Monday, May 9, 2011

Coconut cream pie

(I've flown the coop and headed south!  :)  I'll be spending the next few days on vacation in Savannah, Georgia.  While I'm off enjoying the sights and tastes of the area, I've prepared some recipes to keep your eyes and stomachs happy and satisfied.  Any questions or comments will go unanswered until I return.  Thanks for understanding!)

It hardly seemed fair for me to abandon ship the rainy Pittsburgh weather in favor of 90+ temperatures and leave you without any distractions.  On Friday, I gave a teaser of three recipes to come this week.  Sure, I could've done a better job disguising the final products (original idea was to use a picture of the cans of coconut milk), but why when they were just so darn gorgeous?!  First up is this luscious coconut cream pie.

See what I mean?

While it's no secret that my love for pies runs deep, this was actually the first time I'd made -- and tasted -- coconut cream pie.  Gasp!  Until now, I'd stuck with the ever-popular classics like apple, pecan, cherry, and pumpkin.  It's not that coconut pie didn't appeal to me, but that I'd simply never tried it.  Apple and cherry pies were a big deal in my house growing up, so I wasn't really exposed to coconut cream.  This was simply a sad tale of sticking to what's familiar, and we're all guilty of that to some extent.  I absolutely love all things coconut, so it was high time that I added this pie to my baking repertoire.

I have my dear friend, Natalie, to thank for the culinary kick in the butt inspiration and challenge.  For their birthdays, I always offer to bake my friends something sweet of their choice to celebrate.  Last year, the birthday girl requested white cake with strawberry meringue, and it was a huge hit.  This year, her only instructions were this: "Surprise me!"  My mind immediately jumped to coconut.  After some research and a random mention from Natalie that she loved coconut cream pie, I seemed destined to make it.  One problem -- I'd never tasted coconut cream pie.  Minor fail.

Let this oh-so-positive experience be a lesson in trying new things!  I read the recipe a few times before beginning, pre-measured all of my ingredients and set out all the necessary tools, and prayed for the best.  The pressure was on to not only make a pie, but a good one -- this was set to be the only dessert at a birthday barbeque.  I can't honestly tell you that I was surprised that this turned out so well (because of my A+ prep effort), but I can say that I am surprised by how much I loved coconut cream pie!  As in, possibly my new favorite pie kind of love.  Cries of, "Where have you been all my life?" echoed in my tiny kitchen.

Though I considered testing a tiiiiiiiiny piece before the party, I held out and enjoyed a slice with everyone else.  Let's just examine this layer by layer, shall we?  The crust was both buttery and flakey and still crisp thanks to the thin coating of chocolate to keep a soggy bottom at bay.  The coconut custard, that was so easy to create with so few ingredients, put any sort of boxed pudding or custard to shame, my friends.  Shame!  Velvety smooth, rich without being heavy, and bursting with so much coconut flavor that I thought I'd woken up in the tropics under one of these.  Topped with freshly whipped cream, none of this sorry stuff, and some toasted coconut to show off what was inside.

While the description says it all, this last picture should say what words cannot -- six people, one 9-inch pie, and this small piece was all that remained after our feeding frenzy.  Let my new experience be a very persuasive argument to convince you to make this ASAP :)

Coconut Cream Pie
(adapted slightly from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

A few notes: Read ahead and take note that this does take some time to put together.  The steps are all easy and straight-forward, but a few timeouts for chilling lengthen the process a bit.  Bottom line -- it's more than worth it!  Also, you can use a pre-baked store-bought crust (skip to the chocolate step), though you may have a little extra custard since they tend to hold a little less volume.  Don't discard the extra, save it for a dessert of a simple bowl of custard!

1 pie crust, thawed and unrolled from package or 1/2 of this recipe
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 large whole egg, lightly beaten, plus 4 large egg yolks
3 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk (two 13.5 ounce cans)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 12-inch round, a bit less than 1/4 inch thick.  Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate.  Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, trim crust to a 1/2-inch overhang all around.  Fold under overhang so it extends slightly beyond edge of pie plate.  Crimp edge as desired.  Prick dough all over with a fork.  Brush rim of dough with beaten egg.  Chill pie shell until firm, about 30 minutes.

Line chilled pie shell with a round of parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang.  Fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake until edges of crust just turn golden, 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove parchment and pie weights.  Return crust to oven, and continue baking until golden all over 15 to 20 minutes more. Place pie shell on a wire rack to cool completely.

In a nonstick skillet over low heat, toast shredded coconut, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and lightly golden.  Set aside.

Prepare an ice bath; set aside.  In a bowl, lightly whisk egg yolks; set aside.  In a saucepan, whisk together coconut milk, granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt.  Bring to a simmer (do not boil), and cook, whisking constantly, 3 to 4 minutes.

Whisk a quarter of hot-milk mixture into egg yolks; whisk in remaining milk mixture.  Strain into a clean saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until custard is thick and bubbles appear in center, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface to prevent a skin from forming. Set in ice bath until completely chilled, 30 to 35 minutes. (Filling can be kept in refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, up to 1 day.)

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (do not let bowl touch the water), or in the microwave. Stir until smooth, and set aside until cool to touch, stirring occasionally.  Using a pastry brush or offset spatula, coat inside of cooled crust with melted chocolate. Place in refrigerator or freezer until firm to touch, about 10 minutes.

Fill crust with coconut custard, spreading evenly with an offset spatula.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, combine cream and confectioners' sugar; beat until soft peaks form.  Using a small offset spatula, spread whipped cream on top of custard.  Refrigerate pie at least 3 hours before serving. Garnish with toasted coconut just before serving.

Pie can be stored, covered, in a refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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