Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Elizabeth's January Pie: Coconut Cream

Another great ATK pie!

The funny thing about using Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen is the changes (improvements?) that happen to the recipes over time. I initially chose my recipe from The Dessert Bible, by Christopher Kimball / Cook’s Illustrated. I went out and bought all of the ingredients for that preparation. Then I came home and looked up the coconut cream pie recipe in my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, and in that recipe they essentially made fun of the type of recipe Chris Kimball had published only a few years earlier out of the same kitchen! Take that, bow tie man! (ATK's argument is that coconut cream pie shouldn’t be a vanilla cream pie with a little bit of coconut sprinkled throughout. Agreed.)

When I looked the recipe up online at the Cook’s Illustrated website, I found yet ANOTHER variation on the same pie but the date on the recipe was the same as the television air date from the pie in my ATK cookbook (there is no way you are following me on this…). I’m assuming that they keep the same air date to help people find the recipe, but they make changes here and there to the recipes as they think of new and yummier tweaks.

The moral of the story is this: you don’t need to by a single Cook’s Illustrated/ATK cookbook, you just need to keep your online subscription current! Look up the recipes there, and save yourselves the trouble.

Now, back to the recipe!

Everything went smoothly, and it was a very easy pie to make. In the future I may use graham cracker crumbs instead of animal crackers in the crust, just because they were expensive and not “YOWZA” impressive. I took this to my book club, and friends there said it was the best coconut cream pie they’d ever tasted, including one friend who ALWAYS orders coconut cream because it’s her favorite. Nice!

Unsweetened coconut was a little hard to find. I could only find lowfat organic unsweetened coconut in the health foods area of my grocery store. I was worried about the lowfat part but it worked just fine.

All in all: ENORMOUSLY TASTY. (I'll post a photo when I can finally locate my camera.)

Coconut Cream Pie

Recipe courtesy CooksIllustrated.com
Published: May 1, 2004
Makes one 9-inch pie, serving 8 to 10
Light coconut milk lacks rich coconut flavor, so skip it in favor of regular coconut milk.

6 ounces animal crackers
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled


14 ounces coconut milk (1 can)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/8 teaspoon table salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 2 pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream and garnish

1 1/2 cups heavy cream (cold)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut , toasted in a small dry skillet until golden brown

1. For the crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. In food processor, pulse animal crackers, coconut, and sugar to fine crumbs, eighteen to twenty 1-second pulses; then process until powdery, about 5 seconds. Transfer crumbs to medium bowl and add butter; stir to combine until crumbs are evenly moistened. Empty crumbs into 9-inch glass pie plate; using bottom of ramekin or 1/2 cup dry measuring cup, press crumbs evenly into bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake until fragrant and medium brown, about 15 minutes, rotating pie shell halfway through baking time. Set on wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

2. For the filling:
Bring coconut milk, whole milk, shredded coconut, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Following illustrations 1 through 6, whisk yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisking constantly, gradually ladle about 1 cup hot milk mixture over yolk mixture; whisk well to combine. Whisking constantly, gradually add remaining milk mixture to yolk mixture in 3 or 4 additions; whisk well to combine. Return mixture to saucepan and cook until thickened and mixture reaches boil, whisking constantly, about 1 minute; filling must boil in order to fully thicken. (To determine whether filling has reached boil, stop whisking; large bubbles should quickly burst on surface.) Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is fully incorporated. Pour hot filling into cooled pie shell and smooth surface with rubber spatula; press plastic wrap directly against surface of filling and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

3. For the whipped cream:
Just before serving, beat cream, sugar, and vanilla with electric mixer until soft peaks form, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Top pie with whipped cream and then sprinkle with coconut. Cut pie into wedges and serve.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Elizabeth's Pies Since October

Hurray for Ann's January pie! It's so beautious!

Before I post about my January pie, I am going to list the pies I have made since October, when I started doing Pie of the Month.

I should re-title this post "America's Test Kitchen pies" because of my reliance on their expertise. Their "best recipe" style is mostly just helpful when you are making standard pies, and when I break off and start doing more unusual pies (not diner-style standard American pies), I'm obviously going to have to choose another source.

October pie: Key Lime Chiffon

Source: Silver Palate Cookbook

Result: So-so. This pie could have been delicious if I had had more pie making expertise when I made it. The Silver Palate ladies make great food, but they don't give a lot of instruction. For a novice pie maker, it was definitely tougher than the short directions made it look. Therefore it's tough for me to give this pie a true rating. The final pie had good flavor but a few chunkies. These were surely due to my newbie errors.

One part that I will NEVER do again is the garnish. They gave instructions for candied lime peel as a garnish. I followed the directions perfectly. It looked just like shaved pickles on the pie. When I say "just like" I mean JUST LIKE! Identical. My friends and I eventually scraped them off because it looked ridiculous, and no one could stop thinking about pickles when they were cutting into it.

My experiences with this pie was what gave me the idea to go with America's Test Kitchen instructions for a few months. I needed more help!

November pies: Pecan and pumpkin

Source: America's Test Kitchen

Result: Tasty. Ann helped me with the fillings for these. The directions were straightforward and my second ever attempt at pie crust was SOOO much easier than my first (back when I was 29) because of the America's Test Kitchen directions. Hurray for ATK!! The fillings were much yummier the next day, and next time I'll make the pies the day before. They both would have been better with light brown sugar instead of dark brown sugar. (ATK loves dark brown sugar. ) They were just too intense. And the pumpkin pie looked the exact color of dog poop. Jeff LOVED the taste (the next day) but could not look at the pie while he was eating it or he would get grossed out. Light brown sugar would have resolved this by giving it a better color.

