So, I’ve been thinking about the weather. It’s Winter. Not a beautiful, Majestic First Snow Fall, I-hope-the-dogs-don’t-ruin-the-perfect-snow-on-the-ground kind of Winter. The snow is melting and crunchy, not even feasible angst-relieving, snowball packing type-snow. I have no money to take a trip to the tropics. There is only one solution.
3.141592653589739238462643383299, et cetera, et cetera.
PIE!!!! Coconut Cream, to be more specific. Not only is it moderately tropical, it will satisfy your fluffiest, non-snow-fulfilling needs. I will not let you fail. The horrifying possibility of slumping, runny pie with an almost hate-filled refusal to set up properly, begone! Don’t even think about going out and buying that bastardized edible oil product, Cool Whip. Not only does it taste like hell, this is a recession! Kind of! Not really! But frugality is a good skill, and I refuse to let you waste those lovely little egg whites. Show the chicken some respect! Do not fear the meringue! Now it is time to make the pie of pies. TALLYHO!
Every very good pie has a very good crust. I have tried every kind of crust that is crustily possible. I’ve come to the conclusion, that that when in doubt, use the worst fat component you can (health-wise, and vegetarian-wise): Lard. Sometimes lard and butter. If you’re on a health binge, my advice is to steer away from pies in the first place. Maybe it sounds old-fashioned and out of date, because we have magical, terrible shortening! It tastes like plastic, and your kitchen is not a commercial bakery that supplies the food aisle of a dollar store. So, my advice to you, is to use lard, and use butter in the pie filling. When making a pie pastry, never use margarine. EVER! You will have a crust result that is similar to salt-infused cardboard.
My other advice, keep it simple. I’ve tried pastries that call for flour, salt, sugar, fat of choice (sometimes oil, gross), egg, vinegar, water, and baking powder. I mean, all of that in one crust. Half the time it doesn’t even turn out, and the consistency of the dough is just excruciating to work with, falling apart and sticky all over the place! You know what? Just use flour, a touch of salt (and sugar, if you want a sweet dough, a couple of tablespoons does the trick), and ice water. That’s all you need. I like Paula Deen’s recipe from The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook. It’s the first pastry I ever bothered memorizing, and I always, always use it. If you’re not familiar with pie dough, I’m going to walk you through, step-by-step. Just because I feel like it!
Pastry (this makes 1 large or 2 smallish crusts)
2 cups flour
2/3 cup lard (!)
1 tsp salt
ice water (just throw some ice cubes in about half a cup or so)
First, get yourself a medium-large bowl, and a pastry cutter or two table knives. To be honest, you can use your fingertips, but I don’t think that’s the best method. The whole idea to making a pastry like this is to keep it as cold as possible. The natural heat from your fingertips will melt the fat somewhat, leaving you with less than optimal results. If you really want to be nerdcore, you can store the lard in the freezer and simply use a box grater, grating the lard directly into the flour. I say, put a little elbow grease in it! Grandma didn’t have a damn freezer! She was lucky if there was a solid block in the ice box! If you’re planning on making a lot of pies in the future, be a smart boy or girl and get yourself a pastry cutter. Unless you have a food processor, and that is an entirely different animal, and I’m not getting into it. I don’t trust them one bit in the art of Pie Makin’.
In your medium-large bowl, combine the flour and salt (sugar?). Cut the lard roughly into 1″ cubes, and add. Using the pastry cutter, or criss-crossing two knives, cut the lard into the flour, until it is the size of a popcorn kernel or so. All of it. Make sure it’s evenly dispersed throughout the flour mixture. If you want to get gung-ho, and be all awesome-like, go ahead and put the bowl in the freezer for a little bit. If you’ve got 10 or 15 minutes to spare, it’s a good idea. You want everything to be as cold as possible, because once the dough hits the hot oven, it will make little air pockets, which make the dough expand, which leaves you with flaky pastry.
