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This weekend, I'm headed to Lake Geneva--Wisconsin that is, not Switzerland--for a yoga retreat. The mantra of the weekend is "Healthy Food, Life, Mind: A Weekend of Realigning with Healthy Living" and will be filled with yoga workshops held by my dad's girlfriend Kira, as well as hiking, meditation, and a smorgasbord of vegetarian food prepared by my Dad and myself.

In anticipation of this long awaited feel-good weekend, I figured a pre-retreat treat was in order. Per my pick for most special events, I chose pie, the dessert love of my life. 

I was officially converted to pie-dom after making a strawberry rhubarb number on a summer vacation in Southwest, MI way back when. Since that first slice, I've made it my personal quest to master "the pie," which through excessive trial and error I've learned is quite the endeavor. "Easy as pie." False. Pie is a temperamental beast. Its laborious, its finicky, and it takes a lot of practice to do well. But please don't let this deter you. Because when all of the elements do come together harmoniously, it is nothing short of a blissful experience. This is what keeps me coming back time and time again, as can be seen by the collage below. 

Even with all the pies I've baked at home and training under master pie baker Lisa Ludwinski of Sister Pie in Detroit for almost 9 months now , I still experience my share of soggy crusts/loose fillings/weird lattices/burnt messes. And every time its a little jab in my heart. I push through though because pie, like life, isn't easy. But, it always teaches you something new and, most of the time, it tastes pretty great, especially with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. But I digress. Back to the retreat. 

For the purposes of my dad and I's pre-retreat treat, I opted for a coconut cream variety. Its my Dad's favorite and a flavor I had never attempted myself, which is shocking given my complete infatuation with all things coconut. 

My aim with this particular pie was to steer away from the bad qualities that I've found to be commonplace in most run of the mill coconut cream pies. More often than not, I find the coconut cream filling to be too thick/congealed, overly sweet, and tasting more of sunblock than actual coconut. Blech. I wanted a filling that tasted purely of coconut with a silky, rich texture to boot. In order to achieve this affect, I made a few modifications to a pretty standard recipe from Emeril Lagasse. The first change I made was steeping the milk with unsweetened toasted coconut, to give it a real nuttiness and warmth. I omitted actual shredded coconut from the filling and instead just sprinkled a ton over the top before serving which adds a nice textural element. I opted for whipped cream instead of meringue as a topping to keep things simple. And I used Sister Pie's crust because its my go-to and perfectly balanced flavor wise. 

The result is a pie thats not too sweet and maintains the essence of coconut without overpowering. I've baked this pie twice now and can honestly say its among my favorite I've ever made and a fitting sugary sign off before lots of yoga!

This recipe involves a lot of steps, but none of them are too difficult. I promise it is well worth the wait. If you can hold off for a day, I recommend chilling the completed pie overnight to allow the filling to set. Pull out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving though to take the chill off. 

Coconut Cream Pie

Crust: Adapted from Sister Pie 

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 sticks of butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1/2 cup water, mixed with a splash of apple cider vinegar 

1 egg, whisked together with 1/4 teaspoon of water (egg wash)

Make crust: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse meal and there are no pieces of butter larger than the size of a pie. Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time and begin to gather the dough together with a fork. Turn the dough over itself a few times until it comes together, but be careful not to overwork it. Pat the dough into two round disc and wrap in plastic to chill for a couple hours (or at least 30 minutes).

Roll out pie crust. Flour your work surface and place the unwrapped pie dough in the center. Using a rolling pin, press along the edges of the round, broadening the circle. Move the disc around with your hand as you do this, making sure to flour the surface when needed. Begin to flatten the pie dough into a larger circle by rolling from the center out. Roll, then rotate the disc and roll again. Keeping rolling until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. Invert your pie pan or dish onto the circle, and use a knife to trim the dough, leaving about a 1 inch border around the pan. Remove the pie pan and fold the dough in half. Place the folded dough into the pie tin and gently press it in, making sure it's centered and fitted properly, and let the extra dough hang over the side. Crimp any way that you like. I enjoy the pinch method found here. Freeze until ready to use. 

Blind Bake Crust: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line your frozen pie crust with tin foil until the inside and crimped edges are covered. Fill completely with dried beans or pie weights. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes on the lowest rack of your oven. After 20 minutes, remove from the oven and remove the foil/weights. Brush the crimped edge of the pie crust with egg wash and place back on the lowest rack of your oven for another 8-10 minutes until golden in color. Cool completely. 

Filling: Adapted from Emeril Lagasse 

2 1/2 cups whole milk 

3/4 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 vanilla pod, cut down the middle, seeds removed (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract) 

2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut 

1 tablespoon butter 

Make Filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut evenly on a sheet tray. Toast until golden in color, about 5-7 min. Measure out 1 cup of the toasted coconut and set aside. Place the other cup of the toasted coconut and 2 1/4 cups of the milk in a small saucepan and bring to light simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat, place the lid on, and let steep for one hour. Drain the milk into a bowl and set aside. There should be 2 cups of infused milk in total. If there isn't quite 2 cups worth, just add in a bit more whole milk.  

In a saucepan, whisk the 2 cups of infused milk and 3/4 cup sugar together. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks together in a separate bowl. Take a 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture and whisk quickly into the egg yolks to temper. Pour this mixture back into the hot milk mixture. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1/4 cup of milk. Whisk into the hot milk mixture. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until the filling is thick, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and fold in the vanilla beans and butter. Let cool for 10-20 minutes. Place filling into your cooled, blind baked pie shell. Set aside while you make the whipped cream topping. 

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream 

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Make whipped cream:  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed for 6-7 minutes until you reach firm peaks (when you take your whisk out of the cream, the peaks in the whipped cream should hold firmly but have slightly softened tips). 

Spread whipped cream evenly over the coconut cream filling. Top with the remaining cup of toasted coconut and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hrs. 

If anyone has any pie troubles/questions/concerns please don't hesitate to ask. I love talking pie.