Coconut custard pie is one of those desserts that, for me, always sounded delicious in theory, but still never made it’s way onto my “to make” list. I’ve passed over it for so many other kinds of pies, all while heralding coconut as one of my all time favorite flavors. I remember going to the grocery store with my mother when I was a kid and always begging her to buy a coconut to bring home. On the occasions when she would indulge me, I’d present it to my father as if it were the Hope Diamond, giddy at my conquest. My dad loved coconut, too, and we held a secret delight in sharing the water we’d caught from it in a glass while my mother looked on wincing at the cloudy liquid. I guess the joke is on her now that coconut water is the new greek yogurt among health food nerds and hipsters!
What kept me from making coconut custard pie, though, and what I imagine is the road block for even the most accomplished cooks is the simple word, “custard.” It strikes fear in the hearts of so many because of it’s known volatility. Fail to temper the mixtures when combining and you have scrambled eggs. Cook it too far and it’s paste; too little and it’s runny and raw-tasting. When done right, custard owns the show, as far as I’m concerned. The best ice cream, puddings, pies, and pastries, all require it. You can tell just by looking at it’s rich yellow color and it’s pillowy creaminess that it is one of those foods that just taste naturally good in its simplicity. Simplicity of ingredients, that is, not method.
But, wait! What is this? Coconut custard pie that turns to custard in the oven and doesn’t require crossing your fingers over the stove? Mama like! I found this recipe when I was home visiting my family, stuck between the pages of an old cookbook. It was scrawled on an index card in a hand we didn’t recognize, but it look well-loved and like someone had made it a number of times given the stains and the faded print. Making it just felt right. And it didn’t disappoint.
This coconut custard pie is more coconut than custard, but still retains that pure densely dairy flavor of the latter. The taste of coconut here is fairly delicate, as you soak sweetened coconut in milk for several hours and then mix into some dry ingredients and eggs. Going the extra steps of whipping some cream and toasting some extra coconut to put on top is worth the effort in that it adds a nuttier, deeper coconut flavor because of the browned shreds, a nice textured crunch, and a freshness from the cream.
I also learned a really useful tip from this recipe that I’ve never come across before. The recipe has you “seal” the bottom pie crust, before you pour in the custard, with a foamy egg white brushed over the bottom, sides, and edge of the dough. Allowed to sit for a few minutes this way, the egg white forms a barrier between the pie dough and the custard, allowing it to brown and not become soggy because of the liquid-laden filling. Genius! Goodbye to my nemesis, the pasty-bottomed pie and hello to a welcomed addition to my dessert arsenal!
Coconut Custard Pie:
Makes 1 9-inch pie
1 pie dough; homemade or store bought will do
1 cup of whole milk
1-1/4 cups of coconut, divided
1 cup of sugar
2 Tablespoons of flour
3 Eggs, divided
1 teaspoon of vanilla
3-6 hours prior to assembling the pie, add 1 cup of coconut to the milk, stir and allow to soak in the refrigerator for several hours. When ready to prepare the pie, preheat the oven to 375°. Roll pie dough out into a glass pie plate. Crack two eggs into a bowl and one egg yolk, adding the third egg white to it’s own bowl. Whisk the lone egg white until it is foamy and brush the pie dough – bottom, sides, and edge – with the egg white, creating a seal. Allow to set while creating filling. In a separate bowl combine sugar, flour, a pinch of salt, and set aside. Beat the 2 eggs and the extra yolk in their bowl and slowly add the coconut milk mixture with vanilla. Combine thoroughly. Slowly add wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Fill the pie and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the center is set and the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool and set up.
In a small, dry frying pan, add 1/4 cup of shredded, sweetened coconut and toast gently over medium heat until lightly browned. Top pie with whipped cream and toasted coconut and serve.