For Ultimate Pi Day (March 14, 2015) I set my sights on making a coconut custard pie—My Amazing Lover™’s favorite. TRUE FACT: I had never made a pie before. But the lover has. He is apparently able to whip up an apple pie on a whim without too much trouble, so I figured the whole pie thing can’t be terribly complicated, right?
Just to refresh everyone’s memory, there are only 2.5 rules in the Palace Kitchen: DELICIOUS, and SIMPLE.*
* Or, to whatever extent not simple, worth the extra trouble.
Very important stuff you should know before you decide to make this pie:
Simple: All the nope. All of it.
Worth it: An entirely subjective call. While I am not 100% sure about the pie, I am 100% sure the lover is definitely worth it. YMMV.
Timesuck: EPIC. My best time from start to pie-is-cooling-on-a-rack is 5 hours—and at that point of course it’s still too hot to eat and hasn’t been garnished yet. The good news is that the pie is actually better after it sets for a day or two in the refrigerator.
Mess: Category 5. As in hurricane.
Expense: $$$. As with everything else, better quality ingredients cost more, and if I’m going to spend a day making a pie I will buy the best I can find. But really it’s all the tools and other stuff you need that can rack up the price, depending on what you already have on hand. For example, I had a standing mixer, but I had to go buy a “food processor.” ME! A food processor! Between that and everything else (don’t forget the rolling pin! and the pie plate!) this pie has already cost me like a thousand dollars.
Mortal danger: RED ALERT. Between the sharp blades, burn risks and the coconut shell shards you will be stepping on, this pie is a fucking menace. I really cannot stress this enough: do not forget for one second that this pie is constantly trying to kill you.
If you’re still in, there’s just one more thing. This was quite an adventure, so I fully intend to blather on and on (and on) in this post documenting and musing and complaining about all of it. As a courtesy to my beloved Loyal Readers™ who just want to make the fucking pie, I will leave the essential recipe bits in black font, and color the font of my tl;dr rantings. In teal, dear.
I know this d00d, a regular at one of my neighborhood watering holes, who is a food stylist (yes that’s a thing). Went to culinary school, supervised teams at Martha Stewart’s kitchen, blah blah blah—in other words his skill level is the complete opposite of mine. I mentioned my coconut custard aspirations, and told him I didn’t even know where to begin. “With a great crust,” he said without the slightest hesitation. “Use lard.” WHAT.
At first I could not even find lard in the West Village, and ended up ordering it online from Amazon. (I eventually found it here.) But I did find a pie crust recipe with lard in it at epicurious called Best-Ever Pie Crust. The rave reviews sold me: “PERFECTION!” “OUTSTANDING!” “AMAZING!” “NO FAIL!” “EXCELLENT!” “easy to work with, sublimely simple to roll out, and the most user-friendly crust I have ever made.”
Okay! Glad I got that sorted!
It turns out that these people are all lying shitweasels. It took me six attempts to finally get some semblance of a fucking pie crust, and it sure as hell wasn’t pretty. (I also tried this one: easy! flaky! lying liars gonna lie.) Crust number 8 turned out pretty good though, so that’s the recipe you’ll find here. Later, I would come to find out that even expert bakers use Pillsbury ® Refrigerated Pie Crust all the time. (FWIW, it has lard in it.) Regardless of what you decide to do about a crust, the thing to keep in mind is that coconut custard has a much more delicate flavor than most other pie fillings, so you really don’t want a distinctly flavorful crust (e.g. graham cracker). Shoot for buttery, melt-in-your-mouth flaky, and not too sweet.
- 1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, chilled
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and re-chilled
- 1/4 cup chilled lard (or frozen nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening) cut into1/2-inch
cubes…blobs? and re-chilled
- 3 tablespoons (or more) ice water
YIELD: 1 pie crust. (Double this recipe for double crust pies—i.e. pies covered on top with crust—or for lattice-topped pies.)
- food processor with the chopping/mixing/dough blade
- 1/4-cup measuring cup
- cutting board
- 1-tablespoon measuring spoon for adding ice water
- flat-ish standard tablespoon
- glass for ice water
- sharp knife
- containers to store butter cubes and lard blobs while re-chilling (I used ceramic coffee cups)
- plastic wrap
- 3 sheets of wax paper
- rolling pin (chilled)
-approximately one million paper towels
-well-stocked first aid kit
-cell phone programmed to call 9-1-1 with one touch or voice command
-large tattoo of your blood type on your forearm
Start by chilling the flour and a rolling pin in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Cutting cold butter into cubes is easy. First cut the stick in half—you can even do it with the wrapper on it.
To get lard blobs, I removed the entire chunk of lard from its container with a flat-ish tablespoon, and plunked it on a cutting board. Then I pressed a metal 1/4 cup measuring cup down into it with the palm of my hand until it hit the cutting board, and pulled it out. With the flat-ish tablespoon I removed the 1/4 cup of lard from the measuring cup and “sliced” it—sort of—into 1/2-inch-ish blobs. The I put them back in the refrigerator to chill until just before use.
Yes, it is likely there is a much better way to obtain lard blobs—maybe even cubes!—but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what that is.
