I have a long history of being completely obsessed with home made pies. When I was just a wee little girl, someone had gifted my mum a set of 4 pie plates. They were ceramic with deep scalloped edges. Etched right on the inside of the plate were recipes for various pies including peach pie, rhubarb strawberry pie, apple pie and blueberry pie. We made many a pie in those lovely little plates dotted with hand painted fruits. Today, we crank out all sorts of pies at Frost on a regular basis and I have the same wide-eyed fascination of pies today as I did way back then. Flaky pastry crusts, cookie crumb crusts, sweet fruit fillings, savoury fillings, cream topped, meringue topped — the variety of pies I’ve made are as diverse as the pie plates I bake them up in, so it should come as no surprise that I’m always on the hunt for new pie recipes and forever playing with ingredients and flavour pairings to create delicious and interesting pies.
Whenever I’m playing around with new recipes, my mind always turns to flavours that pair well together. Certain flavours are simply meant to be together: P.B. and jelly, milk and cookies, spaghetti and meatballs, fish and chips, cheese and crackers, cupcakes and sprinkles…the list goes on. Of all the usual suspects, one of my favourite flavour pairings which, in my humble opinion, is under-utilized is coconut and date. Dates have so many applications, both savoury and sweet, and coconut has a wonderful warmth about it. It’s sweet and comforting and works perfectly with the nutty, robust date. To that end, I figured there was no better application for this flavour pairing than a delicious and decadent cream pie!
The base of this pie is a graham cracker crumb combined with pecans and coconut which become toasty and fragrant when baked. The pie is then filled with a layer of caramelized dates and then a sour cream layer. Finally, it is topped with a light and airy whipped cream and garnished with more toasted coconut, pecans, and dates! The dates and coconut in this are the perfect marriage of flavours which completely come alive in your mouth. If you’re reticent about the sour cream layer, let me assuage your concerns and put your hesitations at bay by telling you that the sour cream layer completely makes this pie. It is tangy and creamy and balances the sweetness of the pie beautifully.
I tried making this pie a few times varying the amount of dates and I reckon I got it just right. The dates make up a thin layer at the bottom of the pie but the pie itself is not very high so the other layers of sour cream and whipped cream don’t compete with the dates and allow their flavour to come out in every bite. If my childhood has taught me anything about pies, it’s that you should never turn down the opportunity to make or taste a freshly made pie — it’s happiness in a plate and, well, who would turn their nose up at that? 😉
Pulse the pecans in the same food processor after you process the cookies and remove them. Make sure to pulse them and keep a close eye on the mixture so it doesn’t turn into pecan butter!
When I first experimented with this recipe, I used 1/4 teaspoon of salt to off-set the sweetness of the cookie crumbs but found that only a pinch of salt would suffice. Any more salt than a pinch will cause the crust to be very salty indeed!
You can use any 9 inch pie pan but I prefer one with these beautiful scalloped edges and a removable bottom which allows you to remove the pie easily and maintain and show off that gorgeous decorative edge. I picked this particular pan up for about $10 at a local housewares shop so pick one up if you see one while shopping — they have so many uses beyond this recipe: quiches, tarts, and other pies such as this delicious Banoffee Pie!
The combination of coconut in the crust with the crumbs and pecans is simply divine. I added a good amount of coconut so the coconut would toast up as the crust pre-bakes and it worked perfectly!
Be patient while patting the mixture into the pan as it takes time to press it evenly on the bottom and particularly up around the edges. Make sure to pack it tightly and right to the top along the edge of the pan. When the crust pre-bakes it will harden and you need a tight pack on the crumbs to make for easy removal of the pie from the base.
Sauteing the dates in the butter really coaxes out the natural sugars from the dates and caramelizes them gently. The resulting flavour is one that can be detected by a sophisticated palate: robust and nutty with a gentle sweetness.
Be careful while pressing the date mixture on to the pie crust. You don’t want to break the crust! If you find it difficult to spread the mixture, dip your fingers in some cold water and use your dampened fingers to press the mixture around the bottom of the pie.
If you’re not accustomed to using fresh vanilla beans in baking, well, then I strongly encourage you to become acquainted with this fragrant ingredient! I prefer fresh vanilla seeds from a bean over extract any day and using it in this recipe really elevates the recipe to new heights. The beans can be purchased at any food shop (such as baking shops or even Bulk Barn here in Canada) and will run you about $5 for 2-3 beans but keep in mind that a little vanilla goes a long way. Simply cut the bean in half (put the other half of the bean and the remaining beans back into the container in which they came and seal it tightly to keep the beans from drying out). Use a knife to run the down the length of the bean, opening up a slit. Use the same knife to now run the knife horizontally down the bean, scraping out all the lovely little black seeds.
