Things I learned this past weekend in Lexington, Kentucky:

1. I’m a master at betting on horse races. I doubled my money betting on a spunky little horse named Get Runnin’ with 8-1 odds.

Okay, so I guess it’s not fair to leave out the part about the second race, where my horse came in dead last. When everyone cheered for the winner trotting by, I was yelling to my horse, “It’s okay! You tried your best!”

I still came out ahead overall. But I guess it’s not fair to leave out the fact that by “came out ahead,” I mean that I had a whopping $2.60 more than I started with.

2. You know those calendar photos that depict a peaceful street meandering between a row of bright honeycrisp-apple-colored trees? Or maybe the ones where a trail disappears behind an outcropping of rock lined with whispers and splashes of fall foliage? Or maybe the ones that show a rustic ferry piddling its way across a narrow river with old railroad trestles in the background? Yeah, every single one of those pictures is apparently taken in Kentucky.

3. Wine is gross. I tried and tried, y’all. How do you drink this stuff? Bloody Marys are acceptable, though. And margaritas are pretty darn good, particularly with a salted rim and some chips and salsa! Can I salt the rim of other beverages? Coke Zero? Trying it.

4. There’s a castle in the middle of Kentucky. I was surprised, too. You drive around a bend in the highway and BAM! Camelot. Yes, we posed for princessy pictures in front of it, duh.

5. Sports fans have uniforms just like the players: for University of Kentucky football fans, it seemed necessary to wear that deep blue sweatshirt everyday, everywhere. For the horse racing crowd, however, the uniform was a bit more upscale: heels, skirts, and blazers, y’all!

6. My sister’s boyfriend, Alain, apart from being an all-around great guy, is a superb chef: think meatballs filled with melty Fontina cheese on a bed of al dente spaghetti and shredded Parmesan. Heaven.

7. My sister is wonderful. Okay, I didn’t learn this in Kentucky; I already knew it. But visiting her in her new Lexington apartment just reminded me. First off, she flew me up to Kentucky in the first place. Then she took me to enjoy all sorts of great food: take-out pizza; gorgeous croissants; giant plates of Mexican tortillas, chiles, beef, and over-easy eggs; a bacon, eggs, and blueberry cornbread breakfast with salted European butter; and fresh sandwiches from the market.

She also let me hog her fancy massager-heater-recliner the whole time I was there. She gave me the guest bed with the awesome mattress (though I was skeptical while I was there, I now have to concede that it’s even better than the one I have at home.) She took me to see all the above attractions — horse races, beautiful countryside, and castles, for goodness’s sake. And, more than all that, she’s always, always, always loving and supportive. Thank you, Sarah!

In tribute to Kentucky Derby Pie, which combines chocolate and toasted pecans, I give you the “Magic Bar” pastry braid. This tender, almond-scented pastry envelopes melty chocolate, pecans, and coconut bound together with sweetened condensed milk. It’s pretty, but don’t be fooled: this pastry braid is super easy to prepare!

What are some things you love about your siblings?

One year ago: Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles
Two years ago: Handmade Cheese Ravioli in Meaty Red Sauce (and the most special post I’ve ever written.)
Three years ago: Cardamom Pumpkin Macarons

“Magic” Chocolate, Coconut, and Pecan Pastry Braid

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 8-10 servings

If you love Magic Bars, you’ll love this pastry braid! The cream cheese dough is very easy to work with, so don’t be intimidated if it looks a little fancy — you’ll look like you did a lot more work than you actually had to do.

Dough and Filling Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold
3 ounces best quality cream cheese, cold
1/2 cup milk, minus 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup coconut, toasted
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao), plus more for topping
3/4 cup pecans, chopped and toasted, plus more whole pecans for topping
about 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

NOTE: To prepare this braid in advance, complete all steps and assemble the braid but do not bake. Cover the braid on its parchment lined baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Set out in the morning as you preheat the oven and then bake as usual.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the cream cheese and butter into the flour mixture and pulse to cut the fat into the flour (about 6 pulses). Add the milk and almond extract and blend into a loose dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead VERY LIGHTLY for 4-5 strokes. (NOTE: This is the step at which you can ruin the braid. If you overwork the dough, the pastry will be tough. Just gather the dough together and don’t worry about making it smooth. It will still look a little rough. That’s perfect.)

Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll the dough to an 8- by 12-inch rectangle. Turn dough out onto a lightly greased baking sheet and remove the waxed paper. Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds. Sprinkle the coconut down the middle third of the dough (saving a bit for the top), keeping it about 1/2 inch from the mark on both sides. Sprinkle the chocolate chunks over the coconut. Sprinkle the pecans over the chocolate chunks. Drizzle sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top.

