This recipe for coconut cream pie makes for the perfect complement to late-summer barbecues—or, as author Stella Parks suggests, a cup of hot coffee. Parks, senior editor at Serious Eats, presents the recipe in her New York Times-bestselling cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts.
Coconut cream pies were historically made with coconut milk — the original “cream” in coconut cream pie. It’s a no-brainer for an all-natural coconut custard, with a bit of brown sugar to enhance its nutty flavor and a handful of shredded coconut for a macaroon-like chew. Topped with toasted Marshmallow Meringue, it’s best served diner-style: with a steaming mug of black coffee.
Yield: one 9-inch pie; 12 slices | Active time: about 30 minutes | Downtime: 4-hour refrigeration, 1 hour to cool
1/2 cup | 4 ounces light brown sugar
1/2 cup | 31/2 ounces white sugar
1/3 cup | 11/2 ounces cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
1/2 cup | 5 ounces egg yolks, from about 8 large eggs (reserve whites for meringue)
3 1/2 cups | 28 ounces unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk
1 1/3 cups | 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut, plus more to garnish
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 fully baked No-Stress All-Butter Pastry Crust
1 recipe Marshmallow Meringue
Prepare the custard:
Whisk brown sugar, white sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cardamom together in a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, followed by egg yolks and coconut milk. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking gently until steaming hot, about 5 minutes. Increase to medium and continue cooking until thick, about 5 minutes more. When the custard begins to bubble, set a timer and continue whisking exactly 2 minutes. This is important to neutralize a starch-dissolving protein found in egg yolks. Off heat, stir in coconut and vanilla.
Scrape into the prepared crust and cool until a skin forms, about 30 minutes. Proceed to the next step, or wrap in plastic and refrigerate until needed, up to 24 hours.
Finish the pie:
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 375°F. Spread Marshmallow Meringue over the custard (work gently if it’s still warm), making certain it touches the crust all the way around. Sculpt into swoops and swirls with the tines of a fork, or place on a cast-iron turntable and spin, using an offset spatula to create a groove that spirals from the outer edge to the center peak. If you like, sprinkle with coconut.
Set the pie on a wire rack nested in a baking sheet and bake until light tan all over, with slightly darker caps here and there, about 20 minutes. Cool for 1 hour, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate until cold and firm, about 60°F on a digital thermometer (this can take up to 4 hours if the filling was still warm, only 2 if refrigerated in advance). Cut into wedges with a chef’s knife, rinsing the blade under running water between each slice. After cutting the first piece, leave it in place to prevent the meringue from toppling while you slice the rest. Use an angled pie-server to lift out each piece. Covered in plastic, leftovers can be refrigerated about 1 week.
Mix it up!
‣ Malted white chocolate: Omit white sugar and increase brown sugar to 8 ounces (1 cup). Along with cornstarch, whisk in 2 ounces (1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons) malted milk powder. Replace coconut milk with an equal amount of plain milk (any percentage). Instead of coconut, finish with 4 ounces (3/4 cup) roughly chopped white chocolate, such as Cacao Barry’s 34% Zephyr.
No-Stress All-Butter Pastry Crust
If you can fold a napkin, you can make an old-fashioned pie crust — no food processor, no pastry knife, no vodka. Most important: no cracking or tearing. The dough is supple, smooth, and strong, so it’s easy to handle and shape. It also freezes incredibly well, which is why I always make two. Besides, who doesn’t want more pie? Especially one with a crust this tender, flaky, and crisp.
Yield: two 9-inch pie crusts or one double crust | Active time: 20 minutes | Downtime: 2-hour refrigeration
1 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon | 8 ounces all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon | 1/2 ounce sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
2 sticks | 8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup | 4 ounces cold water
Key Point: If the temperature climbs above 73°F in your kitchen, be aware that everything from your countertop to your rolling pin and the flour itself will act as a heat source to the butter. Combat these conditions by refrigerating your pie plate, rolling pin, and dry ingredients until cool — not cold or frozen. If needed, chill the countertops of a sweltering hot kitchen with bags of ice water.
Making the dough:
Sift flour into a medium bowl (if using cup measures, spoon into the cups and level with a knife before sifting). Whisk in sugar and salt. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes, no smaller, and toss with flour to break up the pieces. Roughly smash each cube flat — nothing more! Stir in cold water and knead until the dough comes together in a ball. With a dough temperature at or below 70°F, it will feel dry to the touch.
