I don't like too many pies but coconut cream pie meets all my criteria. Between the coconut custard and airy whipped cream, each bite is a silken coconut piece of heaven. And, after making it for Thanksgiving, I'll be making it more often. How could I have forgotten how fabulous it is?
I searched cookbooks and the Internet for the perfect coconut cream pie recipe and was vastly disappointed. Some were calling for flour -- and that's just not the direction I wanted to take mine in. I used to work at a restaurant and made a batch of coconut custard on a weekly basis so I patched my recipe together making a custard from coconut milk and egg yolks. Perfection. But keep in mind two things while making it:
1) Don't be intimidated by making the custard. Follow the directions and it'll be fine. It sounds more difficult than it is. Here are more in-depth custard instructions. Also, if you overcook it a bit and get chunks of eggs (happens to the best of us!), just strain the custard. A strainer is your friend.
2) Buy the unsweetened coconut first. Then, proceed to make the recipe at your leisure. Don't plan to make the pie and then have to race around for unsweetened coconut. Whole Foods did have it. But the six other grocery stores I sent Ryan to before that only had the sweetened coconut.
I had problems with the graham cracker crust. I used a recipe that asked for 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (or 8 graham crackers), 3 tablespoons sugar and 6 tablespoons butter. I baked it until brown but it ended up crumbly. So I retried it, using more butter and substituting brown sugar for white. Still crumbly. Chowhounders responded that I should have used less butter, not more. Okay. You're on your own for the graham cracker crust, although I did have success with this one once.
So I recommend either just buying a graham cracker crust (which I should have done). Or, just make the coconut custard, pile it into a wine glass, top with whipped cream and serve.
Coconut Cream Pie
1 9-inch graham cracker pie crust
3 1/2 cups shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups (24 ounces) coconut milk
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the whipped topping (from The Gourmet Cookbook):
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or rum, if desired)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut over baking sheet and toast coconut. Every five minutes, stir coconut. The coconut on the sides will be golden. Spread that to center. Coconut will take approx. 15 to 20 minutes to toast. Remove when golden. Reserve 1/4 cup of coconut for topping.
In large bowl, mix egg yolks and cornstarch with whisk until smooth. In saucepot, bring coconut milk, sugar and vanilla to simmer. Gradually add coconut milk mixture from pot into egg mixture, whisking constantly. If you have an extra set of hands around, have one person pour the coconut milk mixture from the pot while the other person whisks furiously. Return entire mixture to same saucepot. Cook over medium heat, stirring with wooden spoon vigorously. Cook (a few minutes)until thickened. You want the custard to coat the spoon or get nappe. Take off heat and mix with the toasted coconut.
Add custard to pie shell. Let cool before refrigerating. Chill at least four hours, preferably overnight.
For the whipped cream topping, sprinkle gelatin over water in small metal bowl and let soften for one minute. Put bowl over small saucepan of boiling water, stirring occasionally until gelatin is dissolved. Remove pan from heat, leaving bowl over pan.
Beat cream with confectioner's sugar and vanilla in medium bowl with beaters at medium speed until it holds shape. Beat in warm gelatin mixture and continue beating until cream just holds stiff peaks. (NOTE: My pie was going to be traveling a bit so I thought the gelatin would help it retain its shape. I would just skip the gelatin step if this is not an issue with you.) Top the pie with a layer of whipped cream. You can also get fancy like I did and fill a pastry bag with the whipped cream, using a tip to make twirls all over the pie. Sprinkle with remaining toasted coconut. Chill again for an hour and enjoy!