Almond Coconut Pastry Braid
Even though I teach middle school, I forget how critically embarrassed middle school kids can be. I don’t even mean how embarrassed they can be when something embarrassing happens. I mean just their every day basal level of embarrassment. If the general population is on ground level, they’re up on the 25th floor of Embarrassment Tower. And probably hiding in a closet.
I’m sure there are some kids who don’t struggle with this, but there are plenty who do. Even the ones who are outwardly thriving will privately acknowledge the ways social anxiety affects their choices. It’s normal and thankfully it fades away by college, where you realize that singing “Hakuna Matata” while dancing around the student union in your duck pajamas won’t make your friends look at you funny — perhaps because they’re in their Ninja Turtle pajamas and singing Pumbaa’s part. But in middle school, every kid is watching the dude next to him, trying to decide what’s normal.
I was reminded of this truth recently when I was thinking my middle school lunches. We had a cafeteria that offered a few consistent staples — pizza, fries, salad — and a main course that changed daily. Students entered the cafeteria in shifts, ordered their meal, ate for around 20 minutes, and headed back to class.
As a middle schooler I was probably on the 85th floor of Embarrassment Tower. The lunch line was overwhelming to me: dozens and dozens of kids, so many food options, so little time to look at the menu before you were shuffled along by the current. The first few days of middle school felt like drowning until I developed a coping mechanism. I decided that I cared more about getting through the line quickly and looking relatively normal than I cared about what food I ended up with. So I stopped looking at the menu altogether. Every day I ordered the same thing: a plate of fries. No drink, no main dish, no dessert. FRIES. JUST FRIES. I JUST WANT FRIES. (And a closet to hide in.)
Other kids had less of a struggle and ordered pizza, chicken, mashed potatoes, spaghetti — always with mountains of ranch dressing. Remember how I told you that ice packs were a middle schooler’s love language? In my day, it was ranch dressing. Kids put that stuff EVERYWHERE. They poured it all over their pizza, dipped their fries into it, filled a bowl with it just in case. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they were stowing extra in their socks. The cafeteria must have gone through enough ranch dressing each day to cause a straight-up drought in Hidden Valley.
But not me. I grabbed my plate of fries, ate them hastily, stole back to class, and thanked God that I could remain mercifully anonymous for the rest of the day.
And you know what’s really sad? I didn’t even like fries!
It’s good to remember every now and then what my students might be going through. I’m still a bit awkward and shy, but I’d say I’m only on the 5th floor, tops, of Embarrassment Tower these days. I’m definitely no longer willing to sacrifice my meals!
Another benefit of being a grown-up: I get to make said meals. This Almond Coconut Pastry Braid is something I’d love to deliver to my middle school self. Poor little fry-eating baby. But I’ll settle for eating way too much of it now. It’s a crisp, golden, buttery, almond coconut masterpiece that’s so simple to make. If you’re afraid of dough, please do give this a shot. You’ll never find an easier recipe for a dough beginner!
One year ago: Raspberry Cheesecake Morning Buns
Two years ago: Spaghetti Squash Baked “Pasta” Boats
Three years ago: Milnot Cheesecake Cheesecake
Four years ago: Lemon Berry Crumble Breakup Bars
Five years ago: Pecan Maple Bacon Pancakes
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter
- 3 ounces cream cheese
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
- 8 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- dash of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 3 1/2 ounces almond paste, frozen until firm and then grated with hand grater
- 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
- 1-2 tablespoon milk (to thin to drizzling consistency)
- toasted coconut for topping
- Make the filling: Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow. Mix in the salt and coconut extract. Fold in the sweetened coconut and almond paste flakes.
- Make the pastry braid: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, mix the flour, powdered sugar, 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 until it’s just starting to come together into a loose dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a big sheet of lightly-floured parchment paper and knead each very lightly for just a few strokes (be careful not to overwork the dough or it’ll be tough! Don’t worry about getting it smooth — just knead for these few strokes and let it stay a little rough.) Very lightly flour the top of the dough and roll it out to a 10- by 12-inch rectangle. Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds. Spread the butter mixture over the middle third of the dough.
- Continue assembling the braid: (Remember, there are photos below to help visualize this step!) Make diagonal cuts at 1-inch intervals on each the long sides. Do not cut into the center filling area. Fold strips, first one from one side and then one from the other side in an alternating fashion, over the filling, brushing any excess flour off as you go. It will now resemble a braid. Use the sheet of parchment to carefully transfer your braid to a baking sheet.
- Bake and glaze the braid: Brush the pastry braid with the egg wash mixture and sprinkle with a little extra sugar. Bake in the 425 degree oven for 20-22 minutes, until the dough is really golden on top and the filling is set. After allowing the braid to cool for around 30 minutes, whisk together the powdered sugar, almond and coconut extracts, and milk in a small measuring cup with a pour spout. Drizzle over the top of the braid. Top with toasted coconut and serve!
Example of how to cut and assemble braid.