There are actually two food holidays celebrating the pairing of chocolate with almonds: July 8 is “Milk Chocolate with Almonds Day,” and November 7, “Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day.” But for some of us? It’s the addition of coconut that puts that whole chocolate-almond thing over the top. Coconut-chocolate-almond aka the Almond Joy candy bar has been one of America’s most popular confections since its 1946 introduction.
Back in the early 20th century, Armenian-born immigrant Peter Paul Halajian used to sell homemade candy from a basket on train platforms in Connecticut. Katharine Weber—longtime employee of Connecticut-based Peter Paul competitor Zips Candies—tells us in her 2009 book “True Confections,” that the chocolate-covered coconut bars called Choclettos and Coconettos which Halajian made in the basement of his home did well enough that Halajian joined with Armenian cousins and family to launch the Peter Paul Candy Company, expanding operations with a factory in Naugatuck. Peter Paul put most of its money behind the Mounds bar, the sans-almond chocolate coconut bar it introduced in 1922. The company made several other candies (such as the Dream bar and Main Show) but next to Mounds, the Almond Joy was most successful.
The Hershey Company, which acquired Peter Paul when it purchased Cadbury’s in 1988, continues to sell Almond Joy, which it calls one of its “iconic” brands. AJ’s are iconic, a pop-culture presence popping up in everything from The Simpsons episodes, to Glee, to songs by both Prince and Tom Waits. American cooks have created Almond Joy-flavored cakes, ice creams, cocktails and now, from Paula Haney, pastry chef behind Chicago’s burgeoning Hoosier Mama Pie Company, this Joyous Almond Pie.
Haney, who was pastry chef at Trio in Evanston duringChef Grant Achatz’ rise to stardom, just published the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie, a book bulging with Haney’s painstakingly proven pie-making tips and techniques. The Joyous Almond is included in her section of “Over-the-Top Pies.” It is indeed an endeavor that takes time and planning, but yields a very special pie. If you hope to serve it for a Saturday party, you may want to start the nut-soaked milks as early as Thursday night, making your crust and fillings Friday, with time left to let it all set up and chill well. We have embellished Paula’s version just a bit, adding a top layer of whipped cream garnished with chocolate shavings and thin-sliced toasted almonds.
Makes 1, 9-inch pie
Chocolate Wafer Crumb Crust Ingredients
- 2 cups dark-chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (I used Nabisco)
- 2 Tbsp cane sugar
- 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose four
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Almond-steeped Whole Milk Ingredients
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup raw unblanched almonds (skin on) toasted and roughly chopped
Almond-steeped Cream Ingredients
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup raw, unblanched almonds (skin on) toasted and roughly chopped
Joyous Almond Pie Filling Ingredients
- 1/2 sheet leaf gelatin (silver strength)
- 3 cups almond-steeped milk (recipe above)
- 1 Tbsp powdered gelatin
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp vanilla paste
- 1/8 tsp plus pinch kosher salt, divided
- 1 cup almond-steeped cream (recipe above)
- 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes (we like Trader Joe’s version)
- 3 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
- 1 Tbsp coconut milk
- melted bittersweet chocolate for coating the pie shell
- 1/3 cup raw, unblanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
- 1 cup whipping cream sweetened with 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
- Chocolate curls or shavings and thin sliced toasted almonds for garnish
- Make almond-steeped milk: Combine whle milk and chopped almonds in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat. Cool to room temperature; pour into a container and cover. Chill in the refrigerator overnight.
- Make almond-steeped cream: Combine heave cream and almonds in small, heavy saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat. Cool to room temperature; pour into a container and cover. Chill in the refrigerator overnight.
- Make crust: In a medium-sized bowl, combine dry crust ingredients. Pour in melted butter. Rub the butter into the crumbs with your fingers until the mixture holds together when squeezed in the palm of your hand. Lightly brush a 9-inch pie tin with melted butter. Place crumb mixture in the tin and press firmly into an even layer across the bottom and up the sides of the pie tin. Place a second, 9-inch disposable pie tin on top of the crumb mixture and press down firmly, working your way out frm the center to smooth the crumbs from the center of the pie tin toward the edges.Remove the top pie tin; fill in any bare or thin spots. Place the finished shell on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for six minutes. Cool. Drizzle shell with a light coating of melted bittersweet chocolate. (NOTE: thick is not better as you will never be able to slice through the pie!) Chill in the refrigerator until chocolate hardens.
- Make filling: Place leaf gelatin in small bowl of icewater. Set aside to bloom for 10 minutes. Strain the almond-steeped milk into a 1 quart measuring cup. You should have 3 cups of milk. If not, add fresh milk to make up the difference.
- Pour 1/2 cup of the almond-steeped milk into a small bowl; sprinkle powdered gelatin over the milk and let stand for 10 minutes. Combine the milk-gelatin mixture with the remaining 2 1/2 cups of almond-steeped milk in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Whisk over medium-high heat until the powdered gelatin dissolves, about 1 minute. Continue to heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture is just below a boil and small bubbles are forming along the side of the saucepan (about four minutes.)
- Meanwhile, place the sugar and cornstarch in a bowl and whisk to combine.
- Place the egg yolks and egg into a medium, heatproof bowl. Whisk in the sugar and cornstarch. Gradually, in several additions, whisk in the hot milk mixture.
- Pour everything back into the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium heat until the pastry cream begins to thicken and starts to boil (about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.) Whisk at a boil for 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Remove the leaf gelatin from the water. Wring out excess water; whisk gelatin into the pastry cream until it dissolves. Whisk in the butter, vanilla paste and 1/8 tsp salt.
- Pour pastry cream through fine-mess strainer into a heatproof bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on to the surface of the pastry cream and gently smooth with your fingers. This will prevent a skin from forming on the top of the pastry cream; chill pastry cream in the refrigerator until firm (about 3 hours) When pastry cream is firm, strain the almond-steeped cream into a liquid measuring cup. you should have 1 cup of almond-steepd cream; if not, add enough fresh heavy cream to make up the difference.
- Pour almond-steeped cream into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk at medium speed for 30 seconds; turn up to high speed and whip until soft peaks form (about 2 minutes)
- Remove firm pastry cream from the refrigerator. Whisk pastry cream until smooth. Using an over/under motion with a spatula, gently fold in the whipped cream until no streaks of whipped cream remain. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix coconut flakes, sweetened condensed milk and coconut milk until thoroughly combined. Pour condensed milk mixure into prepared pie shell and spread evenly. Top with 1/3 cup of almonds. Sprinkle with pinch of salt. Remove almond pastry cream from fridge and whisk until smooth and fluffy. Spoon on top of the pie.
- Whip remaining heavy cream until soft peaks form; smooth over pie, mounding in the center. Sprinkle with sliced toasted almonds and chocolate curls. Chill in refrigerator in a cake-keeper for at least 2 hours before slicing.