Pie is the best. It’s one of my favorite things to make and though I started in my mom’s kitchen with apple and pumpkin, I’ve come to enjoy all kinds. Truly, when it comes to pie I don’t discriminate. This was my first experience making a coconut cream pie and only the second one I’ve ever eaten. Definitely vintage but comeback-worthy to say the least.
If you’ve ever made a chocolate or vanilla cream pie you know that you basically make a custard and put it in a pie crust. Making this coconut (custard) filling involves tempering eggs. Once you understand the premise it all becomes a lot easier. Basically the eggs (along with the milk, sugar, and cornstarch) combine over heat to make a thick, creamy pudding-y substance. When eggs hit heat, they make scrambled eggs, this we know. Well since no one wants a custard with scrambled egg lumps, the eggs need to make friends with the heat VERY SLOWLY and gradually so they don’t seize up. If you check step 7 you will see that the hot milk is ladled in while you whisk the eggs, thus avoiding a scramble. Once the eggs and the heat have formed a smooth, successful relationships, the whole shebang gets put back in the saucepan to heat up and thicken. This is like sports therapy – visualize the process before you begin to ensure success.
Enough with the tough-sounding (but totally do-able) part, I want to talk about vanilla. America’s Test Kitchen did a study on vanilla extract vs. imitation vanilla extract. With cookies and cakes, NO ONE could tell the difference between the real and the fake. However, in desserts like puddings and custards where the vanilla flavor shines, the real stuff was the clear winner. I buy both and only use the real for recipes like this coconut cream pie. Just an FYI to save you a few bucks if you’re a frequent baker.
Ok – a cool, creamy, light, fluffy, perfectly sweet pie with a crisp and crumbly graham cracker crust is exactly what your next barbeque should end with. If you don’t trust my use of 7 adjectives, I have no other way to convince you.
Coconut Cream Pie
Slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
5 tbsp. unsweetened shredded coconut
9 graham crackers, broken into rough pieces (this is one package)
2 tbsp. sugar
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk, well stirred
1 c. whole milk
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
2/3 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
5 egg yolks
1/4 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place the 5 tbsp. of coconut into a pie plate and spread evenly. Toast in preheated oven for about 9 minutes or until golden brown.
2. Reserve 1 tbsp. coconut for topping the pie. Next, pulse graham crackers and remaining 4 tbsp. coconut in food processor until finely ground (alternately, you can do this in a large ziplock bag by crushing with a rolling in or pot).
3. Pour ground mixture into a mixing bowl and add sugar and melted butter. Mix until evenly combined and transfer mixture to pie plate. Using a dry measuring cup or fingers, press mixture evenly into bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake for 22 minutes and set aside to cool.
4. To make filling, bring coconut milk, milk, shredded coconut, 1/3 c. of the sugar and the salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. This is not all the sugar! Just half.
5. While this is heating up, measure butter and vanilla and set off to the side of the pan for later use.
6. When mixture has reached a simmer, lower the heat to medium low and whisk the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl with the remaining 1/3 c. sugar and the cornstarch until well combined.
7. Using a ladle, spoon hot milk mixture into egg mixture, one spoonful at a time, whisking well as you pour it in. When most of the milk has been added, pour it all back into the saucepan and increase the heat to medium. Whisk constantly for about 30 seconds until mixture has thickened.
8. Turn off the heat and add the butter and vanilla to the saucepan and whisk until smooth.
9. Immediately pour mixture into crust and smooth with with a spatula if necessary. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface (so it doesn’t form a skin – gross) and refrigerate at least three hours or up to 24 hours.
10. When ready to serve, make whipped cream. Combine all three ingredients in a mixture bowl and using an electric mixer (can also be done by hand using a whisk but you will be REALLY tired), beat until mixture holds soft peaks.
11. Remove plastic from pie and pile whipped cream onto the center. Spread with a rubber spatula and top with reserved toasted coconut. Serve.