My spouse and I have birthdays that fall one week apart, hers in the end of July and mine at the beginning of August. Every year we celebrate "birthday week" together, which typically involves gifts, desserts made from scratch and some sort of summertime outdoor adventures. It's one of the best weeks of the year for us both and we each put a lot of thought and planning into what new adventures we might take or which new recipes we might bake.
This year, we each diverted from a traditional layered birthday cake. My wife, who hasn't had a lot of experience baking pies, studied Kate McDermott's amazing cookbook, "Art of the Pie," and made a blackberry pie that was an absolute triumph. I recommend that book and the blackberry pie recipe highly. For her, I made a triple coconut cheesecake. There's coconut in every layer, from shredded coconut in the graham cracker crust (which is hands down my favorite part) to coconut milk in the filling and a golden layer of toasted coconut on top. Cheesecake is a great choice for summer special occasions because it can be made well in advance and is delicious served cold.
Triple coconut cheesecake
For the coconut crust:
1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about eight graham crackers)
5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
5 tablespoons butter, melted
For the filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 ounces coconut milk
For the topping:
1/4 cup toasted coconut (I toast my shredded coconut in a small frying pan over medium heat, stirring often, until golden)
For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Use a 9-inch springform pan. If you are worried that your springform pan may not be completely watertight, place a layer of aluminum foil on the outside of the pan bottom and up the sides. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, granulated sugar, salt and shredded coconut. Stir to combine. Add the melted butter, and mix everything together until coated.
Pour the graham cracker mixture into the springform pan, and using your hands, press the crust firmly into the pan and up the sides. The crust does not come all the way up the sides, only about halfway.
Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 12 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, bring a kettle of water to boil while you prepare the filling. When it's ready, turn off the heat. You'll use this for your water bath.
For the filling:
Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth, scraping sides and bottom of bowl often.
Add the sugar, cornstarch, extracts and salt. Beat until smooth and well combined.
Slowly add the beaten eggs to the bowl, adding about a tablespoon or so at a time and mixing well between each addition.
Add the coconut milk and beat until combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything is incorporated and smooth.
Place the springform pan with the cooled coconut crust into a deep, 12-inch cast-iron skillet or a large roasting pan.
Pour the cheesecake filling into the springform pan.
Place the cast-iron skillet on the center rack of the oven, and add the hot water from the kettle to the skillet until it reaches about halfway up the outer sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake for 65-75 minutes, or until the filling is set and only slightly jiggly in the center.
Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, being careful not to slosh the hot water, and then carefully remove the springform pan to a cooling rack. Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, one hour, then refrigerate four hours before releasing from the springform pan.
Sprinkle toasted coconut all over the top of the cheesecake prior to slicing and serving. For clean slices, clean off your knife between each slice.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.