The Culture of Food and Drink

Home / Cooking  / The Un-Brady Desserts

The Un-Brady Desserts



A series on an inspiring Chinese-American meal that takes the stress out of the holidays with recipes that you can begin days ahead.

Part 1: Roast Turkey, Lotus Wrapped 8 Treasure Rice and Spicy Cranberry Compote.

Part 2: Vegetarian Dry-Fried Green Beans, and Brussels Sprouts with Satay Sauce.*

Part 3: Double Coconut and Ginger Pumpkin Pie, and Triple Coconut Sorbet.

* Story includes links to fava bean pâté, radish pickles, fried sesame rolls and roasted sweet potatoes.

Chinese dinners usually do not come with elaborate desserts, at least not to the extent that we enjoy them in the West. Rather, sugary dishes are often enjoyed in China as snacks or during afternoon teas. So this, the third and final installment of the Un-Brady Christmas series — which began with turkey, risotto and cranberry compote recipes; followed by Asian-style green beans and Brussels sprouts — focuses on a pumpkin pie and coconut sorbet that are slightly less sweet than usual.

First up is the sorbet. This was a real winner at my last holiday dinner, as the sweetness is dialed way down while the coconut flavors are ramped up thanks to a triple whammy: coconut milk, coconut rum and flaked coconut. The rum not only boosts the tropical flavors, but the alcohol makes the sorbet easier to scoop after it is frozen by keeping the mixture relatively soft. (If you are serving this to people who can’t have alcohol, omit the rum and increase the sugar to ¾ cup; coconut extract can also be added to taste.)

Almost Hawaiian in flavor, this sorbet is like a riff on the coconut pudding called haupia. Coconut is also a popular ingredient in southern China, especially in the island province of Hainan off the coast of Guangdong, and I like to think that this recipe of mine got its inspiration there. I love thick strips of unsweetened coconut here. They swell up in the sorbet and become  chewy bands that taste almost like they were just peeled off a fresh coconut.

As for the pumpkin pie, I developed this version to satisfy the tastes of both my Chinese and Chinese-American friends. They often complained to me that American desserts were too sweet and cloying. A heavy chocolate ganache, for example, is too far off the sweetness and richness charts for most of these food lovers, so I have been trying to achieve a more natural and light spectrum of flavors in the desserts I serve them.

Instead of the usual spice suspects in pumpkin pie — cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg — I’ve gotten rid of everything but the ginger, a very Chinese taste that I emphasize with a generous handful of chopped candied ginger. These nuggets sparkle on the tongue and add a bit of texture to the pie’s soft custard. 


Picture 1 of 12

Use unsweetened flaked coconut and organic whole wheat flour. Credit: Carolyn J. Phillips

Offering even more contrast is my nutty crust, its flaked coconut echoing the coconut milk in the filling. This is a great pie crust, as it doesn’t get soggy on the bottom but stays nice and firm. It can be made ahead of time and frozen, then filled and baked a day before the party, which makes this pie even more of a winner.

If you have people coming who don’t like pumpkin pie, serve them a sliver of this and see whether they don’t ask for another slice.

Double Coconut and Ginger Pumpkin Pie

兩重椰薑南瓜派 Liangchong ye jiang nanguapai

Makes a 9-inch pie, plus an extra 1 cup or so of pumpkin custard


For the crust:

1 cup organic whole wheat flour
1 cup (3 ounces) fresh shelled walnuts
1 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
⅓ cup Korean dark brown sugar (regular dark brown is fine, too )
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup chilled salted butter (or unsalted butter plus another ½ teaspoon salt) cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons Malibu Coconut Rum (or another high quality equivalent)**

For the filling:

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (not coconut cream)*
1 (15 ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
4 large egg yolks
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ cup finely chopped candied ginger
½ teaspoon sea salt
4 large egg whites beaten to stiff peaks with a pinch of sea salt


Start the crust anywhere up to a week ahead of time. Have a tall pie tin (about 9 inches in diameter and 2 inches tall) ready, as well as a baking sheet.

  1. Combine the flour, walnuts, coconut, brown sugar and salt in a food processor equipped with a metal blade. Pulse until the nuts are coarsely chopped.Add the butter and pulse until barely incorporated. Sprinkle the rum over the ingredients and pulse again until the dough starts to clump together. Pinch a piece to make sure.
  2. Pat the dough into the ungreased pie pan. Keep the sides slightly thinner, to make cutting easier.(You can make the crust ahead of time up to this point and freeze in a resealable freezer bag. No need to defrost before baking.)
  3. Heat the oven to 375 F. Place the pie crust on a baking sheet and bake blind (unfilled) for about 15 minutes, until golden and smelling wonderful. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Leave the oven on — you’ll need it in a few minutes.
  4. Grease a 12-ounce oven-proof bowl.
  5. Combine the coconut milk, pumpkin, egg yolks, brown sugar, ground ginger, chopped candied ginger and salt in the food processor. Pulse until mixed and the candied ginger is in very small bits. Fold the pumpkin mixture into the beaten egg whites; a balloon whisk works best for this.
  6. Pour about 12 ounces (1½ cups) of the filling into the greased oven-proof bowl. Pour the rest of the filling into the prepared pie crust. Place the pie back on the baking sheet and, if there is still some room, add more of the filling until it is no more than ⅛ inch from the top edge. The filling will balloon up a bit while cooking and you don’t want it to spill out.
  7. Place the filled pie and the bowl of extra filling in the heated oven and cook until the tops are browned and puffy: about 20 minutes for the bowl and 45 minutes for the pie, depending upon your oven.
  8. Test the custard by inserting a clean paring knife about 2 inches from the edge: it should come out clean. The filling will continue to cook as it cools, so don’t worry if the center is still a bit jiggly. Remove from the oven and let come to room temperature. Enjoy the bowl of filling yourself as a cook’s treat. If you are not serving the pie within an hour or two, refrigerate it. The pie can be reheated or served cold.

Triple Coconut Sorbet

三椰冰沙  Sanye bingsha

Makes 1 quart


1 cup filtered water, divided
1 (13.5 ounce) can full-fat coconut milk (not coconut cream)*
1 cup wide flaked coconut, preferably unsweetened (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill)
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup Malibu Coconut Rum or another good quality equivalent (no more, or the sorbet won’t freeze well)**


Start this recipe anywhere up to 4 days before you wish to serve it.

  1. Mix ½ cup of the water with the coconut milk and flaked coconut, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, mix the rest of the water and the sugar and salt together in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  3. Pour the sugar water into the coconut milk mixture and stir in the coconut rum.
  4. Freeze the sorbet in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Store in a freezer-safe covered container. If it is rock hard when you remove it from the freezer, let it soften on the counter before serving.

*For the coconut milk, I use the Thai brand Chaokoh, as it is always reliable and fresh tasting.

** Malibu Coconut Rum has the best flavor of any I’ve tried, and is better than coconut extract; thanks to the great Nigella Lawson for this suggestion!

Zester Daily contributor Carolyn J. Phillips is a Chinese food wonk and illustrator who has a cookbook to be published by McSweeney’s in 2014. In addition to Zester Daily, you can find her on her blog and as @MadameHuang on Twitter; her food writing can be found in places as  disparate as Lucky Peach and Pork Memoirs.

Top photo: Triple coconut sorbet

Photo and slide show credits: Carolyn J. Phillips

Zester Daily contributor Carolyn Phillips is a Chinese food wonk and illustrator who has a cookbook to be published by McSweeney's in 2014. In addition to Zester Daily, you can find her on her blog and as @MadameHuang on Twitter; her food writing can be found in places as  disparate as Lucky Peach and Pork Memoirs.