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Coconut Cream Pie With Brandy-Infused Whipped Cream Topping

June 29, 2012
by

After our dinner guests left on Saturday, we watched some TV special about the White House on one of the History Channel’s extra channels.  The special featured a White House pastry chef who had worked in the White House for I don’t know how long, but it was a few decades.  He was quite a character, and we loved every minute that he was on screen, but my favorite part was when he talked about the healing power of pastry.  He knew when various presidents and First Family members were feeling particularly blue based on their food choices, and he relished the opportunity to provide some small comfort.  When the Lewinsky scandal was at its height, he said he made lots of mocha cakes for Hillary Clinton because they were her favorite.

Although I don’t exactly have the kinds of problems that face world leaders or their spouses – thank heavens – I had a pretty rough week at work, culminating in such a late Friday night at the office that the office cleaning staff knocked on my door and asked if they could take my trash because they had to leave.  Luckily, I made this pie on Saturday, and it was a soothing experience both to make the pie – because cooking is therapeutic for me – and to eat it.  In fact, I ate it for breakfast on Sunday.

I don’t like to toot my own horn or anything, but this is one of the best things I’ve ever made.  I don’t think that’s tooting my own horn, actually, because for the most part, I just followed the recipe.  If I hadn’t been a Maida Heatter devotee before this, I would be one now.  Not only do her recipes produce reliably delicious results, but she situates all of her recipes in some sort of context, be it the backyard parties of Floridians or the weddings in Georgia.  It makes me feel like I’m cooking a family recipe that just happens to be from another family, kind of like when I cook Em’s family recipes.  Her cookbooks are so much fun to read that I sometimes forget I’m reading a cookbook, which can be dangerous for my productivity when I’m “just dusting the cookbook shelf, I swear.”

I did make one or two tweaks just for fun.   My main tweak was adding a splash of brandy to the whipped cream topping because my grandfather has taught me the fundamental truth that any baked good tastes better with a splash of brandy (or bourbon).  I’ve never regretted adding it.  Anything that might otherwise be just absurdly sweet tastes a tad more complex with the addition of brandy.  And anything that’s just perfect as it is tastes even more perfect if you add some brandy, but that’s just my opinion and I am biased toward what my own taste buds prefer.  The brandy is certainly optional, as is the vodka in the crust (which does not affect taste but makes the crust a little bit flakier).

You could also make the pie much more easily with a Pillsbury or other premade crust, but a homemade crust says, “I use my time in a perhaps frivolous but definitely tasty manner” better than anything.

Coconut Cream Pie

Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Pies and Tarts

Crust

  • 1 cup sifted flour (preferably cold)
  • scant 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 TBSP cold butter
  • 3 TBSP cold shortening
  • 1 1/2 – 2 TBSP ice-cold water
  • 1 1/2 TBSP ice-cold vodka (or more water, if necessary)

I use a food processor for this because it’s easiest, but you can use a mixing bowl and a pastry blender, too.  Also, these instructions are very detailed because you’ve either made a pie crust a million times and don’t need these instructions, or you haven’t.

Put the flour and salt in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times.  Add the butter and shortening and process until the butter and shortening are the size of little, flour-covered peas – no large chunks.

Take the lid off of the food processor and sprinkle one tablespoon of the water and all of the vodka over the mixture.  Pulse several times.  Check the dough – pinch some of the dough together with your hands.  If it stays together nicely and comes into a real “dough” like form, you’re done.  If not, continue adding water teaspoon by teaspoon until the dough reaches the desired consistency (3 teaspoons equals a tablespoon, so you can add about 1/3 of a tablespoon at a time since you’ll already have that measuring spoon out).

Roll the dough out onto a well-floured surface using a floured rolling pin.  Maida Heatter (or my slight adaptation of her suggestions) recommends making a ball of the dough as you take it out of the food processor or mixing bowl, patting it down with your hands on the floured surface until it is about seven inches in diameter, and then using the rolling pin to roll it out further until it is 12 or 13 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick.  I thought this method worked better than just getting started with the rolling pin right away.  I did, however, have an epiphany that explains why my pie crusts crack so easily – my hands are extremely dry.  Next time, I’m going to add more water than otherwise necessary, to counteract this problem.  I’m hoping that works.

Grease a pie pan.  Wrap the rolled out dough around your rolling pin and lift the dough over to the pie pan, set it down over the center, and unroll carefully.  Press the dough into the pie pan gently with your hands, allowing the edges of the dough to stand up above the rim of the pie pan.  Trim the uneven ends of the dough.  Fold the dough over, toward the inside, so that the very top of the dough is just above the rim of the pan.  Press the folded over dough gently into the sides of the dough.

