This post is sponsored by my client, Dover Publications. I’m honored to be working with Dover again to promote The Epicurean and to share with you this 1893 vintage recipe for traditional coconut custard pie.
Books first, pie second. But that pie, y’all.
The Epicurean, by Charles Ranhofer
What an incredible book this is. It’s an encyclopedia. It is a window into another century. It is a snapshot of how hotel kitchens served their guests 150 years ago. The Epicurean is a massive tome full of goodies.
Over 3500 recipes.
It is mind-boggling and glorious. While it seems aspirational, it is also a manual, that should you choose to study it, will help you become a better baker and cook.
The original book, curated by Delmonico’s superstar chef of the day, Charles Ranhofer, opens a door to culinary history in New York Century during the latter half of the 19th century.
Not to mention the classics that Ranhofer perfected during his tenure at Delmonico’s:
Seriously, y’all. If you are a fan of culinary history, of cookbooks, and of proven recipes; if you would like ideas for menus for fancy buffets or parties; if you want to expand your knowledge and idea of what a cake can be or what you can do with an egg, The Epicurean is a book you will turn to again and again.
Please enter the giveaway at the end of this post.
A Peek Inside The Epicurean
Okay, so I’ve told you about the book in broad strokes. But let’s just take a look at what is really inside. The table of contents.
First, let’s look at the complete title and subtitle:
A Complete Treatise of
Analytical and Practical Studies
Table and Wine Service, How to Prepare and Cook Dishes, an Index for Marketing,
a Great Variety of Bills of Fare for Breakfasts, Luncheons, Dinners,
Suppers, Ambigus, Buffets, etc., and a Selection of
Interesting Bills of Fare of Delmonico’s,
Franco-American Culinary Encyclopedia
By Charles Ranhofer,
Former Chef of Delmonico’s,
Honorary President of the “Société Culinaire Philanthropique” of New York
Illustrated with 800 Plates.
See what I mean? These days, a cookbook cover may shout “Step by step photos!” but there is really nothing as exhaustive as The Epicurean.
The Epicurean covers it all from table service and bills of fare to utensils, soups, garnishing, cold and hot sides, all manner of meats–seriously–vegetables, eggs, hot and cold sweet entremets, pastry, bakery, ices, wines and more. Plus, you get to see all of Delmonico’s menus throughout the years. It’s incredible. Seriously.
Traditional Coconut Custard Pie: The Original Recipes
I call this a traditional coconut custard pie, because I really don’t think it gets more traditional than this. I made both the pastry dough and the custard from recipes in The Epicurean. The results?
A super-buttery, very sturdy-but-not-tough pastry filled with rich, silky-smooth, lightly lemon-scented custard and a thick layer of coconut. The pie divides into layers, so you get creamy smooth, topped with coconutty-crunchy-chewy. For such a simple pie, it packs a lot in the flavor and texture departments!
Before I share the conventional recipes, I’m going to let you see the recipes as I followed them in The Epicurean.
First, the pastry, or “Foundation Paste.” Ranhofer offers three versions in The Epicurean, and I chose to make Foundation Paste, Fine for the base of my traditional coconut pie. Incidentally, coconut is spelled “cocoanut” in this book. Which I kind of love.
And here’s the recipe for the traditional coconut custard pie as written out in The Epicurean:
I just love that these recipes are written out just like you would tell someone how to make your famous chicken salad if they asked. “First you take a chicken, cover it with water, and poach until done. Then let it cool and shred the meat….” I can almost guarantee you that, if you asked me how to make a cake, I wouldn’t start by spouting off a list of ingredients. Conventional recipe writing makes it easier to make a shopping list, but it’s not really how we cook. The recipes in The Epicurean are written just as we’d do them. I love it.
Can I Really Make This Pie Based on the Directions in The Photos?
Yes, you really can. I did. You will probably want to read them few a couple of times. And note that everything is expressed in weights, so you will need an accurate kitchen scale (which you totally should already own). You will also have to trust the “feel,” especially of the dough. The custard is very easy to make.
I ended up only using about 3/4 of the flour and maybe half the water, and it worked out perfectly. But, if you are not really familiar with making pie crust, you may be better off using a recipe that is written out conventionally and has been exhaustively tested, just to make sure you are successful. I recommend my friend and pie guru Kate McDermott’s book, Art of the Pie. You will find truly foolproof recipes for pie crust between those covers.
