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This summer my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to friends' weddings in rural upstate New York, Maine, and Wisconsin. We enjoyed this opportunity to escape the city and hit the open road. Along the way, we visited many diners, where we were hoping for nostalgic, simple fare, rounded out by wedges of coconut cream pie, my favorite childhood diner treat. Unfortunately, it was evident that corners were cut and that "homemade" leaves a lot up to interpretation.
The pies were the biggest letdown. The telltale film of Bain de Soleil flavor coated our tongues, the starchy, suspiciously viscous filling held its shape as it neared room temperature, and it was quite evident that the whipped cream was not only sprayed from a can, but also the sort that contained oily fillers that separated sadly on the plate. The whole coconut cream pie situation was lame with a capital L.
I returned home craving the coconut cream pie that I'd felt cheated out of during our trips. I wanted a custard that is smooth, eggy, and full of pure coconut flavor from coconut milk, not just an artificial imitation. I wanted sweetened flake coconut, slowly toasted in the oven until the sugar caramelized, whisked into the custard and liberally sprinkled over the top. I wanted real whipped cream, lightly sweetened with confectioners' sugar, and a crust so buttery, crisp and flaky, it could stand up to the filling without getting soggy.
This is the real deal. The shell for the crust is blind baked (meaning the raw crust is lined, filled with weights, and baked, so it forms a shell for the filling) to golden brown perfection and the filling, which is made on the stovetop, is chilled and only applied right before serving to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom. The custard is coconut perfection, and the toasted coconut flakes have an addictive crispiness that contrasts the smooth filling. It may take a bit more work, but it's definitely worth it for the nostalgia.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthalhas logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evilliagekitchen.