the greatest reward

…is sharing my pie recipe with you

The judges, still amazed at how great a pie could be.

1 1/4 cups AP Flour
1/2 t. salt
1T sugar
2T flaked coconut
5T unsalted butter, cubed and frozen
5T vegetable shortening, cubed and frozen
2T coconut rum
2T coconut water + 1T coconut water
1 egg

Some tasters, wondering if anything could ever be as good as that Coconut Cream Pie with Salted Coconut shavings. The two in the background are totally arguing about it; the two in the foreground are resigned that no, no it can't.

4 large or 5 medium egg yolks
1/3 cup self-rising flour
3/4 cup sugar
14 oz. can coconut milk
1/4 cup half & half
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla
1/2 t coconut rum
1 T Cognac
1 1/2 T lemon juice
2 T butter

4-5 egg whites (the whites from however many eggs you used above)
pinch of salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup coconut water
1/2 t vanilla
1 t coconut rum

In a food processor (although you could do this part by hand, with a fork) pulse flour, salt, sugar, coconut, butter and shortening. You want to get the coconut really well ground & the fat evenly distributed (if you’re doing this part by hand, you might want to use a knife to mince the coconut first).  It’s also best if the whole thing is cold–I actually throw all those things in the processor the night before I intend to make a crust and just leave it in the freezer until I’m ready. Once it looks sandy or cornmealy or whatever euphemism you prefer-y, drizzle in the rum and then the 2T coconut water. Keep pulsing until it looks even and then spill out onto plastic wrap. TECHNIQUE TIP: this is where I use the heel of my hand to kind of schmear the dough. Supposedly it turns the pebbles of fat into discs of fat, resulting in an excess of flakiness. Then, bring it all into a cohesive disc, wrap it up and throw it in the fridge. Leave it for an hour or two days, whatever your needs require, and then move on.

To roll out the dough, Google a video on how to roll out dough. My suggestion: roll it out directly on parchment, put in on a cookie sheet and chill the whole thing for 10 minutes, then invert your pie plate onto the dough, flip the whole thing over and gently peel the parchment away. (Save the paper though, you’re about to use it again!) You can then fit your crust, shape it, flute the edges, whatever your druthers. If you have warm hands, I suggest chilling it again. Then bake it: Oven preheated to 425, place the parchment back in the pie shell and fill with dry beans or weights–this step ensures your shell remains a shell and doesn’t turn into a puffy pocket of goodness–then bake for about 10 minutes. While it bakes, prepare an egg wash: 1 egg, 1T coconut water. Once the 10 minutes have passed, take the crust out of the oven & remove the beans and parchment. Using a fork, prick all over the bottom and sides of your crust and brush all over with the egg wash. Place back in the oven for about 10-15 more minutes. Keep an eye on it, when it gets pretty, it’s ready.

In a saucepan, whisk together the eggs, flour, coconut milk, half and half and salt. Put it over a medium flame and whisk/stir constantly until it gets thick, your utensil leaves a trail, and you’re tired of all the whisking. Usually you know it’s done when a single bubble boils up in the middle. You can put this through a sieve if you’re worried about lumps. Otherwise, take it off the heat—transferring to a bowl will help it cool off more quickly, but it’s not necessary. Whisk in the Cognac—you could use bourbon, rye, dark rum or even an almond liquor—anything you like that will compliment and add depth to the coconut flavor. Then whisk in the coconut rum, vanilla and lemon juice (which will round out the flavor and give your tongue something to think about besides sweetness.) Last, whisk in the butter. Once all is completely incorporated, pour it into the pie shell. Place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard and chill for at least 3 hours. Overnight is cool too—custard pies have to set, yo.

Start by making a simple syrup. Put the coconut water and sugar in a saucepan, swirl it around, set it over a medium flame and leave it alone. If you have a candy thermometer, use it. If you see sugar crystals forming, brush them down with a wet pastry brush.

While that’s working, whip your egg whites, rum and salt until foamy throughout. Once your syrup has reached soft ball stage (240 degrees), take it off the stove and, with your mixer running, or your other hand vigorously whisking, begin to slowly pour the stupidly hot mixture into the egg whites. In so doing you will not only cook the raw egg, but you will have made Italian meringue. Hurrah for you! Once the sugar is all in, add the vanilla and keep beating until you reach stiff peaks 7-10 minutes. Side note: it’s virtually impossible to over-beat meringue when made this way.