Transfer to a generously floured work space, sprinkle with more flour, and roll into a 10-by-15-inch sheet. Fold each 10-inch side toward the middle, and close the packet like a book. Fold top to bottom to make a thick block, then cut in half. Using as much flour as needed, roll one portion into a 14-inch round. Brush off excess flour, drape over a 9-inch tempered glass pie plate, making sure it’s flush against the pan.
Trim excess dough into a 11/4-inch overhang all around, then fold over to create a 3/4-inch border that sits on the rim of the plate; if positioned inside the rim, the crust will be too shallow to accommodate the filling. Pinch or press the border into a zigzag pattern, and repeat with remaining dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight. Alternately, formed crusts can be frozen up to 3 months and thawed in a refrigerator before use.
Baking the crust:
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F. Line the chilled crust with a large strip of foil (not parchment or wax paper), letting the excess loosely cover the rim. Fill with plain white sugar, a delicious alternative to options like rice or beans.
Bake on an aluminum baking sheet until fully set and golden brown, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and carefully lift out the foil, setting it aside until the sugar has cooled. If the sides of the crust seem puffy or pale, continue baking 10 minutes more. Cool to room temperature. Use immediately, or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours.
Mix it up!
‣ Gluten-Free: Replace the all-purpose flour with 4 ounces (3/4 cup) white rice flour, 21/2 ounces (1/2 cup) cornstarch, 11/2 ounces (1/3 cup) tapioca flour, 1 ounce (1/4 cup) coconut flour, and 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum. Prepare the dough as directed, using a generous amount of cornstarch for dusting. The dough will crack along the creases as it’s folded, but that’s all right. After portioning the dough, roll to just 12 inches. Cut into quarters and transfer to the pie plate one at a time, pressing the pieces together and then sculpting the border like clay. Chill and bake as directed.
Forget everything you know about meringue. My recipe couldn’t be simpler: Throw all the ingredients into a bowl, warm over a pan of steamy water, and let your stand mixer do the rest. In no time, you’ll have a thick and silky meringue that toasts up as beautifully as a marshmallow. Because it’s fully cooked on the stovetop, this meringue won’t weep or collapse over time, making it the perfect topping for pies and cakes alike (see variations).
Yield: about 8 cups; enough to generously top a 9-inch pie | Active time: about 20 minutes
1 cup | 8 ounces egg whites, from about 8 large eggs
1 3/4 cups | 12 ounces sugar or Roasted Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon rose water, or seeds from 1 vanilla bean (optional)
Key Point: With gently simmering water, the meringue should cook fairly fast. If you find the temperature climbing too slowly, simply crank up the heat.
Fill a 3-quart pot with 11/2-inches of water and place over medium-low heat, with a ring of crumpled foil set in the middle to act as a booster seat. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites, sugar, salt, cream of tartar, and rose water or vanilla bean (if using). Place over steamy water, stirring and scraping constantly with a flexible spatula until thin, foamy, and 175°F on a digital thermometer, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on high until glossy, thick, and quadrupled in volume, about 5 minutes. Use immediately.
If a speck of yolk slips into the whites, fish it out with an egg shell. If the yolk can’t be neatly removed, start fresh, as fat can inhibit both the volume and stability of meringue.
Oil-based extracts, like lemon, orange, and mint can destabilize the meringue. Use sparingly and fold in by hand when the meringue has finished whipping.
Mix it up!
‣ Meringue cookies: Transfer whipped meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip, and pipe 1-inch kisses onto a parchment-lined aluminum baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between them. Bake at 200°F until firm and dry to the touch, but still quite pale, about 2 hours. When the meringues cool to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container and store up to 1 week. Makes about 100.
‣ Seven-minute frosting: This meringue whips up just like an old-fashioned seven-minute frosting, but is more stable. It’s the perfect amount to generously fill and frost a three-layer cake such as White Mountain or Devil’s Food. If you like, toast the meringue with a blowtorch before serving.
‣ Swiss meringue buttercream: When time is of the essence, this buttercream comes together faster than any recipe I know. After the meringue is fluffy and light, reduce speed to medium and continue whipping until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Use in place of the marshmallow base, and whip with 20 ounces (5 sticks) butter.
Recipe and photo from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks. Copyright © 2017 by Stella Parks. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
Winner of the 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award (Baking and Desserts)
A New York Times bestseller and named a Best Baking Book of the Year by the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, Bon Appétit, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Mother Jones, the Boston Globe, USA Today, Amazon, and more.
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