train, it’s hard to stop. On average, one carton of eggs can contribute to three different batches of homemade ice cream. A half gallon of milk makes about four batches of ice cream, as does a quart of cream.

You see, once you get going, it’s just really impractical to stop. Chances are, you have everything for ice cream in the kitchen already.

Today however, we’re going to focus less on the ease of making ice cream and rather on the ease of making a caramel. Caramel, one of the many beautiful things sugar transforms into. Nutty, golden, with wonderful toasted undertones, homemade caramel is a skill all should master, if only to have homemade caramel sauce consistently in the pantry. For David Lebovitz’s Salted Caramel Butter Ice Cream with Espresso, homemade caramel is everywhere. In the praline add in as well as in the base. In fact, the majority of the ice cream consists of homemade caramel.

Caramel, while perhaps daunting in theory, is really just melted sugar. And the trick to melting sugar is patience and attention. Sugar takes quite a while to get melted, but once it’s there it goes very quickly from lightly golden to deep amber. The trick, as it turns out, is to remove it from the heat as quickly as possible, and to stir in your cooler elements to halt the cooking.

For the caramel praline, all you have to do is remove the caramel from heat as soon as it turns a deep amber, sprinkle it with salt, and dump it onto a prepared pan. For the ice cream base, after you remove the caramel from heat you immediately whisk in butter, cream, salt, vanilla, milk, etc. The mixture will steam violently, so make sure to watch your hands. But here’s the thing. If you can master this ice cream, then you have the basics of caramel in your repertoire. Obviously, you should make this ice cream not only because it is delicious, but because it is clearly educational as well.

Duh.

Recipe on the following page.