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 actually 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 In History
Coconut cream pie is also the one that has national recognition, National Coconut Cream Pie Day is May 8th and earned that recognition as a pie has been around 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 about what one actually does with a coconut.
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. I 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, got 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 own 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.
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.
- Southeast– Peach Cobbler: Fruit baked with a biscuit dough top.
- The South– Hummingbird 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 by no means impossible. In fact, 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
- For the Pie Crust:
- 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- dash of salt
- 1/4-1/3 cup cold water
- For the Custard Filling:
- 5 egg yolks
- 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 4 Tablespoons cream of coconut
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- For the Topping:
- 1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 4 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 cup toasted sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish
- Step 1 For the Pie Crust: Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, such as a Cuisinart, fitted with a metal blade attachment. Pulse on/off to incorporate. Add the butter and continue to pulse till the dough resembles coarse meal. Add the water a little bit at a time and pulse till the dough just come together. Be careful not to add too much water or over mix. If the mixture looks dry add a little more water as needed. With your hands form the dough into a round flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Step 2 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the chilled pie dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch in diameter. Carefully place the dough into a 9-inch pie dish. Press it down with your fingers, making sure it is completely smooth.Crimp the edge decoratively as desired. Prink the bottom of the dough with a fork several times. Chill the pie crust in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Step 3 Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and line with parchment paper. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Distribute the weights evenly around the pie dish.
- Step 4 Place the crust in the oven and bake until the edges of the crust are starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the pie crust from the oven and carefully lift the parchment paper (with the weights) out of the pie. Return the pie crust to the oven and cook 5-10 more minutes longer or until the crust bottom has lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
- Step 5 Make the coconut filling: In a medium mixing bowl add the egg yolks and cornstarch and whisk to blend. Set aside. In a medium saucepan add the milk, half-and-half, cream of coconut, sugar, and salt together and place over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat. In a slow and steady stream, whisk the milk mixture into the egg yolk and cornstarch mixture, a little bit at a time to not scramble the eggs. Return the mixture into the saucepan and place back over medium heat,
- Step 6 Continue whisking while the pudding begins to thicken. Whisk and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded coconut, butter, vanilla, and coconut extract
- Step 7 Pour the filling into cooled pie crust. Cover tightly with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding (to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight until chilled and thickened.
- Step 8 For the whipped cream: Using a kitchen mixer, such as a KitchenAid, fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar, and vanilla and beat until medium peaks (soft-loose peaks) form, about 1-2 more minutes.
- Step 9 Remove the pie from the refrigerator and top with the whipped cream. You can form it into high in a dome-like shape as I did, pipe it with a pasty tip or simply smooth it it out rustically. Return the pie to the refrigerator while you toast the coconut.
- Step 10 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle the shredded coconut out on a baking pan and lightly toast in the oven, mixing once or twice, until lightly golden, about 5-7 minutes. Allow the coconut to cool slightly before finishing the pie with it and serving.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin