Story, Photos and Recipes by Kaitlin Hill 

The great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, once wrote, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” 

In Hunt Country, there are many indicators that spring has returned. Late winter’s gray skies and budding branches have given way to cloudless blue and trees full of lively blossoms. The weather is warmer, the days are longer, and many kids are home from school. The arrival of spring is cause for celebration, but this year, the season of renewal has also been characterized by concern.

As the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads globally and here at home, life is changing. Store shelves are barren, group gatherings are discouraged, and annual spring break travel has largely, and smartly, been halted. Neruda might argue that more than a few of spring’s flowers have been cut and replaced with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. 

Yet, spring still carries on.  More than a statement of the obvious, for Neruda, the inevitability of spring is a symbol for humankind’s ability to carry on and overcome, especially in the face of adversity. 

It’s a message of optimism, which is easy to lose sight of in times like these. But it’s an essential message that can be found in service to community, in care for and from loved ones, and in the simple things you do for yourself to escape the chaos, even if only momentarily.

If an at-home escape is in order, you might try these dessert recipes inspired by three popular spring break destinations: New Orleans, Key West and Hawaii. Small comfort though they may be, hopefully they serve as a reminder that spring carries on, and so will you. 

New Orleans Beignets 

Makes 12 | Ingredients: 

  • 1¼ teaspoon of active dry yeast 
  • ¾ cup of warm water (about 110°F) 
  • ¼ cup of granulated sugar 
  • ½ teaspoon of salt 
  • 1 egg, beaten 
  • ½ cup of evaporated milk 
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 3½ cups of all-purpose flour 
  • 2 tablespoons of shortening 
  • 48 ounces of canola oil, for frying

Directions: 

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the yeast and warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes until foamy. 
  2. When the yeast is foamy, add the sugar, salt, beaten egg, evaporated milk and vanilla. Whisk to combine. 
  3. Next, add half of the flour. 
  4. Add the shortening to the mixture, and stir it in with a spatula until it is completely incorporated. 
  5. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic. 
  6. Cover the dough with plastic, and place in the refrigerator to rest overnight. 
  7. The next day, roll the dough out into a square that is a quarter inch in thickness. 
  8. Cut the dough into 12 equal squares. Set aside. 
  9. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepot set over medium-high heat. Let the oil heat until it is 350°F. 
  10. Once the oil is hot, add the dough squares a few at a time. Cook on the first side for 3 – 4 minutes until golden brown. Flip the dough and cook on the other side for 2 – 3 minutes until golden brown and puffed. Transfer the cooked beignets to a wire rack set over a cookie sheet to let the excess oil drain off. Repeat the process with the remaining dough squares. 
  11. Let the beignets cool slightly before dusting with powdered sugar and serving. 

Key West Key Lime Pie 

Serves 8 | Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs 
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 1 stick of butter, melted 
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 2, 14 ounce cans of sweetened condensed milk 
  • ¾ cup of key lime juice 
  • zest of 1 lime 

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Add the melted butter and mix until there are no dry pockets remaining. 
  3. Press the graham mixture into a 9-inch pie pan and set aside. 
  4. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice and lime zest. 
  5. Pour the filling into the graham cracker crust shell and transfer the pie to the oven. 
  6. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes until there is only a slight jiggle in the center. Cool to room temperature, and then transfer to the fridge for an hour before slicing and serving.

Hawaiian Haupia 

Makes 25 small squares | Ingredients: 

  • ⅔ cup of granulated sugar 
  • ½ teaspoon of salt 
  • ½ cup of cornstarch 
  • 3 cups of coconut milk 
  • 1¼ cup of whole milk 
  • ½ cup of coconut flakes 

Directions: 

  1. Line an 8”x 8” square baking tin with parchment paper. Set aside. 
  2. In a large Dutch oven or saucepot, stir together the sugar, salt and cornstarch. 
  3. Turn the heat on medium and whisk in the coconut milk. Cook over medium heat while whisking for 5 to 6 minutes until the mixture thickens. 
  4. Slowly whisk in the whole milk and cook while stirring for another 5 to 6 minutes, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. 
  5. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. 
  6. Let cool for 10 minutes at room temperature, before transferring to the fridge to set for at least two hours. 
  7. While the haupia sets, make the toasted coconut flakes. 
  8. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 
  9. Spread the coconut flakes on the parchment paper in a single layer and place in the oven to bake for 5 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool. 
  10. Once the haupia has chilled for at least two hours, remove it from the pan. Using a very sharp knife, cut it into 25 small squares. Sprinkle the squares with toasted coconut flakes and serve. 

This article first appeared in the April 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.