Olivia Bybel learns a valuable lesson in her pursuit of the elusive coconut cream pie
The holidays, and the winter season in general, has always seemed to be a time destined for baking. This, I am aware, is not a profound thought, but baking is a thing worth celebrating in itself. The smell of warming cookies heats a house better than central heating ever could, and buttery, sugary confections melt hearts of all ages. As I sit at home during the dreamlike in-between days of Christmas and New Year, I look back on the baking I have done this season and the baking I have yet to look forward to. I cannot help when thinking of previous triumphs and failures, but think of pie. While my brother advised me to “write about how your pie sucked on Christmas” (the story of what I thought was a relatively good chocolate pie), the tale is dull compared to that of another, more elusive pie.
I have made a coconut cream pie on three separate occasions, each attempt testing my patience, and my loved ones, and each providing, if not dessert, then a life lesson. The recipe in question is from Bon Appetit; it features a toasted coconut and Graham cracker crust, a caramel layer, a pastry cream layer, and finally a whipped cream layer. After watching a video approximately fifteen times of a real pastry chef making it, I yearned to have one of my own. It seemed delicious, delightful, and if not easy, at least straightforward to make.
My first, and most disastrous attempt at making this pie occurred in the blazing hot summer of 2018. I was tanned, happy, sweaty, and above all, naive in the ways of pie baking. I roped my friend into baking with me for the afternoon, and after a short trip to the store, we began to craft what was supposed to be a masterpiece.
We had to make the crust twice, and the caramel thrice, but it was the pastry cream that turned the day. To make a long story short, I did not simmer it for long enough, and so it did not thicken or set. Instead, I prematurely poured a very liquid filling into the crust and stuck it in the fridge. It did not set, so then I froze it.
A few hours later I was spooning frozen chunks of coconut pastry cream into my mouth, refusing to let the entire thing go to waste. It was disgusting, and looking back, I feel fortunate that I did not give myself and my friend food poisoning. I did not feel fortunate then, however, and the often-heard praises of baking for its therapeutic properties seemed to be meant for more skilled bakers than myself. Although the pie defeated me in that moment, it could not stop me from trying to conquer it again.
A few weeks later, with the help of my grandma, I successfully baked coconut cream pie, using the elusive tool of patience to cook the pastry cream. It was everything I hoped it would be and more, made sweeter by the hard-earned victory over a previous failure. While I enjoyed every bite of my slice, it was more delicious to see my family enjoy something that I had worked so hard to make, twice.
This pie, though it probably did not intend to, taught me a valuable lesson about failure. While I had, of course, heard the advice, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”, it was better received as told by a confection than by a person saying it out loud. I think, if I had not failed so abysmally the first time, I would not have appreciated my success to the extent that I did the second. And while this lesson has and will continue to be taught through maybe more meaningful things than pie, I am grateful to have learned it from something with low stakes.
Baking can be beneficial as a tool for de-stressing and relaxation, despite its ability to frustrate, and this may be why so many of us gravitate towards it during the winter months. It can be good for the mind to work with one’s hands, doing repetitive motions, and taking in all the physical sensations of baking. Besides this, it feels good to make others feel good, and if you’re baking big batches, chances are you will get to share it. While not all of my creations have been enjoyed by those who ate them, they were at least appreciated, and sharing something I have put work into with others is one of the best things about baking.
I made the coconut pie once more, earlier this year, for a thanksgiving celebration. While its creation might not have been called therapeutic for my flatmates that helped me with it (lots of shrieking, and custard on the kitchen floor), sharing it with our friends and family definitely was. I was reminded again of the highs and lows of making this pie, and just how sweet it is watching my loved ones enjoy the fruits of my labour. It is really satisfying to see something I have made bring other people happiness, and this, I think, is one of the greatest things about baking.
I would recommend baking to anyone. It’s a fun hobby that will provide heaps of snacks for you and your friends, as well as time to clear your head and relax. More often than not, if I am looking to decompress, or procrastinate, I usually go for a simple recipe like cookies, but I am thankful to the coconut cream pie, and baking in general, for providing me with something to work towards, a few lessons, and many delicious bites.