Get your ice water ready, and have a tablespoon handy. One tablespoon at a time, add to the flour-lard mix, stirring a little with a fork. After about 5-7 tablespoons, you should be about ready to give it one final stir to get the crumbs together. With your hands, lightly press into a ball, and then lightly pat into a disc, about 5″ diameter and 1″ thick. When I say to stir a LITTLE, I mean business! You do not want to overwork the dough, because you’ll begin building up gluten (think bread), and you will not have a tender, flaky crust. You might as well use margarine if you’re going to do that… This pie is your baby, so be gentle!
Get a rolling pin and some spare flour ready! You’ll want the dough about 1/4 – 1/8 ” thick. Spread a little flour on your counter, to keep the dough from sticking. Flour the rolling pin lightly as well. The same rule as the last step applies here. You’ve got to handle it fairly gentle. Don’t just start whacking it Mrs. Lovett style, or rolling it out with all the force you physically can apply. You’ve got to coax it out. I once heard Sissy Spacek describe it that way in a movie, and it’s pretty spot on. Roll the dough out gently, almost like each stroke is the point of a compass. North, South, East, West, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest. You can flip it over once, if you like. Just keep doing that step until your dough reaches the 1/4″ – 1/8″ mark.
Using your rolling pin, roll the dough around it. Gently unroll it onto the pie pan and settle it in. Trim the edges of the dough to about 1.5″ over the edge. Form the edges as you like, and using the tines of a fork, make dots around the entire inside of the crust, sides and all. For the edges, I like to fold them under halfway, then using my thumb, make little wavy ridges around the entire crust. You can also use the tines of a fork and make little crimped lines.
In a preheated 450 degree oven (F), bake the crust for about 8-10 minutes, until golden. Let it cool while you prepare the filling. It will puff up a bit, check on it after five or six minutes, see if the edges have shrunken. At this point, it’s still pliable enough to fix. Another alternative, to prevent this, is to lay tinfoil over the pastry, then pour dried beans over. This prevents the puffing up and shrinking to some extent. Either way, it’s called blind baking. I highly recommend it.
FINALLY. The pie itself.
3/4 cup white sugar + 6 Tbsp
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups milk (I really encourage using coconut milk for half of this measure – use cream for the other half if you so desire)
3 XL eggs, or 4 large, separated.
1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded or flaked coconut, + 1/4 cup
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract, OR, optimally, 1/2 tsp coconut extract
In a medium sized bowl, beat egg yolks. Reserve whites in another medium sized bowl, making sure it’s very clean, with no traces of fat in it (the meringue won’t work otherwise). In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, salt and flour. Slowly add the milk, making a bit of a paste at first, with the first cup, gradually adding the rest. Make sure there are no lumps. Then, put on a burner over medium heat. Stir constantly – it’s not a race, just make sure you’re continually moving around the bottom of the pan, so it doesn’t lump or burn. You don’t need to make it frothy, is what I’m saying. Stir until it thickens, to the point where it’s bubbling and at least coats the back of a wooden spoon. Continue stirring and cook about 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Now is the time to temper the egg yolks, and add them to the milk. Tempering just means gradually adding the heat, so they don’t curdle and become scrambled eggs. Spoon about a quarter or a third of the milk mixture into the eggs, slowly, whisking every time you add. Then stir the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, about 2 minutes, until mixture is very thick. Remove from heat, stir in butter, vanilla or coconut extract, and 1 1/2 cups coconut. Cool slightly, and pour into pie crust.
For the meringue, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks (you’ll be able to pull the frothy mixture up from the bowl with the beaters, but it won’t be very stable). Add the 6 Tbsp of sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, mixing. Continue beating until stiff peaks form (they’ll hold their shape when you turn the beaters upside down). Spread it over the hot coconut filling, and make sure you “seal,” the meringue over the edges of the crust. If you don’t, the meringue won’t be as stable, it will shrink, and this is weird, but it will leak. The egg whites will leak into your pie! You can use a spatula to make little peaks with the meringue. Then sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top of the meringue. bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes. Let it cool for about 2 hours, and serve!
(A good tip for cutting into meringue pies is to dip the knife into water each time before slicing)
Megohm, over and out!