Friday, June 19, 2009

Put the cream in the coconut...

Every year on memorial day, my fiancé's family heads out to Indiana for the Indianapolis 500. His father has been attending the race for over 30 years, since they lived in the area. My fiancee has gone to 17 himself, and never missed a year. This year was only my third, which pales in comparison.

The race is an incredible experience (and no - it's NOT NASCAR! so please don't put it down so!), but I would be lying if I said it was the main highlight of the trip. Vying for attention is the long awaited trip out to Mooresville, Indiana, home of Gray Brothers Cafeteria. This place is famous for being a must on any road trip, among the greats in true-to-our-roots American cooking. I have a tendency to load up my tray with fried chicken, prime rib, mac and cheese, bacon braised green beans and all kinds of good eats, but mostly it's all about the pie. They have at least 12 delectable varieties on a daily basis, but my hands-down favorite is the coconut cream pie.

So on our return last year, I was still daydreaming about that single wedge of heaven. Unwilling to pine for Indiana until May 2010, I set out to see if I could make a pie that would come close to their classic. Ssshhh...don't tell anyone but I think it's actually better due to a toasted coconut crust. Plus the coconut oil in the crust doesn't contain nasty trans fats found in shortening based crusts. I am of the school of thought that every dish should taste intensely of its feature ingredient, and this delivers coconut pure and simple. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Über Coconut Cream Pie
This recipe has been modified (with lots more coconut flavor) from a recipe in "Pie" by Ken Haedrich

Toasted Coconut Crust

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup toasted coconut (be careful - it burns easily!)
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup cold unrefined coconut oil (Spectrum Naturals makes a good one, in most health food stores and some supermarkets)
1/4 - 1/2 cup ice cold water

Combine flour, toasted coconut, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and whir to mix.
Scatter cubes of butter into the flour mixture. Pulse to cut in. Add solidified coconut oil in 1 tsp chunks just as you did with the butter and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Add water, a little bit at a time, pulsing in between, until dough comes together when you squeeze a bit with your fingers. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour, up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a 12-inch diameter round. Transfer it to a greased 9-inch pie plate and sculpt the edge into a uniform "upstanding ridge", basically a ridge that sticks out 1/2 inch past the edge of the plate. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Cover the crust in aluminum foil. Fill it with cheap small beans (to weigh down the crust so it doesn't shrink). Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil & beans and let them cool before discarding (I once made the mistake of dumping the hot beans into the trash. Everything was fine until I went to take the trash out, and then the beans came spilling out from all of the holes they'd melted in the bag!). Dock the crust well with a fork, twisting it slightly each time to make sure the holes stay open. Lower oven temp to 375 and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Quadruple Coconut Cream Filling

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
14 oz. light coconut milk
1/2 cup 1% milk
4 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp unrefined coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup toasted coconut

Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, salt, coconut milk, milk and egg yolks together in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil (about 7 minutes). Continue to cook about another minute, then remove from heat and whisk in coconut oil, a tsp at a time. Then whisk in extracts and toasted coconut. Pour into the pie shell and start the meringue.

Toasted Coconut Meringue
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
5 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp coconut extract
1/2 cup toasted coconut

Combine egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high speed until they start to get really foamy. Continue beating while adding sugar, one Tbsp at a time, salt and extracts. Continue to beat until stiff peak stage (when you tip a beater upside down, the whites form a peak that doesn't fall. Fold in coconut. Spread over the top of the pie, being sure to spread it to the edge of the crust, so that it seals to the crust and won't shrink back later.

Toast the meringue under the broiler until just golden. Cool to room temp, then refrigerate at least one hour before slicing. This pie is best eaten the day it's made (as if that is a problem!), but will keep about 2 days before the meringue starts weeping.

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