26 February 2011

Coconut Cream & Coconut Custard

...or "A Tough Nut To Crack."

This weekend, I tackled the coconut pies again. You may remember that my last outing with Coconut Cream Pie ended in miserable failure. You, dear reader, deserve better, and I do have a project to complete. I figured I would give it one more shot, with some modifications.

It is interesting to note that the ingredients for both the Coconut Cream and Coconut Custard Pies are nearly identical. A bit less sugar in the custard, half the vanilla (though I only put one teaspoon of vanilla in the cream pie 'cause I ran out!), and less water (which was significant), but largely the same.

Ignore the crusts on both these pies. I used store-bought refrigerated crusts and rushed/shortcut them, so they turned out weird, but the pies still tasted fine! I trust that you will take more care with your flaky pastries.

Coconut Cream Pie

The last time, I prepared the pie according to recipe (or so I thought), cooking the filling in a double boiler. It was only supposed to take 4 minutes to thicken; after 20 minutes or so, I just dumped it in the shell, floated the meringue on top, and hoped it would set up in the oven.

Or not:
The rest of the filling was pretending to be soup in the pie plate.
This time, I cooked the filling over direct heat, just like all of the other cream pies I've done. It took about seven or eight minutes to set up, and it was still on the thin side, but the filling was definitely firm enough to appear correct. I rushed the meringue a bit, so it was thin too, although it spread nicely over the pie. A sprinkle of coconut and this very white pie was ready to bake (30 minutes @ 325°).

Success! The finished pie was a gorgeous golden brown, with a light texture that belies its caloric load (seems to be a pattern). My primary caution would be to chill this pie before serving; the refrigerated slice the next day was all-around better than the counter-cooled slice.


Coconut Custard

The first difference between the cream and custard pies arose when I was supposed to "combine the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and water to form a smooth paste." With only one teaspoon of water (and three yolks) to moisten a combined cup of sugar and cornstarch, the result was more like wet sand than smooth paste.

No matter. I figured I would just ladle some of the hot milk into my sand so it would incorporate better.


I've tempered eggs before and have never had a problem, but hot milk into this mixture resulted in little pebbles of something (probably cornstarch) in my filling! A quick trip through the sieve sorted that out, but I was now concerned that too much of the thickening agents had been lost to clumpage. Would the custard still come together?

It did, and five minutes early, to boot. The consistency was more like a normal pudding than the thick creams we've been making lately. Interestingly, there is no coconut in the filling itself - it's really just a plain custard base. The coconut goes in the parbaked pie shell and on top of the filling once in the shell.

After the better part of an hour, the pie should be done. My hunch is that the longer cook time and the lack of a protective meringue topping helps the filling to set up more solidly - that's probably the major difference between the two coconut pies.

The flavor is good on the custard pie, but I could stand more coconut presence. This is another thin pie - if you're looking for impressive height, look elsewhere.


The verdict? I liked the Coconut Cream Pie better - more flavor, more volume, but more calories. Overall, I enjoy a good slice of coconut pie, but these were bit more trouble than they're worth. I think I'll save my coconut pie consumption for the restaurant scene.

Next time: Checkmate!

19 February 2011

Vanilla Cream Pie

They don't come much simpler or more basic than this. Vanilla cream/thickpudding, graham cracker crust, and sweetened whipped cream on top.

Ken Haedrich describes Vanilla Cream Pie thusly:
"A monument to solid, uncomplicated, middle-American cuisine, this pie should be in every cook's repertoire."
Really, the hardest part of this pie (aside from the hours of waiting for things to cool down) was assembling the crust. This was my first press-in crumb crust - crushed graham crackers, cinnamon(!), and melted butter. It came out fine, but it was frustrating to attempt an even coverage. The crust ended up being a bit thick in the corners. No matter, because the taste and texture were great.

I might think about using a store-bought graham cracker crust next time, although Tiffany commented that the uneven coarseness of my crushed crackers (no food processor here) was a positive, and I love the the cinnamon flavor in the crust.

The filling is very simple to make - everything gets combined on top of the stove until thick. Keep a close eye on it, though; the cream goes from milky to appropriately stiff in a wink.

Be sure to chill this pie thoroughly - cold shell, cold filling, cold whipped cream - before serving. Skip this and chance a soupy slice.

The taste of this pie is very light, dare I say, ethereal. The calories, however, are not. I will try this pie again without the whipped cream - maybe a honey-cinnamon meringue instead? - to lighten up the caloric impact some. This is definitely a pie I want to play around with, substituting more healthy (although it's still pie - perhaps "less unhealthy" is more appropriate) ingredients and see what I get.

As a side note, the first slice I had was about 112 of the pie and was almost enough. I had an eighth of the pie the next day, and it was almost too much (and left a greasy feel on my lips, probably from the whipped cream topping). I'd try tenths next time, though good luck getting even slices.

Two other notes, both of which result from my failure to read the recipe closely enough. First, the original recipe calls for the use of a 912-inch pan; I plunged ahead with my standard 9-inch and everything worked out just fine. Second, I forgot to dust nutmeg over the top of the finished pie! I love nutmeg and regret not adding it. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make it again!

15 February 2011

Cinnamon Graham Crust

This one's too good not to share.

