Over the past year, I sampled Coconut Cream Pies across the Northwest restaurant/bakery landscape and kicked around the tenants of the perfect custard cream pie with dear friend and culinary maven, Rosalyn Rourke. One thing led to another, as the saying goes, and the next thing I knew, on Roz’s insistence, I was hunting down a Lindt Excellence White Coconut Bar. After one taste, the Coconut Cream Pie turned into Rosalyn’s Coconut White Chocolate Dream Pie. After all, her appreciation for white chocolate and coconut was the inspiration.
On the journey to a perfect pie filling, I encountered two schools of thought. One school uses a dense, heavy pastry cream as the filling and the other uses a creamy custard that is more akin to pudding.
Unless the Coconut Cream Pie is actually a shallow Coconut Cream Tart, I MUCH prefer a lighter, decadently smooth, almost airy “pudding” filling. The difference between the two is a matter of percentage of thickener (cornstarch in my rendition) and eggs (yolks only in my rendition). The more you use of each, the thicker and richer your filling will be. I tested several batches to get just the right consistency for this Dream Pie, which of course must meet Rosalyn’s high expectations. (She reminded me on Facebook recently that she has waited a year for this recipe, so I can’t disappoint her now.)
In one spectacularly failed example that I tried in a highly touted restaurant, the pastry cream was a full 5 inches deep AND had the texture of a thick, thick paste. To my palate, it was inedible.
To make matters even more bizarre, however, the crust was SPECTACULAR. So I ate that and the whipped cream topping, and left the filling right there in a huge heap on the plate.
What I love about that crust is that it is mostly super-crunchy, toasted coconut, not the more typical pastry crust. So that’s what I am going for here. The contrast between super-crunchy, super-creamy, and super-airy (whipped cream) is heaven! And I haven’t even mentioned the melted white chocolate and toasted coconut shards. Dreamy.
No exploration of Coconut Cream Pie in the Northwest would be complete without mention of the infamous Tom Douglas Triple Coconut Cream Pie. It is DELICIOUS, and I have driven miles out of my way on multiple occasions to double park in front of Dahlia Lounge and grab 2 huge pieces, along with folks, to go.
However, to my palate it is not a perfect custard cream pie. Perhaps I am alone here, but I do not love the texture of coconut in the custard cream filling. (It’s traditional of course, so I shouldn’t nit-pick.) The more significant shortcoming is the barely perceptible grittiness of the custard cream, which derives from using egg whites in the formula. Leave out the egg whites and the custard is as smooth as silk. Perhaps you won’t notice the grittiness, but once you do, it becomes maddening, marring an otherwise sublime taste experience.
Thus, my vote for Best Restaurant/Bakery Coconut Cream Pie in the Northwest goes to Baker & Spice in Portland. It’s a mountain of silky smooth, lush custard (not too sweet), topped with billowy whipped cream and a blizzard of toasted coconut. The pastry crust is actually the bakery’s buttery shortbread cookie dough. Sublime!
Nevertheless, the following pie is in its own stratosphere. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.
Rosalyn, this pie is for you!
Rosalyn’s Toasted Coconut White Chocolate Dream Pie
This best-of-class, custard cream pie consists of silky coconut-white chocolate custard, crunchy toasted coconut crust, and heaps of whipped cream. It’s completely decadent an d just the dessert for a special celebration.
Coconut White Chocolate Custard
½ cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
1¾ cups canned coconut milk (13.5 fluid ounce can)
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1½ ounces chopped white chocolate (¼ cup)
Crunchy Toasted Coconut Crust
vegetable oil spray
3 cups unsweetened flaked coconut (6 ounces) (available at health food stores or Whole Foods), lightly toasted
6 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Whipped Cream Topping
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dried coconut shards, toasted
white chocolate shavings
Toast the Coconut
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the coconut shards on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, watching carefully and stirring once or twice, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
Prepare the Custard Filling
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch until well combined.
- Add the milk, coconut milk, and vanilla bean. Over medium-high heat, stir with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens and begins to boil.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Ladle a bit of the hot sauce into the eggs and whisk to warm the eggs gradually. Repeat, and then scrape the warmed eggs into the sauce in the pan. Stir to combine.
- Place the pan back on medium-high heat, and continue stirring slowly while bring the custard back to a boil. Maintain a slow boil for 1-2 additional minutes, stirring slowly to prevent browning on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat.
- Add salt, vanilla extract, and coconut extract, and stir until incorporated.
- Scrape the custard into a strainer set over a medium bowl and push the custard through the mesh into the bowl. This ensures that you will have no lumps in your custard.
- Stir the white chocolate into the hot custard until melted.
- Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The custard will thicken considerably as it cools.
Prepare the Crust
- Coat a 9½- to 10½-inch diameter, 5- to 6-cup capacity pie plate with vegetable spray. Reserve.
- Process the coconut, sugar, and salt in a food processor until finely ground.
- Stop the machine and pour the melted butter over the top of the crumbs. Pulse to combine.
- Add the crumbs to the pie plate, pat the crumbs evenly across the bottom and firmly up the sides, and level the top edge. The edges should be 1/4-inch thick, and firmly and evenly pressed against the bottom and sides of the pan. Don’t pat the crumbs over the horizontal edge of your pie plate, if it has one, as the edge will shatter when you cut the pie.
- Put the pie pan on an edged baking sheet ad bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant and nicely browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
Assemble the Pie
- When the pastry cream is cold, and not too long before serving, fill the baked pie crust with it, smoothing the surface.
- In an electric mixer with the whisk, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape.
- Top the pie with the whipped cream and then sprinkle with the toasted coconut shards and shaved white chocolate.
- CakeSpy: Coconut Dream: A Love Affair with Tom Douglas’ Legendary Coconut Cream Pie
- FoodGawker: Coconut Cream Pie
- Foodista: Tom Douglas’ Triple Coconut Cream Pie
- Judy in Her Natural Habitat: The Kitchen: Triple Coconut Cream Pie
- Mary Cooks: Tom Douglas Triple Coconut Cream Pie
- TasteSpotting: Coconut Cream Pie
Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.