Flute the pie, using your thumb and index finger to press little ridges into the pie.  Everyone has a different way of explaining this, and everyone has a different preference, but basically, you use the index finger or thumb of one hand to push a little piece of the edge into the thumb and index finger of your outside hand.  You’re going for a little U-like shape, and you’ll figure out what’s easiest for you as you work your way around the pie.

Prick holes in the bottom of the pie shell with a fork, to prevent little bubbles from happening.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place a rack about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the oven.

Cover your pie shell with plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes.  Then remove the pie and unwrap it.   Grab a 12 inch or so sheet of aluminum foil, and press the foil down into the center of the pie shell.  Press the foil against the sides of the pie shell, allowing the ends to stand up.  Fill the foil with pie weights, dry beans, or loose change.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 12 to 13 minutes.  The pie should be fully baked and have a light color on the exposed edges.  Remove the pie from the oven and carefully, with oven mitts on, lift the foil and weights/beans/pennies out of the pie.  If any portions of the dough edges are already dark brown, cover those parts with foil.  Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees and return the pie to the oven.

Bake for another 7 – 9 minutes, or until the edges are light brown.   Rotate the pie pan halfway through baking if necessary.  You should also keep the oven light on and keep your eye out for any little bubbles.  If any bubbles rise up, reach in and tap the bubbles down.

Set the pie pan on a cooling rack while you make the filling.

Filling

  • 6 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Scant 1/4 tsp almond extract

NB: You can fake a double boiler using a heat-proof bowl and a normal pan, so long as the bowl is the right size, meaning it can sit comfortably “in” the pan without the bottom of the bowl touching the water, which will reach at least halfway to the top of the pan.

Also, if you are doing all of the steps of the pie straight through, at this point, you should make sure to put the small bowl of an electric mixer and the whisk attachment in the refrigerator. 

Sift the flour, sugar, and salt together in the top of a double boiler.  Maida Heatter suggests using a very large double boiler, but I got by with my double boiler – I don’t know the size of the top pan, but the bottom is only 2 quarts.  If you use a smaller double boiler, like mine, make sure to keep an eye on the filling at all times.

Add in the milk gradually, whisking it it in until it forms a smooth mixture.  Fold in the coconut with a rubber spatula that is very heat-resistant (you will need to use it as the mixture cooks).

Place a little bit of water in the bottom of the double boiler, filling it only about 1/5 of the way to the top (you can add more hot water later if necessary).  Place the bottom of the double boiler over moderate heat, and place the top of the double boiler on top.

Cook the mixture for ten minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the sides often with the spatula.  Continue to cook for another ten minutes, stirring and scraping the sides frequently.  Mixture will be very thick.  Remove from heat.

Place the egg yolks into a medium-sized mixing bowl, and add a spoonful of the hot coconut mixture.  Stir well.   Gradually add in about half of the remaining coconut mixture, stirring well.  Return all of this egg yolk and coconut mixture to the remaining coconut mixture and place it all back on top of the double boiler, returning it to medium heat.  Cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and add the butter, vanilla, and almond extracts.  Mix until the butter is melted.

Transfer to a bowl, preferably one that is shallow and wide.  Cool completely, then pour into the baked pie shell and spread to an even height.

Whipped Cream Topping

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 TBSP powdered sugar (or granulated sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp brandy (optional)
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened)

To whip the cream, use a mixing bowl and whisk attachment that have been chilled in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.

Place all of the ingredients except the coconut in the mixing bowl.  Beat until soft peaks form (though I think firm peaks would work just as well).  This is a good visual guide to “soft peaks,” which took me about 10 minutes to get but will depend on the speed you’re mixing at (medium speed is best, I think).   Have an extra whisk handy so that you can test the cream without lifting the top of the mixer constantly.  If the cream starts to look grainy, you have over-whipped it.  If you catch it quickly, you can add a tablespoon more of cream and whip it in, and you may be able to recover it.  But if you have to start over, it’s not the end of the world.  And, if you keep whipping over-whipped cream, you’ll get butter.  Butter is always nice, though I don’t have much use for vanilla and brandy flavored butter, but that’s just me.

(If doing all of the steps of the recipe straight through, your filling should be cool by now, and you can fill the pie with it).

Using a spatula, place dollops of the whipped cream on top of the filled pie.  Spread the cream to cover the filling completely.  You can make the cream smooth or make artistic peaks and swirls.  I opted for smooth because it was easier.

Sprinkle the coconut on top of the pie.

Chill the pie in the back of the refrigerator for at least five to six hours.  A few hours before serving, turn your refrigerator to the coldest setting, moving anything that shouldn’t be frozen to the front of the fridge.  Also, remember to turn the refrigerator back down to its regular setting when you remove the pie, or you’ll freeze everything in your fridge and wake up to nearly-exploded Coca-Cola.  Just speaking hypothetically.

Bon appetit!

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