March 13, 2011

Getting Ready for Pi Day - Jeffrey's Coconut Cream Pie

March 14th - 3/14 - is Pi Day.  As you might (or might not) recall from geometry class, pi is the mathematical representation of the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.  That's what is celebrated.  If that's all it was, Pi Day would probably be about as notable as other designated days such as Benjamin Harrison Day (March 4), World Kidney Day (March 10) and International Fanny Pack Day (March 13), but since the mathematical pi refers to something round, and since it is pronounced just like the word "pie," Pi Day is celebrated with pie, which is much nicer than geometry.

In preparation for the day, I made a Coconut Cream Pie using a Cook's Illustrated recipe.  Coconut Cream is among Juli's and my favorite types of pie, and the recipe had some pretty interesting features, including a crust made of crushed-up animal crackers (in place of the graham crackers more commonly used for pie crust). 

Although I didn't have to do any geometry to prepare this pie, I did have to do some fractions, because the recipe was written for a 9-inch pie plate and I was using a 10-inch plate.  To account for the extra necessary volume, I increased the amounts of ingredients by 1/4, or as close to that as I could get in the case of ingredients that couldn't be easily divided in fourths (for example, I used 6 egg yolks instead of the 5 called for in the recipe).  I also made a couple adjustments completely my own, most notably adding a bit of nutmeg and some coconut extract to make for a more flavorful coconut cream, and using sweetened coconut - and a lot more than called for in the CI recipe - in the topping.

The pie was incredibly tasty... light, slightly sweet crust, wonderfully coconutty cream filling, topped with fresh whipped cream and a heavy sprinkling of toasted coconut.   Flavor wise, this might be the best pie I've ever made.   Presentation-wise... well, see for yourself.

The crust didn't really set firmly enough to hold itself, or a slice of the pie, together.   That's not uncommon with crumb crusts, and I'd worried it would be the case here.  The crumbly crust didn't keep the pie from being incredibly good to eat, but it could certainly do with some improvement.   I've included the recipe I used below, so f any of our readers has some ideas about how to firm up the crust while maintaining the light texture and great flavor, please share.

I made this Coconut Cream Pie to share with my coworkers in celebration of Pi Day, but as always Juli and I tried it out first.  Normally we only have one slice apiece before I take it to work, but this one is so good, I think we'll likely have another before my coworkers get it.   I'll definitely be making this again, though with either a more traditional pie crust or a revised version of this crumb crust.

Jeffrey's Coconut Cream Pie

yield = 12 servings

7 1/2            ounces animal crackers
2 1/2            tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/4            teaspoon granulated sugar
5                  tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

17 1/2          ounces coconut milk (one 13.5 ounce can + 1/2 cup)
1 1/4            cups whole milk
1/4               cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2               cup + 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2               teaspoon table salt
6                  large egg yolks
1/2               cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 1/2            tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 slices
1 1/4            teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2               teaspoon coconut extract
1/8               teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg

1 1/2            cups heavy cream (cold)
2                  tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2               teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4               cup sweetened, shredded coconut, toasted in a
                    small skillet until lightly browned and cooled

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.   Add animal crackers, coconut and sugar to food processor.  With fine pulses, process to a fine crumble, then process until powdery.  Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl.  Add butter, then stir to combine until the crumbs are evenly moistened.  Transfer crumbs to a 10-inch pie plate.  

Using the bottom of a ramekin or measuring cup, press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the plate.  Bake until fragrant and medium-brown, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through that time.  Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

Add the coconut milk, whole milk, shredded coconut, 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar and salt to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and prevent burning. 

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining sugar (1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) until thoroughly combined.  Gradually ladle 1 cup hot milk mixture over the yolk mixture and whisk to combine.  Continuing to whisk constantly, gradually ladle the remaining milk mixture to the yolk mixture. 

Return mixture to saucepan and cook the mixture thickens and reaches a boil, whisking constantly.  (You know it's boiling if you briefly stop whisking and large bubbles quickly burst on surface.  The mixture must boil to thicken properly).  Remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and coconut extracts and nutmeg until fully incorporated.  

Pour hot filling into cooled pie crust; smooth surface with a rubber spatula.  Tightly cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface of the filling, and refrigerate until firm (at least 3 hours).

Chill mixing bowl and whip attachment of stand mixer in freezer for a few minutes.  Beat cream, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Top pie with whipped cream, shaping into peaks, then sprinkle with the browned coconut.  Cut into slices and serve.

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