There are pies I can eat for breakfast. There are pies I could eat every week. This week I have learned that Coconut Cream Pie does not fall into either of these categories. Coconut Cream Pie is not for wimps. It is not for vegans. (At least not the one I made. No indeed). It is also not for people who like to accomplish things after dessert. It is tasty though. Tasty verging on naughty.
Confession: before Saturday, I had never eaten coconut cream pie. This is surprising because coconut is one of my favourite tastes and I’ve not been known to say no to creamy, vanilla-scented pastry cream. When I worked (read: slaved) in the kitchen at the schmancy Belgian bakery here in town, one of my secret walk-in refrigerator treats was a spoonful of pastry cream with a raspberry plopped on top. One bite of cold vanilla fruitiness, and then back to work!
The thing is, I think I’d probably choose a fruit pie over a cream pie nine times out of ten. Is this because I delude myself into thinking that I’m getting something remotely “good for me” with a fruit pie? Perhaps. Blueberries = antioxidants. Peaches = fiber. I think it’s more about the contrast, of flaky crust to syrupy fruit, the sweet tang against slight salt of butter. A cream pie is really… creamy. And this one was mostly sweet, and sweeter. You can’t pretend it isn’t decadent, maybe even a touch insane, to be eating all that cream. I admit I felt a little giddy as I scooped up my last forkful of this week’s indulgence. When I was done, I lay on the couch in a coconut cream stupor and vowed that tomorrow I would run. I would run far and fast.
When you have no experience – no memory even – of a pie, it’s hard to know where to start. So I started with Martha, since she was such a good friend to me with last week’s blueberry pie perfection. This recipe is adapted from hers in Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts.
7 ounces of cookies (I used 1/2 chocolate wafer, 1/2 digestive) broken into bits
1/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
50 g bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 2% and it was plenty rich)
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup coconut flakes
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1. Crust: Pulse cookies with salt and the chocolate pieces until fine and crumbly. With the machine going, add the butter until it starts to come together. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the coconut. Press this into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate. I used the bottom of a dry measure to really press it in. Refrigerate about 15 minutes so it firms up and then bake until you smell it – about 8 minutes. Let it cool completely.
2. Filling: Combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk in both of the milks and cook over medium-high, whisking constantly, until it bubbles and thickens. This takes about 7 minutes.
3. Whisk the yolks in a medium bowl to break them up and then, while whisking, add some of the milk mixture in a slow stream to temper them. Add more of the milk mixture until the eggs are well incorporated and then return it all to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring the whole time, until it reaches a boil again (about 1-2 minutes).
4. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a big bowl and then stir in the 2 tbsp of butter, one tbsp at a time until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and the coconut.
5. If you’re in a hurry (and who isn’t in a hurry for coconut cream pie), then you can accelerate the setting process by cooling the cream filling over an ice bath, whisking it now and then. Then you can put the cooled filling into the crust, smoothing it out to make it even, and you’ll be well on your way to it setting. Refrigerate about 3 hours until set.
6. Topping: Toast the coconut by spreading it in an even layer on a baking sheet at 350º. It doesn’t take long – you’ll smell it and it can go from perfect to burnt fast, so keep an eye on it. It takes from 8-10 minutes. Cool the coconut. Whip the cream and the confectioner’s sugar until soft peaks form and then mound it over the pie in a decadent fashion. Top with toasted coconut and eat straight away.
In all of her finished glory:
Things I liked:
- The filling was perfectly creamy – not pasty or so set that it was bouncy and jello-like.
- The toasted coconut flavour + whipped cream topping was more-ish.
- I liked the coconut and chocolate combo of the crust, like a macaroon. I’m not sure it worked with the rest of the pie, but I appreciated it on its own.
Things I’d try next time:
- A different ratio on the milks: more coconut milk, less regular milk to up the coconut flavour.
- I would toast the coconut for the filling. Who cares if it takes away from the perfect soft yellow colour of the creamy custard inside.
- A different crust – graham? The chocolate overpowered the delicacy of the coconut cream.
Also, here’s a funny story. I decided to take half of the leftover pie to a neighbour, because I knew that having it in the fridge was dangerous. I cut it, wrapped it up, and took it out to my front porch, surveying the street. Who would be the luckiest neighbour ever? Who did I really want to be nice to? I made my choice and headed over.
What would you do if your smiley neighbour knocked on your door on a Sunday evening with half a coconut cream pie in her hands and said, “Would you like some pie?” I’m guessing you wouldn’t need to be convinced to take the pie. You wouldn’t hesitate for a noticeable length of time leaving your neighbour to sort of bumble awkwardly and say, “It’s really good” in a quiet sort of voice and then wonder on her way back across the street (sans pie) if she had given up her pie to a good home. I guess not everyone is a pie person. Shocking. Truth: the only response to a gift pie is gratitude – immediate gratitude.
This week’s pie song:
toastiest coconut custard cream