Coconut Cream Pie

Coconut cream pie falls in the “retro dessert” category. By retro, I mean an old-fashioned/vintage dessert that evokes a feeling of nostalgia whenever I have it. This old-school dessert may have fallen in and out of popularity over the years, but it should not be forgotten. From custards and puddings to jiggly mid-century confections, many “classic” desserts have one important thing in common–they’re delicious. 

Coconut Custard vs. Coconut Cream

Despite what many think, a coconut custard pie and a coconut cream pie are not the same thing. A coconut custard pie is made with an egg/milk custard that sets and thickens in the oven., then chilled. In contrast, a coconut cream has a custard that’s cooked on the stove and chilled to set. A coconut cream pie is also notorious for its often decadent layer of whipped cream and toasted coconut on top.

coconut cream pie

Coconut Cream Pie In History

Coconut cream pie is also one that has national recognition, National Coconut Cream Pie Day is May 8th, and earning that recognition as a pie has been around for a very long time. In the 19th century, with advances in importing and exporting perishable goods, Americans and Europeans fell in love with tropical fruits like bananas and pineapples. Coconuts were also on the radar, but they often spoiled on long voyages. People also lacked an understanding of what one does with a coconut.

coconut cream pie

The coconut shipping problem was solved by a French export company in Sri Lanka. They were also the first to shred and dry coconut meat. It was this invention that made coconut more accessible to American and European chefs and increased coconut popularity worldwide.

Coconut as an Ingredient

Coconut, as a pie ingredient, was cemented around 1895. Franklin Baker, Sr, a Philadelphia flour miller, received a boatload of coconuts as debt payment from a Cuban client. Baker searched for a buyer for his coconuts and learned a lot about the coconut business in the process. Baker realized there was an untapped market and set up his factory to dry, shred, and distribute coconut meat. Who owns the bragging rights for creating the first coconut cream pie, remains a mystery. But by the early 20th century, you could find coconut cream pies everywhere.

coconut cream pie

Famous Retro Desserts By Region

  • Northeast- Whoopee Pies: Cookie-shaped cakes sandwiched with a creamy filling.
  • Mid-Atlantic– Shoofly Pie: A brown sugar and molasses pie and topped with crumbs.
  • Mid-West– Chocolate Cream Pie: A rich chocolate custard-filled, flaky crust pie, topped with a mountain of whipped cream.
  • SoutheastPeach Cobbler: Fruit baked with a biscuit dough top.
  • The SouthHummingbird Cake: Banana pineapple spice cake with cream cheese frosting.
  • Southwest– Tunnel of Fudge Cake: Chocolate bundt cake with a fudge glaze.
  • The West– Rocky Road Ice Cream: Chocolate ice cream packed with chocolate, marshmallows, and nuts.
  • The Northwest– Nanaimo Bars: Bars with a layer of graham cracker and nut crust, a layer of pudding or buttercream frosting, and a layer of chocolate.

Worth the Wait

Like all pies in general, a coconut cream pie requires some effort, but it is by no means impossible. I would even say, it’s somewhat easier to make a whipped cream top compared to making a decorative lattice top.

For my coconut cream pie, I opt for a slightly thinner layer of the rich coconut custard, which I feel creates a better balance, in comparison to the often overfilled restaurant versions. A cream pie is a very decadent treat, and too much of a good thing is overkill. The chill time required when making any cream pie is perhaps the hardest part, waiting to eat it is always difficult! This is a recipe I developed for my oldest son who is, and has always been, a devout coconut lover.

coconut cream pie

About the Author

Andrea Potischman

I am a professionally trained NYC chef turned CA mom and food blogger. I post about real food, with doable ingredient lists that are family friendly.

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