Make 2 1/4-inch slight diagonal cuts at 1-inch intervals on each the long sides (see photos at the bottom of this post for visual example.) Do not cut into the center filled area. Fold strips, first one from one side and then one from the other side in a rotating fashion, over the filling. It will now resemble a braid. Bake in a 425° oven for 12-15 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly browned, rotating once halfway through.

Melt extra chocolate chips for topping according to package instructions (usually in 15 second intervals on half power, stirring between each heating.) Drizzle melted chocolate over the top of the braid. If desired, sprinkle on extra toasted coconut and pecans while the chocolate is still wet. Serve warm.

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32 Comments on “Magic” Chocolate, Coconut, and Pecan Pastry Braid

  1. Kelly
    October 26, 2012 at 3:51 am (11 years ago)

    Yummy! I’ve been craving chocolate and coconut. This means the next challenge will have to be a dish that can include both.

  2. Keri
    October 26, 2012 at 4:11 am (11 years ago)

    Nice to hear praises heaped on my hometown 🙂 Glad you had a good time! The castle on Versailles Rd also hosts an awesome New Years party.

  3. Virginia
    October 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm (11 years ago)

    That… looks positively decadent and might counter the 26 pounds I lost this summer. Must resist! (Or at least, bake it and bring it in to the office…)

    And isn’t that castle just the most random thing? When I was playing competitive softball, we would play at a park near it, and it always blew my mind that it was there. 🙂

  4. Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks
    October 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm (11 years ago)

    Your sister sounds so lovely!

    I am thankful to have a supportive sibling too — mine is an older brother. They’re pretty awesome, huh?

  5. Eileen
    October 26, 2012 at 6:03 pm (11 years ago)

    That is one of the most beautiful pastries I’ve ever seen! Love it!

  6. Sharla
    October 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm (11 years ago)

    So glad you enjoyed your time in our beautiful state! And yes, we UK fans are a crazy bunch!!

  7. Laura
    October 26, 2012 at 9:13 pm (11 years ago)

    That looks amazing!

    Unlike you, I have terrible luck with betting on horses. Oh, I can pick winners all day. In fact, I picked I’ll Have Another to win the Derby, but I didn’t place my bet in time. However, I did bet on him to win the Belmont Stakes, and the very next day he was scratched from the race!

  8. Ala
    October 26, 2012 at 11:20 pm (11 years ago)

    You should’ve entered your own challenge, Julie–what great photos! And I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Kentucky, it sounds a swell place that, up until 2 minutes ago, I had only associated with two things: KFC and derby. Your stories remind me how much I need to explore on the continental U.S.!

  9. Frank @ Kraemers Culinary Blog
    October 27, 2012 at 2:49 am (11 years ago)

    I just came back from Germany and my sister was treating me for all kinds of goodies. I had a lot of fun. Siblings are a blessing, if you ask me. –

    But wait, you don’t like wine? Maybe you didn’t had the right wine with your dinner yet. If you care check out my post about wine pairing, maybe it will help choosing the right wine. Your pastry braid looks delicious. The pictures are awesome.

  10. Vicki Bensinger
    October 27, 2012 at 2:55 am (11 years ago)

    We love Magic Bars and they don’t last long around here. I love this version of them especially with the cream cheese pastry dough. Just curious, why do you have to refrigerate the prepared pastry with filling overnight?

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      October 27, 2012 at 3:05 am (11 years ago)

      Hi Vicki! Thank you! You don’t have to refrigerate the braid at all unless you’d like to prepare it the day before you bake it — then you keep it in the fridge overnight and set it out while you preheat the oven.

  11. Colette @ JFF!
    October 27, 2012 at 6:33 am (11 years ago)

    Holy cow, that looks wicked tasty!

  12. bigFATcook
    October 27, 2012 at 11:19 am (11 years ago)

    Wow, this looks perfect for those cold autumn days… it’s so colorful and beautiful.

  13. Ginger
    October 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm (11 years ago)

    Does my heart good to hear someone talk so lovingly about my hometown of Lexington, KY. I love it and miss it everyday.

    Yup, you’re right–they’ve got it down when it comes to gorgeous scenery and delicious food.

    I grew up on Derby pie and magic bars, but I’ve never thought to put them in a bread. I’m making these, pronto!

  14. Mercedes
    October 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm (11 years ago)

    I have made this braid before with different fillings, but this version looks ridiculously delicious!