How Long Will It Take to Make a Traditional Coconut Custard Pie?
The “foundation paste” took me about 10 minutes to make, and then it rests in the fridge for about 15 minutes. Once it rested, you roll it out (it is super easy to roll–I really loved this dough!), line the pie pan and make some sort of decorative edge. In Ranhofer’s words, you “raise up the edges, pinch all around, and leave stand in a cool place for twenty minutes in a cool place.”
While the dough was standing in a cool place (the fridge), I mixed up the custard, which literally took maybe 5 minutes. I let it sit until the 20 minutes were up (I actually think I gave it 30), spread a thick layer of desiccated coconut on the bottom, and then slowly strained the custard into it. It baked about 45 minutes at 350F, and then it took awhile to cool. But I think serving it warm–not hot–is an excellent plan.
So, from start to finish without breaks (which you are allowed to take), plan on about 1 1/2-2 hours from no dough to pie out of the oven. Then add on cooling time.
How Can My Husband Help?
Making this foundation paste and pie should be a zen activity that connects you to fine cooks of days gone by. So, if your husband helps you get into a zen space, he can stay and chat with you while your work. Or he could put some music on for you guys to listen to while you bake.
If, however, your husband doesn’t inspire a zen state while you are baking, then send him away. Ask him to go build you a pie safe, and then you can enjoy your pie time in solitude.
Traditional Coconut Custard Pie: The Conventional Recipes
I’m not going to write the foundation paste recipe up, because there is just too much variability in flour and humidity and whatnot. Know that, if you are well-versed in pie dough making, you can rely on the photo of the recipe above and then just go by feel.
The coconut custard pie itself can absolutely be made with a conventional recipe, and I have written it up for you here. You’re going to love it. The pie is as silky as it is chewy, and vice versa. And the custard mixture can be scaled up or down–you can even bake it in a pan without a crust and cut it into squares. This is the custard of my school childhood that the cafeteria ladies used to make and sprinkle with a bit of nutmeg. Smooth, creamy, not-too-sweet, a bit eggy, and so very comforting.
If you love the sound of this recipe, please rate and/or comment. I love hearing from you! And if you make this pie, and I hope you do, please share with me on Instagram @onlinepastrychef using hashtag #pcorecipe or share it in the Pastry Chef Online Facebook group. I cannot wait to see your version!
This traditional coconut custard pie is equal parts creamy, smooth custard and chewy coconut. So comforting and delicious, it will remind you of your grandma's pie, if your grandma was a great baker and made coconut custard pie!
- 1 single crust pie crust
- 3-4 oz desiccated (unsweetened) coconut
- 4 large eggs
- 4 oz granulated sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 pint milk or half and half (2 cups)
Heat the oven to 350F and place a rack in the center.
Line a standard pie pan with the pastry dough and crimp edges. The pie will be very full, so make sure the edge is nice and raised so the custard doesn't leak out.
Spread a thick layer of coconut in the bottom of your lined pie pan.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest until nice and creamy. Whisk in the milk or half and half. ***The original recipe did not call for salt. I added about 1/4 teaspoon to my mixture. You can also add a bit of vanilla if you like, even though it isn't called for.***
Strain the custard into the pie pan. The coconut will float. Use a spatula to press it down just enough to make sure it is all coated with the custard.
Bake until set, fairly firm, and lightly golden brown on top, about 40-50 minutes.
Let cool on a rack until barely warm before serving. Or cool completely and then chill before slicing and serving. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or so for best texture and flavor.
What I would do differently: the recipe did not call for blind baking the crust, but if I were on my own, I'd have given it a good blind bake to make sure the bottom crust was crisp. I also would've applied an egg wash to the crust to make it more golden brown and shiny. These are two nitpicky details though. The pie is delicious. Enjoy!
Nutritionals calculated based on using 2 cups of whole milk as the dairy. Feel free to sub in half and half for half or all the whole milk for a richer custard, realizing that the swap will have a change on the calories and calories from fat.
Want more pie recipes? I have plenty of pie recipes for you!
Just look how pretty this coconut pie is, you guys! I know you want a bite!
Thanks for spending some time with me today. Take care, and have a lovely day.