December pies: Quiche Lorraine and Chocolate Cream

Source: America's Test Kitchen

Result: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Both were spectacular!! I ate most of the quiche by myself (I love quiche! and again, the easiest crust in the world, thanks to ATK) and the chocolate cream was unreal. Everyone was floored at the event I took it to. It had such a deep chocolate taste. This was no chocolate fluff pie! Highly recommended. Jeff only got one small slice. He keeps reminding me of that fact.

Soon I will post my January pie recipe and give my review!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ann's January Pie: Blueberry - Sour Cream

When I was looking for options for my first pie, I became quite overwhelmed by the vast number of options. Anyone who knows how obsessive I am will understand the hours I spent researching different pies, how many books I checked out from the library about pie, how many websites I perused. But, just as Sue Anne recommended on her website, Ken Haedrich's Pie: 300 Tried and True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie had everything I wanted and needed to guide me in my decision. My options were whittled down considerably when I decided that in fairness to my new roommate, I should use some of the frozen berries that I was currently using to dominate our shared freezer space. I picked blueberries last July and raspberries in, amazingly, October, but had put off using them for the sake of some special event that I was sure would present itself. Instead, berries weren't being eaten and my roommate was dropping hints that she'd really love to get food out of the freezer without half its contents falling on her. So, after consulting with the friend who volunteered to eat the pie, a blueberry - sour cream pie was chosen.

I must confess that when I started researching pies, I got a little intimidated by the idea of making a pastry crust for my first pie attempt of the year. So lame! I should be fearless - so many suggestions from pie pros have said to approach the pie without fear if you want success. Next month, I'll do better. In the meantime, I decided to ease into the year by going with a standard graham cracker crust. Look, this proves that I made it by hand!

I made one crust and put it in a pie plate, but it was worried that it wouldn't all fit, so I transfered the crumbs into another plate. Unfortunately, I realized once I cooked the filling that the the crust was now too big! Perhaps it would have helped had I measured one pound of frozen blueberries on something other than a bathroom scale. (Note: Yes, I will accept donations for a kitchen scale.) To flesh out the filling a bit, I bought a very expensive 4 ounces of fresh blueberries to layer on top of the cooked berry filling. The recipe gave this as an optional step, and I'm glad I took the suggestion. Otherwise, I'd have had the thinnest, saddest pie ever.

The next morning, I made the sour cream - cream cheese topping, flecked with cheerful bits of lemon zest that fell effortlessly from my Microplane. As you can see from the picture, it wasn't the cleanest assembly, so I carefully loosened the excess crust from the edges of the plate and allowed the crumbs to overlap the outer edge of the topping by 3/4 inch. Uh, I, guess I didn't take a picture of that, but I swear, it looked much better than this picture!

I took the finished pie to a couple of different places. First, it made an appearance at a journal making party, where the first piece fell apart as I lifted it out, but the remaining slices were beautifully layered.

Oh, there you can see the overlapping crust!

Later, I tried the pie with my volunteer, C. Here he is, I think enjoying the pie.

He had just finished watching Office Space and was trying to replicate one of Jennifer Aniston's facial expressions. Attractive.

Finally, my friend D., Ph.D., had a small sliver at British Sunday and proclaimed it "really good", and my roommate finished it off as we held our almost-nightly ritual of sitting on opposite couches with our laptops and telling each other funny things we find online.

I thought the pie was wonderful. I felt a bit nervous as I was making it because small setbacks (the crust, the scale, etc.) seemed to endanger the final product, but I was amazed at how well the pure flavors came through: the sweetness of the blueberries, the sour lemon zest, the tang of sour cream. It's a classic flavor combination, but it still surprised me how pleasant it was to taste each element individually yet simultaneously. The uncooked, fresh berry layer was also a favorite amongst tasters - each berry popped with juice as you bit into it before melting into the cooked blueberries, creating a textural contrast that, for me, took the pie from "really crazy good" to "I can't talk right now..."

All in all, I was really proud of my first attempt, and I learned more about my equipment to make sure that things are easier in February.

Blueberry - Sour Cream Pie
from Pie: 300 Tried and True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie by Ken Haedrich

1 recipe Graham Cracker Crumb Crust

One 1-lb bag individually frozen blueberries (not packaged in syrup)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Handful of fresh blueberries (optional)

Cream cheese - sour cream topping:
One 8-ounce package full-fat cream cheese, softened (note: I used Neufchatel, and thought it was perfectly fine)
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Handful of fresh blueberries or threads of lemon zest (optional)

1. Prepare the crust and press it into the bottom and up the side of a 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie pan. Refrigerate, prebake, and let cool as directed.

2. Combine the frozen blueberries and lemon juice in a medium-size nonreactive saucepan. Cover, and cook over medium to low heat until the blueberries are almost simmering in their own liquid. Mix the granulated sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl, then stir the mixture into the berries. Bring the fruit to a boil, stirring. Once the fruit starts to boil, reduce the heat a little and cook, stirring nonstop, for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Scrape the fruit into a shallow bowl and let cool for 15 minutes.

3. Spoon the partially cooled filling into the cooled pie shell and smooth with a spoon. If you're using fresh berries, scatter them over the fruit and press them into the cooked berries. Refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make the topping. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugars, and lemon zest together in a medium-size bowl until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and blend briefly until smooth. Spoon the filling over the chilled pie and smooth the top with a spoon. Cover with loosely tented aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

5. Just before serving, garnish with the blueberries or lemon zest, if desired.

Graham Cracker Crumb Crust

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Big pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter pie pan and set aside.

2. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Mix briefly with your fingers. Add the butter and incorporate well, mixing first with a fork, then with your hands, rubbing thoroughly to form evenly dampened crumbs.

3. Spread the crumbs evenly and loosely in the pan, pressing them into the bottom and up the side. Refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Place on the center oven rack and bake for 7 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack before filling.