This nutty coconut pie is my sister’s inspiration from 1980, during her days of running our family’s restaurant, in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
A Variation of Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie
Among Maureen’s sumptuous creations, this coconut pie was one of my favorites. It is her modification of Blum’s coffee toffee pie-a recipe we received in 1968, when I had a serious eye operation in San Francisco (see Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie). Maureen ingeniously produced multiple variations of this basic receipt, which likewise thrill; their unique directions will follow over time.
Origins of Coconut
As a child, I loved coconut: my father’s coconut cream pie, the favored coconut Russell Stover Easter eggs in our yearly baskets, and fresh coconut-to mention but a few of my titillating experiences with that food.
This fruit of the Cocos nucifera has been regarded as the jewel of the tropics; in which it often has been called the tree of life, for their people have depended on it not only for food, but shelter, and much more-every part of it has been used for both culinary and non-culinary purposes.
The Spreading of Coconut by Nature and Man
The powerful coconut originated in India and Southeast Asia; with the floating properties given by its light shell, it apparently made its way independently by marine currents, to every subtropical coastline in both hemispheres.
Historians also agree that it traveled the world at the hands of men; sea-faring Arab traders most likely brought this treasure to East Africa long ago (they actively were obtaining it from India by the 8th century AD). These same traders were responsible for its introduction to Europeans on the trans-Asian Silk Road; the Venetian adventurer Marco Polo was among those who encountered this food; he named it “Pharaoh’s nut” in Egypt in the 13th century. Beginning in the early 1500’s, this prized fruit made its way back to Europe following such explorer-colonizers as Portuguese Vasco da Gama.
Our prolific coconut evidently floated to the New World shores, where it prospered in its tropical lands; in addition, the European adventurers brought it to the Caribbean and Brazil, from whence it further spread to the American tropics.
The Arrival of Coconut in the United States
For instance in 1878, the merchant vessel Providencia-carrying this fruit from Trinidad-ran aground the coast of Florida; this resulted in a drastic change in the landscape, which became inundated with palm trees; nevertheless, the coconut didn’t change the economy much here, as was the frequent occurrence in other locales, where multi-products resulted.
The Important Coconut Product: Oil
The coconut product, which interests me most, is oil, for I use this extensively in my cooking. Many believe that this is the healthiest of all oils for our internal bodies, as well as being ideal in external beauty regimens. It is held that among its helpful health benefits are: weight loss, boasting the immune system, and “oil pulling” in detoxifying and cleansing the body.
Coconut Oil’s Resistance to Oxidation When Heated
Here, however, I choose to elaborate on its exceptional cooking qualities, for it has the greatest resistance to oxidation (spoilage)-when heated-of any oil on earth; this is due to its 92% saturated fatty acids, which represents the highest percentage in any oil. This effectual make-up provides extraordinary protection against heat and the formation of free radicals, which are associated with many diseases, such as cancer. How is this?
Make-up of Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are full of hydrogen atoms in their carbon atom chain, giving them a durable molecular structure; thus, they can be heated to high temperatures, resisting oxidation. They are crucial for maximum health for this reason-among other sound benefits, which I haven’t room to address in this entry.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
On the other hand, monounsaturated fatty acids lack a pair of hydrogen atoms, while polyunsaturated fatty acids are missing two or more. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are highly unstable and prone to oxidation, without the durable molecular structure, as found in all saturated fatty acids.
Trans Fat and Interesterified Fat
Trans fat and interesterified fat are manufactured fat molecules that don’t exist in nature; they were generated in an attempt to get more solid, stable fatty substances (examples are shortening and margarine). Both these types should be avoided all together (for more on the history of Crisco, see 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies).
The Most Saturated of All Oils-Coconut Oil
In a natural way, coconut oil achieves these objectives, which man was seeking by forming these fake fats. Coconut, as the most saturated of all oils, is superlative both in being naturally stable/solid and in having an abundance of health attributes, over and above all other oils on the market, in my estimation.
As I have always loved the taste of coconut, I additionally find this oil enlarges the flavor of my foods.