Set up the food processor with the chopping/mixing/dough blade, preferably without drawing blood.
Cold temperature is critical. Once you begin to combine your ingredients you will need to work quickly. Have your flour, butter cubes and lard blobs well chilled and your ice water ready in the glass with the measuring tablespoon in it.
Put on your safety goggles, and brace yourself.
Put the cold flour, sugar and salt into the processor and blend it with one quick pulse.
Do you now have a face full of flour because you forgot to put the plunger in the tube to close off the processor BEFORE you pressed the pulse button? See? Safety goggles.
Open the processor and add in all of the butter cubes and lard blobs and close it back up; with a few short pulses, minimally process the mixture only until the butter is broken up into pea-sized bits and the texture resembles a coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water one tablespoon at a time via the food processor tube, with a quick pulse of the mixture as you add each one. Check the consistency by gently pinching the mixture between your fingers to see if it clumps; add more water if necessary, checking the consistency again after each additional tablespoon (or teaspoon). DO NOT OVERPROCESS IT. Even though it looks kind of crumbly and doesn’t seem entirely well-mixed, as long as it clumps together when you gently pinch it you’re good to go. If you overwork it, it will not only be more difficult to roll out properly, it will have a hard texture after baking.
Extract the dough mixture from the processor WITHOUT slicing your fingers on the cutting blades, and gather it all together on a sheet of plastic wrap. Lightly form it into a disk and wrap it securely in the plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough disk for at least 1 hour before rolling it out.
The prepared dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and you can also freeze it.
Rolling out (after your custard is prepared).
NOTE: I did not try this woman’s very simple pie crust recipe, because Pi Day was fast approaching and oh yeah I was out of flour from all the previous pie crust experiments. But I did steal one trick from her that worked wonders: wax paper. You won’t need more flour to work the dough, and it’s less mess to clean up. She just might be a pie crust genius!
If necessary let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling it out, but in general you want to work with it chilled.
Place two sheets of wax paper, overlapping a bit, onto your rolling surface. Put the unwrapped disk of dough in the center of it, and cover the disk with another sheet of wax paper. With the chilled rolling pin, roll the dough out between the sheets of wax paper. Always work from the center outward, in every direction. You will know you have rolled it out far enough when you set your pie plate on top of it with the open side down, and see that it is surrounded by a good 2-inch border. The 2-inch border is important because after it’s in the pie pan, you should not stretch the dough further to reach places where it doesn’t quite make it over the rim of the pan: stretched dough will contract unevenly as it heats up. (What you can do if you come up short is cut a little dough off from places around the rim where there’s extra, and just press it right onto to the spots that are too short or too thin.)
Carefully peel the dough from the wax paper (or the wax paper from the dough as the case may be), center it in your pie dish and gently press it into the shape of the dish. Don’t sweat it if it breaks into two (or three…) pieces as you peel it off. Just reassemble the pieces in the pie pan, and lightly press them together.
When you’ve got it more or less evenly distributed around the dish, roll the edges inward and fashion it into some kind of even-ish border. You can go around the edge pressing it between your fingers and thumb to make a wavy pattern. Or, you know, not.
Carefully wash and dry all food processor parts and related accoutrement, because you will need all of it again to make the custard. DO NOT CUT YOURSELF HANDLING THOSE BLADES. But when you do, rinse the wound(s) under cold water, dry with clean paper towels, apply antibiotic ointment, and bandage immediately. Use tourniquet to staunch serious bleeding if necessary, and dial 9-1-1 for the EMTs BEFORE you pass out. You don’t want to have come all this way just to ruin everything with blood splatter. If you have survived your injuries, drink the remaining ice water, plus extra water to make up for any significant blood loss. You are just getting started, and you need to stay hydrated for the long haul!
As critical as the crust is—and it is—there is also the minor matter of the actual coconut custard. It didn’t help that once I started researching recipes and reviews, I discovered that there appears to be very little agreement about what does or does not make for a winning coconut custard pie. Two eggs, five eggs. 350°F, 400°F. Some call for a package of pre-shredded sweetened coconut, some require plain flaked coconut, maybe a can of coconut milk, and/or condensed milk. Eventually I discovered a recipe that started with an actual coconut. “Oooh,” I gushed, “That sounds like the one for me!” Christ, what an idiot. Exactly like it says right up there at the top of this page. And I had to order coconuts from Amazon, too.
- 1 large, fresh coconut, about 1 1/2 pounds
- 2 cups whole milk (+ a splash more)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 5 large eggs
- Tiny pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 9 inch Pyrex pie pan
- food processor, with both the medium shredding disk and the chopping/mixing blade
- standing mixer with whisk attachment
- ice pick
- mixing bowl
- water glass
- linen or cotton dinner napkin
- rubber band
- dish towel
- thick Ziploc or plastic bag, gallon size or larger
- vegetable peeler
- sharp knife
- cutting board
- wooden spoon
- 2-cup capacity measuring cup
- standard measuring implements
- containers for various coconut products
- cooling rack
-staff of cleaning personnel.
-corkscrew, wine glass and a nice bottle of red wine.
