The original recipe for this pie, adapted from Princess Pamela's Soul Food Cookbook, was a mere few lines—devoid of even a dough recipe and intended for laid-back, confident bakers. Using fresh grated coconut is essential: It creates the ideal texture and keeps the sugary filling from skewing too sweet. Use the fine side of a box grater, or place small pieces of fresh coconut in a food processor.
Stumbling upon an old soul food cookbook, the Lee Brothers uncovered the story of restaurateur, poet, and jazz legend Pamela Strobel
What You Will Need
For the dough
- 1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. granulated sugar
- 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 stick (4 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 egg, beaten, for brushing
For filling and topping
- 1 large coconut, meat finely grated with its inner brown skin (2 packed cups)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Whipped cream, for serving (optional)
Make the dough: Fill a medium liquid measuring cup halfway with ice and add cold water to cover. Transfer to the refrigerator.
In a food processor, add the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse briefly to combine. Sprinkle the butter on top of the flour mixture and pulse until only pea-size crumbs remain, 10–15 times. Drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the ice-cold water, and, if needed, 1 to 2 more, pulsing briefly after each addition to incorporate. Dough should look crumbly but hold together when pinched.
Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 375° and set a rack in the center. Roll out the dough into a 1⁄8-inch-thick round, then center the dough inside a 9-inch pie plate. Press the dough gently against the sides of the pan, and trim any overhang with kitchen shears. (Be sure there are no holes in the crust.) Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork and transfer the pie plate to the refrigerator.
Make the filling: In the bowl of a double boiler set over high heat, combine the coconut, white and brown sugar, milk, eggs, and a pinch of salt. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the vanilla and remove the bowl from the heat. Place the prepared pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet and pour in the coconut mixture.
In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 teaspoon water. Brush the edges of the dough with the egg wash, being careful not to drag any of the filling onto the crust, as it will burn. Bake until the filling has risen and jiggles only slightly in the center and the crust is golden brown, about 40 minutes.
Transfer the pie plate to a cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes or ideally overnight before slicing. Top each slice with whipped cream if desired