My favorite childhood photograph is of my mother, my sister and me on Easter morning. We are dressed alike in matching spring coats, hats and gloves, holding our Easter baskets. But I remember that as tempting as the candy in the basket was, all I could think of was the luscious coconut cream pie my grandmother had made for dessert.
For me, that pie was magical, with its homemade flaky crust and rich silky custard. It spoke of home, of leisurely enjoying a slice. Pies still inspire me today. Some restaurants have wine programs. Mine has a pie program.
My grandmother's coconut cream pie is made from a cooked custard similar to a creme anglais, which is thickened with egg yolks and corn starch. The thick custard then is poured into a prebaked pie shell, topped with meringue and baked. But as much as I love that pie, I felt the need to tinker. I wanted the same flavors, but with less work.
I kept the prebaked -- or properly called blind-baked -- pie shell. It's the key to ensuring the crust is flaky, not soggy. The easiest way to do this is to form the pie dough in the pan, then set a sheet of parchment paper on it with dry beans or weights holding it in place. It then is baked until golden, then cooled.
My version of coconut cream pie is perfect for anyone, especially those new to baking pies because the custard is simply stirred together in a bowl, then baked in the shell. I also add a little fresh orange to the custard to complement the coconut and remind me that warmer weather is near.
Orange-Scented Coconut "Cream" Custard Pie
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus cooling (15 minutes active)
8- or 9-inch prepared raw pie crust
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1/2 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
Whipped cream (optional)
Toasted flaked sweetened coconut, to garnish
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Arrange the crust in an 8- or 9-inch pie pan, folding and crimping the edges as needed. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the crust, then set enough beans or pie weights in the center to weigh down the bottom of the crust. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned.
Remove the crust from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
In a medium bowl, mix together the egg yolks, flour, sugar, salt, orange zest, vanilla, orange juice, heavy cream and coconut. Mix until slightly frothy on the top, then pour into the cooled pie shell.
Place the pie in the center of the oven and bake until set, about 40 to 50 minutes. Set the pie aside to cool completely, then top with whipped cream and toasted coconut.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 340 calories; 220 calories from fat (62 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 135 mg cholesterol; 30 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber; 180 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."