I discovered this recipe for coconut pie way back when I lived in Chicago. One of my very first cookbooks was Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen, circa 1996. It’s practically falling apart from use, exactly what should happen to a good cookbook.

Some of my favorite recipes from Rick (we’re on first name basis after all these years) are his red chile seafood stew; cactus paddle in guajillo sauce; and mole negro, the mother of Mexican sauces, a recipe with close to 25 ingredients and multiple steps that yields something that is nothing short of sublime — a symphony of flavors — a complex, rich, earthy sauce that is deserving of its title.

Rick Bayless did (and continues to do) for Mexican cuisine what Julia Child and Jacques Pepin did for French cooking. At least that’s my take on it.

Rick Bayless transported me and many others to Mexico, highlighting regional Mexican cooking via his cookbooks, restaurants — Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, Frontera Fresco, Frontera Fonda, XOCO, Leña Brava — and PBS cooking/travel show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time.

This is a pie that I’ve made several times over the years. It’s a bit of work, primarily tracking down, cracking open, and shredding the coconut. But it’s a special pie and totally worth the effort. Once you have the coconut shredded, the balance of the pie comes together quickly. I wasn’t entirely sure if the coconut should be shredded coarsely or finely. I went with a coarse shred, which gives the pie a nice texture. That being said, you may wish to experiment with a finer shred.

If you’re a coconut lover, this pie has your name written all over it.

The dark chocolate drizzle puts the pie over the top.

A primer regarding coconuts: Brown (mature) coconuts are typically used for their flesh/meat, which is thick and flavorful. They tend to produce less water than do white (young) coconuts, which are prized for their water and whose flesh is somewhat gelatinous and lacks flavor. So, if the water from your brown coconut lacks that pleasant, subtle sweetness, substitute with a high quality, store-bought coconut water such as Harmless Harvest.

Back to the pie…first things first, you have to open the coconut. I did this a day in advance, which made the pie-making process a snap.

Opening a coconut is not as difficult as you might think. Start by twisting a corkscrew (or a screwdriver) into the eye (the dark indentations on one end) of the coconut. Drain the coconut water into a glass and strain if necessary.

Next, place the whole drained coconut in the oven for about 10 minutes (325F), which helps to loosen the coconut flesh from its shell. With a hammer, give the coconut a few whacks (coconut therapy anyone?) until it cracks open. Separate the coconut flesh from its shell. Then, peel the flesh’s brown outer skin with a vegetable peeler. Using a box grater, shred the coconut flesh.

 

Rick Bayless’ Yucatan Coconut Pie

Crust
1/2 cup (2 ounces) slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup (2 ounces) slivered almonds, toasted
3 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces (about 5 slices) firm white bread, torn into pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons (1.5 ounces/43 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Filling
2 1/2 cups coconut (from a brown coconut with lots of liquid inside — 1 medium-sized coconut should suffice), coarsely shredded with a box grater
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 (2 ounces) cup slivered almonds, toasted
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Dark chocolate (used 70% cacao) for drizzling on top

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

To open the coconut: Start by twisting a corkscrew (or a screwdriver) into the eye (the dark indentations on one end) of the coconut. Drain the coconut water into a glass. Reserve the liquid, strain if necessary. Place the whole drained coconut in the oven for about 10 minutes, to help loosen the coconut flesh from its shell. With a hammer, give the coconut a few whacks until it cracks open. Separate the coconut flesh from its shell. Then, peel the flesh’s brown outer skin with a vegetable peeler. Use a box grater to shred the coconut flesh.

Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the oven, stirring occasionally until golden, 7-10 minutes. Set 1/2 cup of the almonds aside. In a food processor, pulverize the remaining almonds with the sugar. Add the bread and pulse the machine until reduced to fine crumbs. Drizzle in the melted butter and pulse to mix thoroughly. Evenly pat the mixture over the bottom and sides of a 3/4-inch deep, 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate several minutes to set.

Measure out 2 1/2 cups of the shredded coconut for the pie; reserve the remainder for the garnish. Raise the oven temperature to 350°F. In a small saucepan, combine the coconut water, cream, and sugar. Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until reduced to 1 cup, about 10-15 minutes. Pour into a large bowl, then stir in the 2 1/2 cups of shredded coconut, the reserved 1/2 cup almonds, the egg yolks, and vanilla. Set the prepared crust onto a baking sheet, scoop in the coconut filling and bake in the middle of the oven until set and lightly browned on top, 30-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

While the pie is baking, toast the reserved shredded coconut on a baking sheet in the oven or in a pan on the stove top, stirring occasionally until nicely browned, 7-10 minutes.

Melt the chocolate and drizzle on top of the pie.

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With all due respect to Rick Bayless and to you, Rick Bayless not anywhere near the Julia Child or Jacques Pepin of Mexican cooking.
That would be Diana Kennedy, whose monumental life’s work was to travel the backroads, towns and hovels of Mexico and put on record the recipes and cuisine of that wonderful country.
If you are interested in authentic Mexican cuisine, you can do no better than buy one, or all, of her cookbooks.

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