  15. Shanna@ pineapple and coconut
    October 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm (11 years ago)

    Now that I know how to make a braid thanks to you, I want to make this!! I love love love coconut anything! This looks amazing.

  16. jaime @ sweet road
    October 27, 2012 at 8:26 pm (11 years ago)

    Wow, this looks so decadent. I will have to save this recipe for a party occasion… I don’t think it would be safe to have the whole thing sitting around with just me to pick away at it!

  17. Lilli
    October 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm (11 years ago)

    just mouthwatering, congrats!!

  18. Susan Snell
    October 28, 2012 at 3:30 am (11 years ago)

    Sisters are great, aren’t they? I have a wonderful sister, too, who is always doing something nice for me. I went to school in Lexington and so did my son. It’s a great place but so is Louisville. Next time you all come down here to look around, too. We have some great restaurants.

  19. Suzy
    October 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm (11 years ago)

    I lived in Lexington for six years and I miss it so much! Kentucky is so beautiful and Lexington is filled with such wonderful people! I’m glad you enjoyed your stay, and I LOVE this tribute to Derby Pie because is there anything better than that in the whole world?

    Next time you’re there, check out my best friend’s new coffee shop/bakery! It’s called North Lime Coffee & Donuts. My friend quit her mechanical engineering job to make donuts for a living and though I haven’t been able to fly there to taste them yet, online reviews say they are the best in Lexington :D. Sorry, I’m just so proud of her I had to shamelessly plug her business.

    I second you trying wine with the right food– that’s what really turned me into a wine fan. But hey, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it!

  20. Loretta | A Finn In The Kitchen
    October 28, 2012 at 8:29 pm (11 years ago)

    We drove through Kentucky this spring when we were moving back to the midwest from Florida and it’s a place I want to spend more time in! I love all of those rolling hills!

    I love that I can see a small part of me in all of my siblings while they are all still super unique.

  21. Jenny @ BAKE
    October 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm (11 years ago)

    What I love most about my siblings is there is so many of them! (oldest of six!!!!) so if I’m pissed at one there’s always another one to talk to! this pastry braid looks insanely good!!

  22. Becki A.
    October 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm (11 years ago)

    Great take on the Derby Pie. As a fellow Kentuckian (I live about an hour from Lexington), I can attest to the goodies you tried while here! Glad you enjoyed your stay. I’m trying out the braid for my next party!

  23. Jannell
    October 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm (11 years ago)

    I’m a (semi)fresh transplant to Louisville, KY and occasionally travel to Lexington to meet friends. I recognized the castle near Keeneland immediately. I would be super interested in any Lexington-specific recommendations for great food spots! Perhaps a Willow Bird City Guide? Fun stuff…

  24. what katie's baking
    October 30, 2012 at 4:31 am (11 years ago)

    hhollllyyy cow this looks amazing! can you mail me some? 🙂 haha

  25. robyn
    November 12, 2012 at 3:43 am (11 years ago)

    I made this the other day and was very careful not to overwork the dough but it still came out rather heavy. Should I have used cold butter and cream cheese rather than the room temperature ones that I used? Should i have measured the flour after shifting or did it not matter? Also my chocolate didn’t melt the way I thought it should have. I used Nestle Chocolate chunks and though maybe the way they are made keeps them from melting when baking. Any suggestions?
    Thanks for your help cause I’d like to try the recipe again tomorrow (Monday) if possible.
    Love your recipes.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      November 12, 2012 at 3:53 am (11 years ago)

      Hi Robyn, I’m sorry to hear your pastry was heavy! Yes, in pastries where cutting fat into flour, always use ice cold fat (in this case, butter and cream cheese), because they melt as the dough is baking creating the “flaky” effect. I’m sorry that wasn’t clear and I’ve added a note in the recipe so that it will be in the future. You’re also right about the chocolate chips — I liked mine holding their shape a bit, but if you want more of a melt, you can use bakers’ chocolate (in the same aisle as the chocolate chips but sold in chunks. Let me know how it goes when you try again!

  26. Ellen @ The Baking Bluenoser
    April 25, 2013 at 10:29 pm (10 years ago)

    I just made this the other day and it was DELICIOUS! It looks so complicated but it’s really not that difficult, your picture demos definitely helped thought 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!

    • Julie Ruble
      April 26, 2013 at 9:53 pm (10 years ago)

      I’m so glad to hear that, Ellen!!

  27. Marina
    August 12, 2014 at 5:52 am (9 years ago)

    do you mean desiccated coconut, or raw coconut which we should then toast? 🙂

    • Julie Ruble
      August 12, 2014 at 7:10 am (9 years ago)

      The former–in bags in the baking aisle.


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