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Eric Akis: Bake your own classic coconut cream pie

Rich treat that became popular in North America in the early 20th century after dried forms of coconut that could be used in baking became widely available
A coconut-flavoured custard filling goes into a baked pie crust. When cool, it's topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut flakes. ERIC AKIS

If you’re in the mood for a classic, diner-style dessert, grab a fork. It’s coconut cream pie, a rich treat that became popular in North America in the early 20th century after dried forms of coconut that could be used in baking became widely available.

Coconut, of course, is the key ingredient in the pie, flavouring a thick custard filling. The filling goes into a baked pie crust and when cool, is topped with whipped cream and more coconut, which is why it’s called coconut cream pie.

You can make the pie a day in advance. Top it with the whipped cream and toasted coconut just before serving.

Coconut Cream Pie

A classic cream pie flavoured with coconut, which is added to the filling and sprinkled on top.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: about 55 minutes

Makes: eight servings

1 deep-dish piecrust (see recipe below)

2 large eggs

2 cups 2 per cent or homo milk (divided)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups unsweetened coconut flakes (divided)

2 Tbsp soft butter

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

3 Tbsp icing sugar, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Carefully line the pie crust with foil, then fill with pie weights, raw rice or dried beans (see Note). Bake crust 30 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake 12 to 15 minutes more, or until crust is golden and cooked. Set pie crust on a baking rack.

Spread 1/4 cup of the coconut flakes in a single layer in a baking pan. Bake at 350 F for three to five minutes, or until lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside.

To make pie filling, crack eggs into a bowl and beat well. Mix in 1 cup of the milk. Combine sugar, flour and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot (my pot was eight inches wide.) Mix in remaining 1 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Set pot over medium heat and, whisking constantly, bring mixture to a simmer. Cook and stir until very thick, about one minute, and then remove from heat.

Temper the cold egg/milk mixture by slowly whisking in 1/2 cup of the hot mixture in the pot. Now slowly whisk the tempered egg mixture into the pot with the remaining hot mixture until well-combined. Mix in remaining 1 cup of coconut.

Place pot back over the heat and bring this filling to a simmer, stirring constantly. Simmer and stir two to three minutes, until mixture is thick, but still spreadable.

Remove from the heat, mix in butter and vanilla, and let sit two minutes. Use a spatula to transfer and spread the filling into the piecrust. Cool filled pie on a baking rack to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate pie until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, whip the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Mix in the icing sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. Top and spread or pipe the entire pie with whipped cream, sprinkle with the toasted coconut and serve.

Note: If you weighted the crust with rice or beans, once cooled, place them in a jar, seal and store them until you need to blind-bake a piecrust again.

Flaky Pie Dough

This recipe makes enough dough for two single-crust pies. It freezes well, so use half the dough to make the coconut cream pie and freeze the other half for another time.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Enough dough for two single-crust pies, or one double-crust pie

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups cold vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 large egg, beaten with 1/3 cup ice-cold water

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. With a pastry cutter or two forks, or with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, cut shortening and butter into the flour until well blended. Pour the egg/water mixture into the bowl; gently work it until it forms loose, moist dough.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, shape dough into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Press each half into a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate one disk of dough for at least 20 minutes before rolling out. Wrap and freeze the other piece of pie dough for another time.

When dough has chilled, set out a 9-inch (23-cm), four-cup capacity pie plate. Unwrap the dough and set on the floured work surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough from the centre out into a round large enough to fit your pie plate. Don’t push too firmly — let the roller do the work. Turn the dough an eighth of a turn after each roll; this will help create a round shape and at the same time you can make sure the dough is not sticking. Sprinkle additional flour on the rolling pin and under the dough as necessary.

When the round of dough is ready, carefully fold in half and lay it across the centre of the pie plate. Then unfold and gently nestle the dough into the pan. Simply press the dough back together if any cracks form during this process.

Crimp the top edges of the piecrust to create a festive design and trim off any excess dough from the side of the plate. Refrigerate the pie crust at least 20 minutes and it is ready to blind-bake and use for the coconut cream pie.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.