The first section of recipes in Pie is nothing but crusts - something like 30 different recipes for pastry crusts, crumb crusts, nut crusts, and even a meringue crust. One of the basic non-pastry crusts is a graham cracker crust, which I used under the Vanilla Cream Pie. At that time, I noted that the crust is bit tricky to assemble, but the flavor is great.
1¾ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 full size crackers)
2 Tbs brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon (or more - I just shook some in)
pinch of salt
6 Tbs butter, melted (if using salted butter, omit the pinch of salt)

Combine dry ingredients, add melted butter, and incorporate well to form evenly dampened crumbs. Press (as evenly as possible) into a lightly buttered pie plate, using the back of a spoon to tamp down the crumbs. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350°. Bake the crust for 7 minutes, then cool completely before filling.

Two notable changes from the standard graham cracker crust are the brown sugar and cinnamon. I loved the cinnamon flavor, and Tiffany picked out honey highlights, which is probably attributable to the brown sugar.


Haedrich includes a variation on this - swapping out Nilla wafers for the graham crackers. Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the dry ingredients, and drizzle in 1-2 teaspoons of water when blending to help things hold together. I imagine this variation would go well with a banana cream pie.

12 February 2011

Chocolate Cream Pie

Only one pie ended up making it to our church's Super Bowl Party, but it was certainly well received. This week's offering comes from Mr. Haedrich: Chocolate Cream Pie with Cinnamon Meringue. I'm developing quite the fondness for meringues, and they're dead simple to whip up.
Combine 2.25c milk, 1.25c sugar, 0.33c cornstarch, 2oz chopped chocolate*, 3 egg yolks (save the whites!), and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in a large saucepan. Whisk constantly over medium heat until uniformly chocolate-brown and boiling, then cook for two minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into a cooled 9-inch pie shell and top with cinnamon meringue. Bake 8-10 minutes @ 350° until meringue is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack and serve either barely warm or chilled (don't cover it in the fridge).
Cinnamon Meringue: Beat three room-temperature egg whites and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar to soft peaks. Add in a mixture of 0.25c sugar and one half-teaspoon of cinnamon, a little at a time, beating until incorporated. The meringue should end up thick, glossy, and not dry.
-from Pie by Ken Haedrich

For everything that went wrong with the Coconut Cream Pie, this pie was a cinch to put together. The filling cooks up in short order to create the Best. Chocolate Pudding. Ever. In fact, whenever you hear "cream pie" just substitute "pudding pie" in your brain, although "cream pie" sounds more civilized. Seriously, I think I'm going to look up this recipe for the next time I'm in a pudding mood. Forget the crust - just give me a pan of filling, a spoon, and ten minutes to myself. I wonder how it would be with butterscotch chips or cinnamon chips or different extracts besides vanilla (rum? almond? mint?)

Anyone else thinking of Bill Cosby?

Once the filling is cooked, the pie is nearly done. The shell is pre-baked, so it's a matter of dump and go - no baking of the filling. Whip up the meringue, which is stunning with the little flecks of cinnamon, spread it on top (so much easier when the filling sets up!), and run it into the oven just to make the meringue look irresistible.

The smell of cinnamon when this comes out is great. After cooling, slice up the pie (I suggest twelfths - plenty of pie in a portion) and enjoy the spicy foaminess of the meringue with the unctuousness of the chocolate pudding filling. Really, the crust is just there to hold it all in on this one.

I think we may have a new favorite around here, but I'll have to make it again to check. ;-)

*Need I mention that the better the chocolate, the better the chocolate cream/pudding? That said, if all you have lying around the pantry are Toll House morsels, go for it! You won't be sorry.

Next time: The "Opposite" of Chocolate

09 February 2011

A Tragedy in Three Acts

If you ever wondered where baking and Scots poetry intersected, look no further. This weekend's comedy of errors certainly had me thinking of old Robbie Burns:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men/
Gang aft agley,/
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain

05 February 2011

Shh... The Dough is Resting

It's a little crazy around here this weekend. In addition to our regular busyness, both Tiffany and I are working tonight, the kids have a sitter, and we're trying to clean house. And I'm planning to make three pies for the Super Bowl party at church tomorrow night! So, your regular pie update, gentle reader, will have to wait until Monday (probably).

To tide you over until then, here's a brief recounting of this morning's crust making:

I'm trying a few new things this weekend. First, I made an all-shortening version of the standard pastry crust. Aside from Crisco being slightly messy to measure (and I'd rather not use the sticks), the dough seems to hold up a little better than the half-butter/half-shortening recipe.

How to chill pastry dough in February in Michigan
Second, I made double batches of both the all-shortening crust and the half-and-half basic flaky pastry. That translates to four dough balls: two to the fridge for this weekend's pies* and two to the freezer for later.

Third, as you can see in our top photo, I broke out the good ol' KitchenAid stand mixer for today's dough-making adventure. I had wanted to try the mixer method, and my pastry blender was dirty from the morning's biscuits, so there you go.

The mixer was dead simple - the only change I would make next time would be not to chill the butter as much (I cube it, then stick it in the freezer while prepping other ingredients), as frozen butter takes a long time to incorporate with the mixer.

I recommend (as does Mr. Haedrich) using the whip attachment (rather than the paddle) to more closely replicate the by-hand cutting in of the fat to the flour. Use a light hand when adding the water and stop before it completely balls up - shaggy dough can easily be brought together by hand when wrapping for storage. I'll have to let you know later how it bakes up and how the flavor compares, but the process was certainly simpler than doing it by hand.

Of course, you can always share the work with your sous-chefs:

Next time: Zeb finally gets around to making an actual pie this week.

*For those of you keeping score at home, that's only two crusts for a planned three pies. Fear not, the third pie will have a graham cracker crust (my first non-pastry crust!), but the graham crackers are still at the grocery store.

01 February 2011

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Here's my new desktop photo, from the Cinnamon Sugar Pie a couple weeks back. Remember, meringue is fat free!