Now, you can pipe it on, or just scoop and spread. You can toast the meringue with a torch if you’re daring or in the oven at 400 degrees. You could also throw it under the broiler; or, because it’s fully cooked, you can forgo toasting altogether if that’s not your bag.

Depending on your method of meringue toasting, you might have warmed up the custard so you might want to chill it again for a bit. A warm custard is a runny custard. But deliciousness is ready. And, don’t forget, top it with these. They really are very good. You can also make them yourself, but why go to the trouble.

And there you have it. Award. Winning. Pie. Now that it’s made you can kick back, put your feet up and pipe the remaining meringue directly into your mouth.

Judge, Jordana Rothman, of Time Out NY is really adamant about fluffy meringue.

Luckily, mine was satisfactory!







*All pictures courtesy of the New York Theatre Experiment*


the pie’s the limit

“So many wrong things were done to pie today.”

Sometimes you overhear parts of conversations.

I have to start by saying that I agree. Gluttony aside, underseasoning, overbaking, lofty-ambition and questionable combinations killed some bakers’ dreams for a brighter tomorrow. Luckily, whether heralded above or thrown asunder, each pie baked will help thrust inspiration on some child somewhere. And that was the point of the whole weekend–not winning or losing, but supporting arts education.

That said, I totally took home the grand prize at this weekend’s 4th Annual Pie-Off.

photo courtesy of Kymberlee Fajardo

A coconut-infused pastry with coconut custard, coconut meringue and topped with roasted, salted coconut shavings, the judges were, at first, frightened by my inclusion of Malibu Rum. As well they should be–if you drink Malibu Rum, you drink gross things. As a flavor enhancer, however–it’s totally ok. I then won them over with my “wonderfully creamy” custard, “fluffy” meringue, flakey crust and texture enhancing coconut chips.

To make my recipe my own, I simply adapted recipes that I know and love. I started with the crust–by riffing on America’s Test Kitchen’s Fool-Proof Pie Dough in combination with my mother’s dough, tips and techniques I was able to develop a wonderfully flakey crust with a buttery depth and a salty kick–a great counterpart to the sweetness within. By grinding flaked coconut right along with the flour, subbing ATK’s vodka for coconut rum and tap water for coconut water, the pie’s foundation was the first layer in ultimate coconut domination.

What I generally hate about coconut cream pie is the filling. I don’t want bits of coconut in my custard. So, I eliminated them. My custard began with coconut milk. I don’t know why this is a revelation and I don’t know why it’s not done more often–but most coconut cream pies are made with a typical milk custard, sweetened, flaked coconut and imitation coconut extract–and if you want suntan lotion pie, you can totally go that route. Otherwise, find some good coconut milk.

Good coconut milk, however does not mean the most expensive. For the test pie I made the week before, I used Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk. It’s totally the most expensive and it is also totally not good. Basically, it tastes like the can. A bit of research revealed that guar gum, often included as a thickener in canned coconut milk, can yield an ‘off’ flavor. Thai Kitchen uses guar gum. So, scour your Asian and Latin isles and check the labels: avoid both guar gum and water. However, if your only contenders all contain water, choose the one with the most fat per serving (that means they used less). My winner: Goya. Also, if you’re avoiding dairy, you could totally use all coconut milk, though I cut mine with just a bit of half and half for a little extra richness.

For the topping of my test pie I made a Swiss meringue. Upon a guinea pig’s suggestion that perhaps the meringue could be coconuttier; and, upon a lightbulb appearing over my head, I decided I’d attempt an Italian meringue instead. The reason: Swiss meringue is made by combining all ingredients in a double boiler, cooking til the sugar is dissolved and whipping til it’s cool. Italian meringue is made by preparing a simple syrup and then drizzling, hot, into whipped egg whites. By subbing coconut water for tap in the syrup, I could easily impart greater coconut flavor into my meringue.

For a garnish, I could have made salted coconut chips. But I didn’t. I bought them. And they were actually the impetus for this pie. These are amazing on their own, but ever since the first time I tried them, I’ve wanted to use them as a pie topper. Salty/sweet isn’t just for caramel anymore. Seriously. Buy them now. As judge Johnny Iuzzini (of Top Chef: Just Desserts & Jean Georges) said, “They make ‘the pie’ something special.”

And now, you too can make an award-winning coconut cream pie, just by following my very simple recipe! I know I don’t do a lot of recipes here; but, for your benefit, I’ll make this exception…tomorrow.