My first full day back home for spring break / social distancing happened to fall on a day math teachers across the land never fail to celebrate with gusto. The one day a year that they are able to get kids excited to go to math class with the excitement of sugar and competitive memorization. I even spent one math class in eighth grade decorating a white shirt from the craft store to commemorate the occasion, even more special due to it being 2015. I speak, of course, of Pi day. May 14th, 3/14, of every year when the written date happens to also be the first three numbers of the constant known as Pi. And while every other day of the year I harbored a deep frustration with math of any kind, Pi day was a scholastic holiday that got me running to math class. For without fail, celebration of Pi brought Pie! I may not be so crazy about algebra, but tell me there’ll be pie in class and you have my interest. I haven’t been enrolled in a math class on the day in a while (thank you, college), but the day continues to remain special, and I will always commemorate it with a pie of some sort myself.
This year, I tried my hand at a pie that was new to me, but a throwback for my parents that hasn’t been in the house for a number of years. My Mom got the recipe for Cherry Macaroon Pie on the back of a can of cherry pie filling – a place where it seems solid recipes abound, see Libby’s Pumpkin Purée– and had mentioned it a few times throughout the years. Yet, for whatever reason we never actually got around to making it. But this year we were determined to try this cherry/coconut concoction that I had never seen in any pie shop or diner, but about which my parents spoke the highest of praises.
Naturally, me being me, I also used this as an opportunity to continue working on my pie crust making skill. I have been on a generally upward trajectory, and am determined to get a dependable feel for the finicky pastry. I carefully pulsed the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in the food processor, keeping a watchful eye on the size of the butter chunks, and adding apple cider vinegar and ice water when it looked almost ready for incorporating by hand. I nervously transferred the mixture from the food processor to a small bowl to continuing to mix by hand. This is always when I feel the greatest sense of dread. Is the butter cut too small? Why is it so dry? Is it too warm? But I have learned that recipes always tend to lie when it comes to ice water measurements, and to trust myself to moisten until combined. So with a few half-tablespoons more than recipe-recommended, the dough started to become homogenous and workable. Knowing that it would become a little more hydrated as it sat wrapped in plastic in the fridge, I pushed aside my fear over the slight stiffness of the dough and formed it into a disk to refrigerate.
A few hours of rest time later, I retrieved the dough and let it warm up just a bit so as to not have it crack upon rolling. Still cool, but workable, the dough rolled out easily and just filled my dish. Filled with aluminum foil and pie weights, I put it in the oven to parbake. Curiously, the recipe for this single-crust pie didn’t call for a parbake, but I wasn’t about to take my chances with a soggy bottom. But what I forgot in my excitement of a (so-far) successful dough was to dock the bottom with a fork before weighing down! So when I brought it out of the oven to remove the weights for the uncovered portion of prep, the bottom had still puffed up in some places and the sides were slightly slumped. A disappointment for sure, but not past the point of workability. I corrected my mistake and pricked the bottom and stuck it in to continue the process in hopes that the crust would still be high enough to contain the filling.
While the crust tried its best for its last solo bit of oven time, I brought my attention to the absurdly simple filling. The contents of the cherry pie filling were to be just dumped into the crust and spread evenly. No additions or measurements needed. The coconut mixture for the top was what needed only slightly more work. An egg, evaporated milk (an annoying 2/3rds of a cup, leaving me with a little less than half of a can of the stuff), vanilla and almond extract, salt, sugar, and coconut flakes were mixed all together in a bowl. And that was it! The crust came out with no further slump-idge, I filled it with cherries, poured in the milk mixture, and stuck it in the oven for 40 minutes. Unfortunately, the milk had come over the edge of the crust, and could be seen trickling down the sides in places. I feared a pecan pie-like struggle to get a slice from the pan, with the pie ending up more as a cobbler. But for the time being, I could only wait and see.
Forty minutes later amidst dinner prep, the pie emerged with just a little jiggle in the middle telling us it was ready to do its last bit of cooking via residual heat out of the oven. The edges were browned, but the whole of the middle with still perfectly white. I had expected a little more browning on the flakes of the coconut on top, but this clearly wasn’t the case. This lack of golden-brown I often associated with baked good done-ness made me nervous, but I trusted the recipe and set the pie on a rack to cool.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. With a perfect radius measured I cut into the pie, praying for a smooth release but dreading the worst. But wouldn’t you know, that was one of the cleanest cuts into a pie I’ve had in quite a while. The coconut and milk had come together to form an outer crust that broke clean, the cherries resisted any urge to pool out on either side of the released slice, and the crust came out without a problem. No cobbler on this Pi day!
With the relief of technical success, I was free to experience my first taste of cherry macaroon pie. As was noted by my parents, it was like a perfect combo of a classic fruit pie with a chess pie. The cherries were sweet and provided soft spheres of fruit to chew amidst a thick syrup, and the coconut and milk topping brought some crispy texture and a nuttiness from the almond extract. I would be interested in seeing what a mixture of fresh, or even frozen cherries would add. Perhaps just a splash of lemon juice to the canned mixture to add tartness. But even without those additions, the combo was just as good as was promised. After all, cherries? Great. Coconut? Great. Cherries and coconut? Great! And the crust that contained it? When not totally consumed by the gelatinous cherry filling, a wonderful buttery casing. Were it not for the docking mishap, I would call one of my greater crust successes!
For how absurdly easy it is to make, I am surprised that I don’t see this pie or something like it at more pie-serving places. Coconut creams and cherry pies abound, but the combo of the two is one I’d have any time of year. Light and fruity for the summer, nutty and comforting for the winter. Great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and just as good without. I would happily have this be my dessert following a diner tuna melt and fries. It hits dessert notes of different types, with chocolate being the big dessert heavy hitter left out. But if I’m not missing chocolate as part of the mix, you’ve got yourself a winner of a dish.
Though there was no math teacher present to talk to us about the wonders of 3.14159265 (as much of Pi as I can remember off the top of my head), Pi day was appreciated just as joyfully amidst family. And while any day that the sun rises is good enough reason for pie to me, I am grateful to Pi day for bringing our national attention to the dessert of many possibilities. I am even more grateful for its effect on bakeries, which annually offer deals in honor of the holiday (put Four and Twenty Blackbirdsdeal of $14 for three sliceson your calendars for next year, NYC residents!). Even though Pi day has passed, perhaps it’ll inspire you to be a patron of your local pie shop that might be struggling a bit these days, or to try out a different flavor like cherry macaroon in your own kitchen! Just as Pi is a never ending number, pie has never ending possibilities. Maybe now’s a good time to explore a few!