I call this pie 'absent friends' coconut cream pie for two reasons: 1) I was listening to the Divine Comedy when I was baking it and, 2) it was inspired by a piece of pie I shared with my pal Emma on my last night in New York, without our mutual friend Jane there to help us out.
Not only is Emma one of Time Out's Most Stylish New Yorkers, but she's a regular at a brilliant little bar called The Great Jones Cafe. There's more than a dozen reasons I'd recommend visiting this place while you're in town, but here's two: 1) the greatest jukebox I've ever come across and, 2) the coconut cream pie.
Everything that came out of that little kitchen behind the bar smelled and looked Delicious - and I can personally attest to the fact that the cornmeal catfish, the okra, the burger and the sweet potato fries are Delicious. Oh - and the coconut cream pie. But before I tried it, I totally had to be convinced. Despite food being like the centre of my gluttonous universe, I really am not that big on cream. Stoopid, huh? I like custard, and ice cream and even pannacotta - but my inner-lactard just starts freaking out when I'm presented with a pile of the freshly whipped stuff. In any case, I needn't have worried, because coconut cream pie at The Great Jones is just not like all those other pies. It's creamy, but with rich, coconutty custard atop a short and sweet crumb crust that balances perfectly with the silky filling. There's no giant layer of cream spread on the top of the pie: instead, it's adorned with a mound of toasted, shredded coconut - and the cream is served on the side, if you want it. Of course, as soon as I got home, I had to start trying to make this.
So this was my first attempt - and I'm actually very happy with it. I cobbled together a couple of recipes to approximate the Jones's beautiful pie, including the cracker crust from The Hummingbird Bakery's Key Lime Pie and a coconut milk custard from a recipe on epicurious. I skipped the cream top, folding only a little into the custard to lighten it before pouring it into the crust and topped the whole thing with freshly-roasted coconut. It was (and is) really good. I even just got some licks of approval from Quincy Cat, who's eating some with me now. When I ate it with Emma we were missing our friend Jane, back in Melbourne. As I eat it now, I miss Emma - and those great nights at the Jones. At least I can always raise my fork; absent friends, here's to them! x
absent friends coconut cream pie
Adapted from the hummingbird bakery cookbook and epicurious
Notes: I originally made a full quantity of crust, but there was far too much for this pie. I threw some mixture away and still thought it was a little too thick, so I've halved the recipe here: should be about right. I used less coconut than specified in the filling, but was surprised to find it could have done with the extra after all, so I've included the original amount here. Finally, some recipes say that this is best eaten on the day it's made. I think this pie is lovely (and even more coconutty) even two days later, so there!
250 gm digestive biscuits or graham crackers
100 gm unsalted butter
coconut cream filling
2 1/4 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk
2/3 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornflour
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons shredded unsweetened dried coconut, toasted
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 tablespoon icing sugar
1. Preheat oven to 180/355. To make cracker crust, process biscuits until finely crushed (you can do this with a rolling pin if you like). Add melted butter and process or stir until crumbs come together. Using a large spoon or the bottom of a drinking glass (I find this easier for the sides), press the crumb mixture into a pie tin to form the shell. A good trick for the sides is to use your thumb to keep the mixture down at the rim, while using the glass to press and form the side. Keep doing this around the circumference of the pie, and you should have a nice, even shell. Bake for around 20 - 25 minutes, or until set and golden.
2. Heat the coconut milk to just below boiling point. Remove and cover to keep hot. using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and voluminous. Whip in the flour, corn flour and salt.
3. While still beating, gradually pour in the warm coconut milk. When all is incorporated, return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil and thickens, then boil for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter, and whisk until melted. Add 3/4 cup of the coconut and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.
4. Transfer the coconut cream to a bowl and let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. When cooled, cover the surface with plastic wrap (push in against the custard) to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate for about 2 hours, until thoroughly chilled and set (You can do this a day in advance).
5. Beat cream with the icing sugar until it holds stiff peaks. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the cream into the coconut custard. Using the spatula, transfer the filling to the crust and smooth the top. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the remaining toasted coconut and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or for up to 4 hours, before serving to set.