Coconut in Today’s Recipe
Unsweetened dried coconut enhances our already delightful nutty coconut recipe. By reducing this pie’s over-all sweetness, it allows for the full impact of the fruit. (This unsweetened flake is available in bulk in many upscale grocery stores, as well as at our local, inexpensive Winco.)
May I encourage you to slow down and smell the roses: allow yourself the luxury of the time required to produce this memorable pleasure-a gift from God, made with the ease of my sister’s foolproof directions.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 508, 509.
- Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973 by Reay Tannahill), pp. 141, 220n.
Nutty Coconut Pie, a Variation on Blum’s Yields: 1-9” pie, 8 servings. Active prep time: 1 1/2 hr/ inactive prep time for setting up: 1/2 hr. Note: can be kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.
1 1/2 c nuts, chopped small and roasted
1 3/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted (Available inexpensively in bulk at our local Winco.)
1 c unbleached white flour (Optional: may grind 2/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries to make a total of 1 c fresh ground flour.)
1/2 tsp salt (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available cheaply at Costco.)
1/2 c plus 3-4 tbsp butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar, packed down (Organic is best; available sometimes at Costco and always at Trader Joe’s.)
1 oz unsweetened chocolate, grated (Baker’s will do.)
1 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c cane sugar (Organic is ideal; best buy is at Costco; also available in a smaller quantity at Trader’s.)
2 lg eggs, at room temperature (If sensitive to raw eggs, may use pasteurized eggs for extra safety; available at some grocery stores.)
1 c heavy whipping cream
1/3 c powdered sugar (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)
3 tbsp, or more, instant vanilla pudding mix, only if needed as a stabilizer (Be sure to have on hand for quick correction.)
1 c heavy whipping cream
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips, or semisweet chocolate of your choice (These chocolate chips are available at Trader Joe’s.)
1 tsp vanilla
If grinding fresh flour, do so now.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place nuts on a cookie sheet in hot oven for 7 minutes, watching closely as not to burn; set aside to cool.
- Distribute coconut in a pan with edge; bake until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, stirring mid-way; set aside. Leave oven on.
- Place bowl for whipping cream in freezer to chill; this greatly facilitates the whipping process (keep beaters at room temperature for filling).
- Make ganache-see list of ingredients above-by bringing cream to a very low simmer, over med/low heat (should be hot-steaming-not boiling); add chocolate pieces and continue to cook, beating with a wire whisk, until mixture is glossy/shiny. Remove from heat, add vanilla, set aside (see photo above).
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl; blend a scant 4 tbsp butter with a fork, until mealy in texture (only 3 tbsp will be needed if using fresh-ground flour).
- Mix together with flour: brown sugar, 3/4 c cooled nuts, and 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, which has been grated with a sharp knife. Blend in water and 1 tsp vanilla.
- Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 18 minutes in preheated oven at 350 degrees; cool in freezer.
- Beat 1/2 c butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add 3/4 c cane sugar, beating well with each small addition.
- Add 1 egg; mix on medium speed for 5 minutes; beat in second egg
for 5 minutes more. This filling should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream when done; see above photo. (The following makes this preparation foolproof. It is so important to have ingredients at room temperature; if your kitchen is either very hot or cold, this mixture may curdle. This is easily corrected, by beating in 3 tbsp of instant vanilla pudding mix-more may be needed-to reach the desired soft, full-bodied consistency. In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)
- Wash and freeze beaters, along with bowl, for whipping cream with exceptional ease.
- Pour a thin layer of ganache on bottom of cooled pie crust-about 1/2 inch thick (see photo above); set the rest aside for garnish (leftover ganache can be refrigerated indefinitely in a glass jar; great, when warmed, over ice cream). Place crust back in freezer for several minutes.
- Fold 3/4 c nuts and coconut into filling, SAVING 1/4 c coconut for garnish.
Spoon filling evenly into pie crust (see photo); let mixture set-up by freezing for 1/2 hour.
- Meanwhile, using ice-cold utensils, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and vanilla; continue beating until stiff.
- When filling is set, cover pie with whipped cream; drizzle ganache over top; garnish with toasted coconut (see very top photo).
- If keeping for long-term use, be sure to freeze uncovered; then, cover extra well with plastic wrap. I love serving this partially frozen for optimum pleasure.