Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Queen of Tarts

She is really calling her business Kathleen's Perfect Pies.  Some friends and I decided to call her the Queen of Tarts.  Kathleen is a retired French teacher, very recently retired.  I ran into her, almost literally, at a foreign language teachers' conference a couple of weekends ago.  She may be retired, but she is still making presentations for the rest of us.  And she is making pies!  The Ex-Ex and I drove out to the Hillsborough Farmers' Market Saturday morning to get one before they were all gone.  He chose apple, but she also had butternut squash and cherry.
I intend to have a slice with my evening cup of tea tonight.  I look forward to it.  Life's little pleasures.
My grandma Bell was a pie eater.  She loved to go out to lunch when we would come visit.  There weren't many choices in Spruce Pine, but one little restaurant on Lower Street named Cedar Crest served really good pie.  She was a happy woman when she could have a nice slice of coconut cream pie with her cup of coffee at the end of the meal.  She loved the Ex-Ex.  He would always eat pie with her.  (I don't remember ever turning it down, but Christine had a thing for handsome men.)  When she was in her 90's and fading kind of in and out, she would imagine that she was out to lunch, preferably with Jim Neighbors, aka Gomer Pyle.  And I will bet that she had pie for dessert.

Coconut Cream Pie
recipe from The Life & Times of NotQuiteJuneCleaver

(A great basic unsweetened crust for general pie-making.  It can be pre-baked for cream pies or used unbaked for filled pies.)
This recipe makes enough dough for four 9-inch pie shell bottowms or two pies with top and bottom crusts.

3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. shortening (or lard or butter or any combination-- I use chilled butter)
1/3 to 1/2 c. cold water
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 egg, beaten

Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut the chilled butter into the dry mixture using a pastry blender or by pinching the fat into the mixture with your hands.  The resulting mixture should have lumps no smaller than peas.  Add the vinegar to the chilled water.  Slightly beat the egg and mix with the water/vinegar.  Pour the chilled water mixture into the dry mixture, a small amount at a time, mixing gently with a fork until the dough is wet enough to be packed into a ball.  The dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent the blending of all of the fat lumps.
Split the dough into 4 equal amounts, roll them into balls and wrap them in plastic before placing them in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.  Generously dust a clean, dry surface with flour and remove one of the packages of dough from the refrigerator.  Flatten the dough slightly and dust the dough's top before rolling the dough out with a rolling pin.  Start rolling at the center of the dough and work outwards.  Quickly roll the dough into a circle 1/4 or 1/8 inch thick.  The size of the circle should be about 4 inches wider in diameter than the pie pan.  Carefully place the dough in the pan and press it into the pan, being careful not to press the dough too thin.   Cut the pie crust slightly larger than the pan and crimp the edges.
(Unused crust can be flattened a bit, wrapped in waxed paper, placed in ziploc bags and frozen.  When ready to use, remove from freezer, allow dough to come to room temperature and proceed with your recipe.)
Line the crust with a parchment paper circle and fill with pie weights, dried bean, or rice.  Place crust in a preheated 425˚ oven for 5-6 minutes, just until it begins to brown.

Coconut Cream Filling
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 c. milk, evaporated milk, half and half or any combination of these
3 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
7-8 oz. flaked coconut
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan until completely blended.  Add milk slowly and mix completely with a wire whisk.  Cook, stirring continuously, over low heat until it begins to thicken.  Take out a little warm filling and add to the egg yolks and mix well.  Pour this back into the saucepan and continue heating, still stirring continuously.  When filling gets thick, add butter and whip with the whisk until it is melted.  When the filling is sufficiently thick, add vanilla and coconut (reserving 1 Tbsp. coconut to sprinkle on top of meringue).  Pour filling into crust.

Use a clean, dry bowl, preferably glass, stainless steel, ceramic or copper.  Egg whites whip better when they are room temperature.

3 egg whites
3/8 tsp. cream of tartar
6 Tbsp. white sugar

Add cream of tartar to unbeaten egg whites.  Whip to medium soft peaks.  Beat in sugar, one teaspoon at a time.  Continue beating until egg whites are glossy and hold a firm peak.  Spread meringue over piping hot filling and spread to the edges to seal.  The hot filling will insure that the inside of the meringue cooks, preventing weeping.  Sprinkle with remaining coconut.  Bake at 425˚ until coconut is toasted and peaks of meringue are browning, about 4-5 minutes.

Bon appétit, Queen of Tarts, Grandma Christine and all pie lovers!

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