It's hard for me to imagine a time that I didn't love coconut, especially at spring time. Coconut is such a versatile ingredient, and its uniqueness in both flavor and texture translates well for either sweet or savory dishes, including macaroon cookies, fried coconut shrimp or one of our ultimate favorites: Coconut Cream Pie.

There's something wonderfully decadent about a cream pie, which makes this dessert a perfect choice for the upcoming Easter holiday. Honestly, with its rich, custard filling, flaky crust and cream topping, we could eat coconut cream pie any day, and sometimes even for breakfast.

There are four basic components to a coconut cream pie: a pre-baked crust, the custard filling, toasted coconut, and whipped cream topping. Each step is simple to follow and everything but the whipped cream topping can be done in advance. The crust and toasted coconut can also be frozen so I usually make a double batch of each and freeze the extra.

There are some key factors to successful baking which include using quality ingredients, having a good recipe, following the directions (exactly), and being confident in your skills. Confidence is gained by practice, and this definitely rings true with pie crust. The more you make it, the better it will be.

For this recipe I've often made a crust that combines butter and shortening, or lard, for extra flakiness. However, on this occasion I already had a disk of pate brisee in my freezer, so I used that instead and it worked great. We wrote about pate brisee earlier this year when we featured fresh berry galettes, and its high ratio of butter to flour makes it a great go-to crust for most any purpose. A pre-made pie crust is perfectly fine, too, so feel free to go that route if you prefer.

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The crust is baked first, and can be used immediately after cooling or frozen for later use. Cream pies can sometimes weep a bit, so I like to lightly brush the baked crust with a beaten egg white just after removing it from the oven, which helps to seal the crust.

When forming the crust, I fold an extra layer under the edge, which better supports the pie filling. For a pretty finish, I use two knuckles from one hand and my thumb from the other to crimp the edges, and you could also pinch around the edge with your thumb and forefinger or even press the edges with the tines of a fork.

The custard filling is easy to make, and I use both whole and coconut milk and a tablespoon of plain or coconut rum for added depth and richness. The filling starts out very thin, but will thicken significantly as it cooks.

I use our Real Whipped Cream recipe for the topping, which is added just before serving, along with a generous coating of toasted coconut. Leftovers, if any, can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to two days.

A holiday is the perfect occasion to make a homemade dessert, and this coconut cream pie is worth the time and effort. It's pretty to look at, delicious to eat and always a crowd pleaser. Happy Easter!

Coconut Cream Pie

Serves: 8 to 10 guests

Crust Ingredients

1 9-inch prebaked pie crust (see recipe on blog for pate brisee or use store bought)

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll the pie crust out on a lightly floured surface until it's about 2 inches wider in diameter than the pie pan, then gently roll the dough around your rolling pin and unroll over the pie pan. Gently press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan, and trim the edge as desired, keeping in mind that the pastry will shrink slightly in the oven.

To flute the edge, press into the pastry with your thumb between the first two knuckles of your other hand, and work your way around the pan. Cover and chill for 15 minutes before baking, or overnight. Remove from refrigerator and prick the bottom and sides with a fork or toothpick, line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, dry beans or rice.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until pastry begins to brown around edges. Remove from oven and adjust temperature to 375 degrees. Remove parchment and pie weights and return crust to oven, baking for an additional 10 minutes until crust is dry in the center and lightly browned around the edges. Use a pie shield around the edges at this stage if desired.

Remove from oven and brush with egg white to seal. Cool and use immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and foil and freeze for up to two months.

Custard Filling Ingredients

1½ cups dried coconut, divided and toasted

1 cup whole milk, divided

1½ cups unsweetened coconut milk

4 large egg yolks

⅔ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon plain or coconut rum

Real whipped cream, for topping

Directions

To toast coconut, heat oven to 350, line a baking sheet with a layer of coconut and bake until lightly browned, about 5 to minutes. Stir or shake pan a few times for even baking. Remove and cool before using. Can be frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the custard, pour ¾ cup of the whole milk and all of the coconut milk into a medium saucepan and bring to a light boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the edges begin to bubble, remove from heat.

While the milk is cooking, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup whole milk in a heatproof bowl until well combined. In a separate, small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt.

Add the sugar mixture to the egg yolks and whisk until smooth. As soon as the milk mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat and slowly add it to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Pour through a strainer to remove any clumps, if necessary.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring or whisking constantly. Once boiling, continue to whisk for another minute or two, until the custard begins to thicken. Stir vigorously to remove any lumps.

Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, vanilla extract and rum. Gently fold in 1 cup of the toasted coconut. Pour custard into the prebaked pie crust, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight for best results or at least 4 hours until firm.

When ready to serve, cover the custard with a layer of real whipped cream and top with a generous coating of the remaining toasted coconut.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.