In a shocking display of forethought, my husband went to the bookstore two full weeks before Christmas and bought my gifts. In addition to a new wall calendar and a David Sedaris book, he proudly presented me with Cooking by James Peterson. It’s a beautiful, heavy tome with gorgeous photos, and I said as much.
“But why did you get me this one?” I asked.
“It was on your Amazon wish list!” he said.
In fact, the book I wanted was James Peterson’s Baking. I understand his confusion. While I was sorely tempted to keep Cooking, I decided that I have two excellent and comprehensive vegetarian cookbooks, but no books focused only on baking — hence my wish list item. So I exchanged one for the other.
However, appreciative of my husband’s thoughtfulness, I asked him to flip through the book and choose a few recipes I could make for him. He came up with two requests: apple strudel and coconut cream pie. After applesauce and apple crisp last week, I chose the latter.
The most exciting part for me was making the crust. This was my first real pie crust, which seemed to surprise a lot of people. Key lime pie is a household favorite but uses a graham cracker crust. My old apartment didn’t have a large enough counter to roll out dough, and another pie I made called for a no-roll crust. My plan was to try making pie crust at my parents’ house when I stayed there before the move (my mother’s kitchen has approximately 2 square miles of counter space), but I only made one pie at the last minute, so I filched a homemade crust from Mom’s freezer. It was delicious.
I have made a tart and a quiche, but for some reason pie crust just seemed more imposing.
Other than not having quite enough beans to weigh it down, I was quite pleased with the results. A smidge puffy, but oh-so-flaky. It was a little too thick by Mom standards, but I was being careful this first round. The pie recipe just calls for a pre-baked 9- or 10-inch pie shell, so use your favorite pie crust recipe or even use a pre-made one. Up to you!
While the pie shell bakes, it leaves time to mix up the filling. It’s a rich pudding thickened with both eggs and cornstarch. The recipe calls for either milk or coconut milk. As I was out of coconut milk, I went the plain route. Next time I would use at least part coconut milk (or coconut extract if you have that) for a more pronounced flavor.
Once the pudding has cooled, shredded coconut is folded in and the filling can be poured into the cooled pie shell. On top of that goes a hefty layer of lightly-sweetened whipped cream.
I think that the coconut I used was shredded more finely than what they used in the book, because I found using three cups of coconut to be a bit much. Another option could be that I compressed the coconut too much when I measured it out of a large bag. The thick, chewy filling topped with a mountain of whipped cream nestled in a buttery crust makes for an intensely rich piece of pie.
And we’re not even done.
The recipe asked for the last cup of coconut to be sprinkled over the top, which I did, with one change:
I toasted it first. About 7 minutes in a 350F oven gives the coconut a nuttier flavor and a bit of extra crunch. It made for a nice contrast to the whipped cream and pudding below it.
If I make this pie again (after two slices in as many days I may never eat again), I would use a bit less grated coconut in the filling, half the whipped cream, and at least some coconut milk. It doesn’t have much sugar to it, but it’s a serious dairy bomb of richness.
Coconut Cream Pie
Adapted from Baking by James Peterson
Makes one 9- to 10-inch pie
1 pre-baked 9- or 10-inch pie shell
3 cups milk or unsweetened canned coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons corn starch
1 package (14 ounces) sweetened shredded coconut (4 cups), divided
1 cup heavy cream
1.) For the filling: Stir milk and vanilla together in a medium saucepan and heat until milk simmers. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, all the corn starch, and a pinch of salt. When the milk is simmering, add half the heated milk to the eggs about 1/2 cup at a time and whisk them together. Then add the now-warm egg mixture to the milk still in the saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until the pudding thickens and bubbles.
2.) Remove from heat, pour pudding into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool to room temperature.
3.) Fold 3 cups of coconut into the cooled pudding. Pour filling into the pre-baked pie shell. Smooth the top and chill pie for at least one hour.
4.) Pour up to 1 cup of heavy cream into a metal bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar. Beat until the whipped cream forms stiff peaks. Spread the whipped cream over the chilled filling. Sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top of the pie.