Chocolate Coconut Pecan Pastry Braid

The last time I went to a Penn State tailgate with my friend Matt, I was super impressed!  They brought two huge tents, a flag pole, carpets, a big screen TV, etc.  I knew that no other tailgate would ever live up to it!  I brought my Mexican Chopped Salad with Honey Cilantro Vinaigrette Dressing and my famous Home Wrecker Cookies (which I renamed ‘Touch Down Cookies’).  They were a big hit so I knew I wanted to bring a great dessert this time!  Here is what made the cut…..


Dough and Filling Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces best quality cream cheese
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.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 about 15 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly browned, rotating once halfway through.

Melt extra chocolate chips for topping and drizzle 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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