Just a couple of weeks after I returned home from my adventures in Nebraska with the In-Laws, the Ex-Ex packed his duffle bag and headed for the mountains of North Carolina, my mountains, the Appalachians. He chaperones Senior Challenge, a program our seniors participate in at the beginning of each school year. Sort of an Outward Bound-type experience. The Ex-Ex does not do the tent camping thing, though. He does visit the rappelling and rock climbing sites and he does a fair amount of hiking. He came home with a few photos on his iPhone. Here's one of AT, one of my favorite kids.
Back in my early 20's, I participated in a program like this a couple of times and backing off the edge of a mountain is not my thing. AT loved it, though. I am quite proud of him.
Anyway, the Ex-Ex was gone for five days and he texted me a couple of times to let me know he was doing okay. One night, the text messaging started with pie. He was eating some. I figured he had gone to visit his sister who lives near where they had hiked. Logical assumption since she was in on my coconut cream pie eating adventures in Nebraska and South Dakota (see Part Un). I thought that maybe she had decided to try her hand at making a coconut cream pie and was going to share it with her younger brother who had been "roughing it" for four days. But no. Silly me. Seems the Ex-Ex and his band of Mountain Men had been to eat at Louise's Rock House Restaurant in Linville Falls. More than once. The first time they were there, their waitress struck up a conversation with the Ex-Ex. He expressed his desire for pie (my Grandma Christine fell in love with him when she found out he loved pie). Not just any old pie would do for him, though. Not even Louise's speciality, the "legendary strawberry-rhubarb" pie, according to the October 2014 issue of Our State magazine. Oh no. He wanted coconut cream. Seriously? Wonder where he got that idea?? Louise made him a pie. A whole pie just for him. I asked for a photo. Maybe the story would be better told if you read the text messages...
Did he really think I wanted a picture of the waitress (who, as it turns out, is Louise's daughter and was just in helping out)?
He brought it home. The pie. Not the waitress. I didn't taste it until I was offered some. A man can get attached to his pie.
So, of course, not to be outdone, I waited until his pie was all gone. I actually waited until a month later, and made my own. I searched the internet for recipes and sent an email to The Pie Lady at the Cookshack in Nebraska but haven't received a reply yet. I decided to check out my copy of Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen. I love this cookbook. Foster's Market is one of my favorite places. Great food. The best coffee in Durham, in my humble opinion. And Sara didn't let me down. I found just the recipe I was looking for.
There isn't much prettier or better smelling than toasted coconut.
Sara's recipe calls for a chocolate cookie crust. I decided not to do that and go traditional. I bought one from The Immaculate Baking Company. The Ex-Ex doesn't like thick pie crusts so I rolled it out thinly and pre-baked it, following the package directions. (Yes, I admit that I was competing with Louise's pie. Homemade or store bought crust? When I was living in France and working with Chef Érick, we bought the rolled crusts, so I opted for that.)
black bottom coconut cream pie
Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen
black bottom cookie crust
1 1/2 c. Oreo cookie crumbs (from 6 ounces cookies)
(Sara's advice: Place cookies in a food processor and pulse eight or ten times; then leave the motor running for about 10 seconds, until the crumbs are finely ground.)
2 Tbsp. sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
Combine the cookie crumbs, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and stir to mix. Pour in the butter and stir to combine and moisten all the crumbs. Spread the mixture in a pie pan, evenly pressing it over the bottom and up the sides of the pan to create a crust.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown and slightly firm. Remove from the oven and let cool; the crust will firm as it cools.
2 1/2 c. half and half
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 large eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved (you can use regular vanilla extract; I used some vanilla sugar I bought this summer at The Spice House in Milwaukee this summer-- I cannot say enough wonderful things about this place; check out their website.)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/3 c. sweetened flaked coconut
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
Combine 1/2 cup of the half and half and the cornstarch in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly.
Place the remaining 2 cups half and half, the sugar, vanilla bean and reserved seeds, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Remove and discard the vanilla bean and reduce the heat to low.
Whisk 1 cup of the half and half mixture into the egg mixture to temper the eggs. Whisking constantly, pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the half and half mixture and cook, continuing to whisk constantly, until thick, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut and the butter. Let cool slightly.
Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until firm.
When the filling is completely firm, place the cream in a large bowl and whip with an electric mixer to soft peaks. Add the sugar and whip to incorporate.
Using a spatula or pastry bag, spread or pipe the whipped cream evenly over the pie. Sprinkle with the toasted coconut and refrigerate until ready to serve.
I had too much filling for my crust and served coconut cream pudding to the Ex-Ex. I like it warm. He likes it cold. Amazing either way.
We went to Foster's today for lunch and the Ex-Ex couldn't resist Sara's peanut butter chocolate pie. He offered me a bite. It was really good.
Bon appétit to all pie bakers and lovers! Merci, Louise! Merci, Sara!