Yesterday we wrote up the crust, so, today, we’ll tackle the filling. No, we didn’t make it over a period of two days; it’s just that a Graham cracker crust is pretty useful, so we thought we’d do that separately. In reality, we did the crust in the morning and the pie in the afternoon. So, let’s get scratchin’.
This recipe is somewhat a hybrid between the recipes in The Joy of Cooking (Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker), and The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook (Matt Lee and Ted Lee). Neither had exactly what we wanted in a coconut cream pie; The Joy of Cooking didn’t seem as though it would be quite rich enough, whereas the The Lee Bros. left off the meringue, a defining part of coconut cream pie. Together they had everything: richness from lots of cream and a meringue made from what would have been leftover egg whites.
It might seem as though cream pies are difficult; they are not. But meringue can be fussy and sensitive to the weather. In fact, this time it was, for us.
Makes one 9-inch pie.
Yes, you could use sweetened coconut here, but, be aware that the pie will be sweeter, which might not be a bad thing. After having this pie, we would probably use half sweetened coconut and half unsweetened coconut. Now, it was difficult to find unsweetened coconut; we found ours at an Asian market in the freezer section. Yep, fresh frozen coconut. It was grated more finely than sweetened shredded coconut, but it worked. Vanilla: real. Eggs: we almost always use fresh local pastured eggs. They’re better. Heavy cream: we used organic; every other heavy cream had ingredients that weren’t cream. You know, seaweed, polysorbate 80, stuff like that. We try to avoid eating things with numbers instead of names.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Center an oven rack.
Combine filling ingredients. Yep, just place all the filling ingredients in a medium sauce pan and whisk it all together. We had some difficultly because our coconut was compressed and still a bit frozen. By persevering, we managed to break it up.
Cook custard. Yes, you’re making custard, and the only thing you need to be careful about is overcooking. To help with that, we kept an instant-read thermometer handy, which we used from time to time to check the temperature — it’s not really necessary, if you’re careful. Over low heat, cook the custard, whisking continuously, until it thickens. This should happen in 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how cold all the ingredients were when you started, but it will thicken. If you have a thermometer, it will read about 165°F when the custard starts to thicken.
Pour into shell. Pour the custard into the prepared shell and set it aside while you make the meringue.
Whip egg whites. Whip the egg whites in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer until foamy. Add just a pinch of cream of tartar and continue whipping until the egg whites will hold soft peaks — the peaks will collapse when you lift the beater.
Add sugar. With the mixer running, add the confectioner’s sugar a tablespoon at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary, making sure that all the sugar dissolves before adding the next tablespoon. Once all the sugar is incorporated, whip egg whites to stiff peaks.
Spread meringue. Spread the meringue on the pie in an even layer, and top with shredded coconut. It’s hard to get the meringue to look nice; just do the best that you can.
Bake. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meringue and coconut shreds are golden brown. To help keep the meringue from collapsing, some people prop the oven door just slightly ajar with a wooden spoon. We didn’t; ours did.
Cool. Place the pie on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
Even though our meringue collapsed, this pie was great. We knew that we’d have a bit too much filling for our pie shell, so we made three tiny (5-inch) pies to go along. Partly because they’re cute, and partly because it was a good way to use up the extra filling. After dinner we ate them all. Yes, all three. We just couldn’t stop. When made with unsweetened coconut, the pie is not sickly sweet. Instead, it’s more like a savory treat with a crunchy sweet crust. We’ll be making this again. Five.