03/14/2012 01:20 EDT | Updated 05/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Simple take on coconut cream pie: Orange-scented coconut 'cream' custard pie

My favourite childhood photograph is of my mother, my sister and me on Easter morning. We are dressed alike in matching spring coats, hats and gloves, holding our Easter baskets. But I remember that as tempting as the candy in the basket was, all I could think of was the luscious coconut cream pie my grandmother had made for dessert.

For me, that pie was magical, with its homemade flaky crust and rich silky custard. It spoke of home, of leisurely enjoying a slice. Pies still inspire me today. Some restaurants have wine programs. Mine has a pie program.

My grandmother's coconut cream pie is made from a cooked custard similar to a creme anglais, which is thickened with egg yolks and cornstarch. The thick custard then is poured into a prebaked pie shell, topped with meringue and baked. But as much as I love that pie, I felt the need to tinker. I wanted the same flavours, but with less work.

I kept the prebaked — or properly called blind-baked — pie shell. It's the key to ensuring the crust is flaky, not soggy. The easiest way to do this is to form the pie dough in the pan, then set a sheet of parchment paper on it with dry beans or weights holding it in place. It then is baked until golden, then cooled.

My version of coconut cream pie is perfect for anyone, especially those new to baking pies because the custard is simply stirred together in a bowl, then baked in the shell. I also add a little fresh orange to the custard to complement the coconut and remind me that warmer weather is near.

Orange-Scented Coconut "Cream" Custard Pie

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus cooling (15 minutes active)

1 prepared raw pie crust (20 or 23 cm/8 or 9 inches)

3 large egg yolks

15 ml (1 tbsp) all-purpose flour

125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar

Pinch of salt

Zest of 1/2 orange

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract

50 ml (1/4 cup) fresh orange juice

250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream

250 ml (1 cup) sweetened flaked coconut

Whipped cream (optional)

Toasted flaked sweetened coconut, to garnish

Heat oven to 200 C (400 F).

Arrange crust in a 20- or 23-cm (8- or 9-inch) pie pan, folding and crimping edges as needed. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the crust, then set enough beans or pie weights in the centre to weigh down the bottom of the crust. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is set and lightly browned.

Remove crust from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature. Reduce oven temperature to 180 C (350 F).

In a medium bowl, mix together egg yolks, flour, sugar, salt, orange zest, vanilla, orange juice, heavy cream and coconut. Mix until slightly frothy on top, then pour into cooled pie shell.

Place pie in centre of oven and bake until set, 40 to 50 minutes. Set pie aside to cool completely, then top with whipped cream and toasted coconut.

Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 340 calories; 220 calories from fat (62 per cent of total calories); 24 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 135 mg cholesterol; 30 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 1 g fibre; 180 mg sodium.


Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."