The seeds add such a beautifully speckled appearance to the sour cream!
Now here is a tip that you will
thank love me for: Once the half bean is emptied of seeds completely, place the bean into a pot of sugar. Cover with a bit of sugar and place the lid on the pot. Open it the next day and the sugar will be permeated with the lovely and aromatic scent of vanilla. I always have a bean or two kicking around in my sugar pots and jars at home. Once the bean dries out completely (after a few weeks), simply remove the bean and continue to use the sugar. When the sugar level drops, add more sugar and the plain sugar will mix with the remaining vanilla sugar and continue to permeate all of the sugar for weeks to come! It is simply heavenly so you must (must!) try it if you love vanilla sugar as much as I do. I love using the vanilla sugar in other baked goods or adding it to my daily coffee or tea!
The sweetened sour cream layer gets spread right over the date mixture and then it is ready to bake!
If you’re not able to find this stabilizer, don’t sweat it. It is not essential. I just use it when I know the pie will be sitting out for a while (if it is served at a dinner party for example) so the whipped cream doesn’t start to run or flatten. Alternatively, you could use 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (for every cup of whipped cream — this recipe calls for 1 cup of cream) to achieve the same effect as the stabilizer.
Keep a close eye on the coconut. Don’t let it brown too much as it will continue to darken when you remove it from the stove because of the residual heat on the pan and the heat retained in the coconut itself.
Finally, garnish the pie to your hearts content with the toasted coconut, pecans and dates. Chop the pecans if you prefer them in pieces or use them whole as I have.
Coconut & Date Cream Pie
28-30 Honey Graham Crackers (OR 1 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs)
1/4 cup sweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1/3 cup pecans
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
pinch of salt
12 ounces (about 20 large) whole pitted dates
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (35% M.F.)
8 ounces sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (OR 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream (35% M.F.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 packet (10 grams) whipped cream stabilizer (optional)
2 to 3 dates
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup sweetened shredded or flaked coconut
3-4 whole pecans
Prepare the crust: Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C). Place the graham crackers into a food processor and pulse until you achieve fine crumbs and empty the contents into a large bowl. (If you are using pre-packaged graham crumbs, simply place them in a large bowl and proceed to the next step.) Next, place the pecans in the food processor until you achieve fine crumbs and add them to the large bowl with the crumbs. Add the melted butter, pinch of salt and the shredded coconut to the bowl and mix until combined. Turn the mixture out into a 9″ inch pie plate (preferably one with a removable bottom for easy removal but any pie plate will do if you don’t have one with a removable bottom). Pat the mixture into the pie plate on the bottom and up around the sides of the plate. Make sure to pack the crumbs tightly into the pan. Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes until fragrant. Remove it from the oven and set it aside to cool completely.
Prepare the filling: Chop the dates coarsely. Warm the butter in a large sauce pan and saute the dates for 1-2 minutes until they start to caramelize a bit. Remove the dates from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. In a food processor, add the dates, along with whipped cream and pulse until the mixture starts to come together but is still a bit chunky. Place the sour cream in a small bowl. Use a knife to remove the vanilla seeds from the bean and mix it into the sour cream. (If using vanilla extract, simply add it to the sour cream.) Add the sugar and mix until combined well. Spread the date mixture evenly over the cooled crust. Be gentle so as not to break the crust and use your fingers (which have been dampened with water) to spread the date mixture evenly. Spread the sour cream layer on top of the date layer. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool completely to room temperature. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes to allow the filling to set and chill.
Prepare the topping: Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Quickly add the vanilla, sugar and stabilizer (if using) then continue to mix until semi-firm peaks form. Put the whipped cream in a piping bag fitted with a star tip and pipe rosettes on the surface of the chilled pie (alternatively, if you do not wish to use a piping bag, you can smooth the whipped cream on the pie with an inverted spatula, creating waves and peaks for effect).
Garnish the pie: Toast the shredded coconut in a small sauce pan over medium heat until lightly browned. The coconut will continue to darken after it is removed from the heat due to the residual heat left on the pan and in the coconut, so remove it from the heat when it is very lightly golden and allow it to cool. Sprinkle the coconut over the whipped cream evenly. Place the whole pecans in a decorative pattern in the middle of the pie. Chop the dates in long strips and roll them in the sugar to coat. Garnish the top of the pie with the pieces of date. Serve chilled. Refrigerate uneaten portions promptly.
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