-manicure appointment for the following morning.
Prepare the coconut:
Set a rack at the middle level of the oven, and preheat to 350°F.
A coconut has three “eyes,” only one of which can be punctured fairly easily with an ice pick. You’ll have to try each one until you find it.
Place the drained coconut directly on the oven rack and bake it until it develops a crack, about 10 to 15 minutes. (If there is no crack after 18 minutes, take it out anyway.) Let it cool slightly. Wrap it in a dish towel, and put it in a gallon sized, freezer thickness Ziploc or other heavy plastic bag. Get a good grip on the towel and the bag at the top, and smash the fucker a few times, hard, against an unbreakable surface.
You will be able to tell by feeling through the bag and towel when it’s broken into pieces. Remove the shell: it will come away pretty easily, but that ice pick or a knife might also come in handy. With a vegetable peeler, remove the brown, fibrous skin from the white coconut meat. Rinse the meat clean, and pat dry.
Process coconut through the shredding disk to obtain 1 cup coarsely shredded coconut for the filling, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish. (One packed tube yielded a little more than enough.) For the most consistent results, pack the tube with pieces of coconut that are all cut to roughly the same size.
When you’ve extracted 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of coarsely shredded coconut from the processor, set them aside in separate containers. Set the processor up with the chopping/mixing/dough blade, and process all of the remaining coconut until it is very fine.
I.e., Google “how to scald milk.” Click on some results. Find a good one (number 2 of 3). You’re welcome.
Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in all of the very finely processed coconut. Allow the mixture to cool completely, about 45 mins.
While it cools, you could start cleaning up the colossal mess of coconut shards all over your kitchen, and carefully wash, dry and put away all food processor parts and accoutrement. DO NOT CUT YOURSELF HANDLING THE BLADES. (Again.) When you do, try to remember the drill from the prior crust incident(s). Using your non-severed hand, open the bottle of red wine, pour yourself a stiff glass and take a couple big gulps. You have damn well earned it. Ahhh. Jeezus.
Once the milk mixture has cooled, pour it through a fine strainer into a bowl; press the coconut against the strainer mesh with a spoon (or your fist) to extract as much liquid from it as possible. Remember that linen napkin? Spread it out, and in 3 or 4 batches, place coconut from the strainer into the center of it, wrap it up and twist it closed, then squeeze it over the bowl to extract all remaining liquid. Throw the wrung-out coconut away: it will have very little flavor remaining.
Pour the coconut-flavored scalded milk into a 2-cup capacity measuring cup, and add a splash more milk if necessary to bring it to 2 cups. You can prepare this earlier in the day or the day before, and store it tightly covered in the refrigerator.
But for fuck’s sake! You’ve already come all this way and now you’re almost there! No point quitting now. Besides, your kitchen is a disaster zone: do you want to clean it all up now and then have to clean it again later? No! Pour yourself another glass of wine, and chug it down.
Now at this point, you astute pie-bakers will discern that your now have four separated coconut products (not counting the bark shards all over your kitchen floor—don’t worry, you’ll find them all later as you step on them).
- 2 cups of coconut-flavored scalded milk.
- approx 2/3 cup of coconut milk you drained from the coconut approximately 127 hours ago.
- 1 cup of coarse shredded coconut
- 2 tablespoons coarse shredded coconut (for garnish).
And you will wonder how the fuck your life has brought you to this point.
Adjust your bandages and/or tourniquet if necessary, and refill your wine glass.
Preparing the custard:
Set up the standing mixer with the whisk attachment. Pour into the mixer bowl the 2 cups of coconut-flavored scalded milk, and whisk together with the sugar, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg and the coconut milk you extracted what seems like days ago. Blend well. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir in the reserved 1 cup of coarsely grated coconut.
Set a rack in the middle level of the oven, and preheat to 375°F. Roll out the dough for the bottom crust, and arrange it in the pie pan as discussed above.
Pour the custard filling into the pie crust, and bake about 45-55 minutes: check that the pie is wobbly-textured (like Jello) when the pan is gently shaken, and when it is remove it from the oven. With a toothpick, poke several holes into the pie to help moisture evaporate more evenly as it cools. Cool the pie on a rack, about 3 hours. Refrigerate at least overnight; a day or two is optimal. (Garnish just before serving.)
- 2 tablespoons of coarsely shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon confectioners powdered sugar
- standing mixer with the whisk attachment
- small metal roasting pan
- frosting bag with flower attachment (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour heavy cream into the standing mixer’s bowl and whisk in the confectioners powdered sugar. Whisk on high speed until stiff peaks are forming.
Sprinkle the coarsely shredded coconut into a small metal roasting pan. Bake until golden brown, shaking and stirring the pan occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Check frequently and watch intensely toward the end as they burn easily.
Speaking of burning, try not to burn yourself when handling the pan.
You can prepare the toasted coconut in advance, and store covered at room temperature until ready to use.
Garnish the chilled pie. For taste test purposes on the first two pies I made, I spread the whipped cream in the middle and sprinkled the toasted coconut on it.
Here are links to some of the resources on which I based this recipe.
Caution: lying liars.