~ The Old-Fashioned Classic Coconut Custard Pie ~
When I was growing up, two trucks pulled into my family's driveway twice a week (and they weren't FedEx or UPS which didn't even exist then). They were: The milk man and the baker. The milk man delivered milk, butter, eggs, sour cream and some cheeses. The baker delivered bread, sandwich rolls, cakes, pies and cookies. In the case of both, via a paper checklist, you ordered on a Tuesday what you wanted delivered on Saturday, and you ordered on Saturday what you wanted delivered on Tuesday. When mom said it was my turn to pick a dessert, it was a safe bet that either a coconut custard or lemon meringue pie was going to show up.
I've always had a penchant for pies whose fillings have rich, thick, smooth consistencies. They're luxurious and make me feel all "la-tee-da". When I got to the age where I was learning to bake, they were the first pie recipes I gravitated to. Years later, when I got to the point where I could refer to myself as a skillful pie baker, the first adjustment I made to my original recipes was to: bake them in a deep-dish pie dish. Read on:
^ The 9" deep-dish pie dish pictured on the left has a 6-cup capacity. The standard 9" pie dish pictured on the right has a 4-cup capacity. You see, in the case of creamy, custardy pies: thicker is always better because more is always better. And there IS more: topping such a pie with a mile-high meringue or a copious amount of freshly-whipped cream is simply over-the-top.
Part One: Understanding Custard, Custard Pie & Cream Pie:
A bit about custard pie vs. cream pie: A custard pie is any type of uncooked custard mixture added to an unbaked or partially-baked pie pastry and baked together. A cream pie is any type of cooked custard mixture added to a fully-baked and cooled pie pastry. In the case of both, the custard mixture usually consists of cream or milk, whole eggs and egg yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla extract or other flavorings. A custard pie is sometimes topped with an optional meringue or whipped cream, but, a cream pie is always topped with a signature layer whipped cream.
A bit about custards: The Ancient Romans were first to understand the binding properties of eggs, and, by the Middle Ages, custards as we know them today were present and accounted for. Initially, they were used only as fillings for pies, pastries and tarts -- the word "custard" is derived from "crustade" which is a tart with a crust. It wasn't until the 16th Century that custards began appearing solo, as an individual dish rather than a filling for another dessert.
Technically, a custard is any liquid thickened by eggs, but, in almost all cases, that liquid is cream or milk. Technically, custards fall into three categories determined by how they are thickened: #1. By eggs alone -- the most delicate. #2. Starch thickened. #3. Gelatin-set. Depending on how much egg or thickener is used, custards vary from a thin drizzly sauce to a thick pastry cream to a well-set dessert. Technically the word "custard" or "crème anglaise" (English cream) refers to egg-thickened custard only. When starch is added (usually cornstarch), it's called "pastry cream" or "crème pâtissière". When gelatin is used, the term is "crème anglaise collée".
Custards can be cooked on the stovetop or baked in the oven. It's a delicate process requiring slow, controlled "insulated" cooking, not over or in direct heat. On the stovetop, its temperature shouldn't exceed 178°F, and, when baked in the oven, they need to be removed while they still have a slight wobble in the center. "Frozen custard" is fully-cooked custard, that gets processed in an ice-cream maker after it has been cooled and chilled.
Part Two: Blind-Baking the Pie Pastry
Blind-bake or bake blind, is the English term for baking a pastry shell before it is filled. There are two instances when you need to prebake your pie pastry: #1) A pastry shell that once the filling is added does not return to the oven for further baking. In this application the pie pastry must be fully-baked, nicely browned and completely cooled before you add the filling, and #2) A pastry shell that will get filled with a stirred custard, cream, mousse or fully-cooked/ready-to-eat filling and will return to the oven for further baking. In this application, the degree to which you prebake your pie pastry (barely brown, lightly brown, golden brown) is determined by the length of time it will take the filled pie to finish baking, meaning: the longer it will take for your pie filling to bake, the lighter in color your prebaked crust should be when it goes into the oven.
1/2 of my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, found in Categories 6, 15 or 22, rolled as thin as possible
When making coconut custard pie I blind bake my pastry until barely brown and dry looking, 4 minutes in a 425° oven. Remove it from the oven, immediately remove the weights and parchment and allow to cool to room temperature.
Simply click on the Related Article link below to read ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell ~.
Part Three: Making the Filling & Baking the Pie
Custard pie can be sliced and served at room temperature the same day it is made or chilled after being refrigerated overnight -- this is simply a matter of preference, not a compromise, so the choice is yours. If you want to dress a coconut custard pie up for a fancy-schmancy presentation: slice and place a big dollop of freshly-whipped cream on each serving, sprinkle with some lightly-toasted coconut, and, a grind or two of freshly-ground nutmeg.
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
2 whole vanilla beans, cut/split in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out and pods reserved
1 teaspoon each: pure vanilla and coconut extract
1/2 cup sugar
2 jumbo eggs
4 jumbo egg yolks
1, 14-ounce bag sweetened, flaked coconut
Note: I am often asked if it's ok to skip the vanilla beans. Some say they can't find them, others complain about their cost. That's valid. Making this dessert with extract alone is just fine.
~ Step 2. In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan place and stir together the cream, vanilla seeds, empty pods, vanilla extract and sugar.
~ Step 3. In an 8-quart measuring container, whisk the eggs and egg yolks. In very small increments at first, then in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, add the cream mixture to the eggs.
Note: Adding too much hot cream mixture at first can cause the eggs to "scramble", so error on the side of less for the first couple of additions.
The technical term for this method of incorporating the hot cream into the raw eggs is: "tempering" the eggs. It simply heats them up very slowly so they can't start to cook or scramble.
Allow mixture to cool down a bit, about 30 minutes prior to thoroughly stirring in in the coconut. Note: I run my fingers through each cup or two of coconut, instead of dumping it all in at once, to make sure there are no large lumps.
~ Step 4. Transfer the pie filling to the prepared pie pastry, which will be about 2/3 full after filling. Note: I like to place the pie on a parchment line baking pan, as it makes it easier to get it in and out of the oven, but, that choice is your.
~ Step 5. Bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven, about 50-55 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is puffed through to the center, which means it is set.
Note: Check the pie after 30 minutes of baking, and, if it seems to be browning too fast, loosely place a sheet of aluminum foil across the top. In doubt? Do it.
Remove from oven, place on wire rack & cool completely:
Special Equipment List: 9 1/2" deep-dish pie dish; 1 1/2-quart saucepan w/lid; kitchen shears; paring knife; slotted spoon; 8-cup measuring container; whisk; large spoon; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan (optional); parchment paper (optional); wire cooling rack
Cook's Note: The British and the Australians have another form of custard that contains no eggs at all. It's a product called custard powder, and, in those two countries, more-often-than-not, if someone says "custard", it's implied that it's made using Bird's. To learn more about this time-saving ingredient, just click on the Related Article link below. It is perfect to keep on-hand in your pantry for when you need to make a small quantity of custard in a hurry.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016.