A few years ago, my dad, who has always been more of an eater/human garbage disposal than a cook, casually started mentioning his “famous coconut cream pie.” I would get text message pictures on pi day of this pie, or he would just throw it into everyday conversation about dessert, and one time when our family convened in Los Angeles he had brought an entire pie on the airplane from Chicago. This coconut cream pie thing all seemed to happened out of nowhere, I don't remember him making it when I was little, it just became his "thing" all of a sudden! And I don’t know how it became famous or if it actually is famous, I think he just started calling it that one day?!?? I asked him about it once and he named someone from work who thought it was famous or something… so he went with it. Stoopie and I eventually just shrugged it off and went with it because why not??
And then a lot of things became clear when I made the connection that Eggboy, who is also nary a cook, has his one pie that he makes and, on good years, considers to be very famous. And then I thought: Am I, as a deeply loyal member of #teamcake (well, until very recently), forcing all of the pie-loving humans in my family to step out of their comfort zones and make their own pies? And then I thought: 🙄🙄🙄 I should shut up and not make this about me.
So then I decided that I shouldn’t dwell on the origins of this pie and whether or not it actually is famous and instead I should learn how to make it. So! I texted my dad for the recipe and he sent back a picture of a printout of a Martha Stewart recipe from 2010 that had some very important annotations in the margins. Martha’s recipe was your typical pudding pie, made with a chocolate cookie crust and topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut. But, as my dad had penciled in, it should be made with 80 chocolate cats (referring to the Trader Joe's cookies), not the 30 wafers that it called for, and it should be made in a springform pan, not a pie pan. And the pudding should be made in a medium saucepan, not a small saucepan. Idk if there is an exact reason for the cats other than that they’re cute and you get to call for “80 cats” in an ingredient list which is fun, but the reason for the springform pan is so that you can see the whipped cream on the sides. And I like the look, it’s so geometrically pleasing!
I think the only other change I made from my dad’s/Martha’s recipe was to use unsweetened coconut, since it’s easier to control the sweetness that way and since I love the look of the toasted flakes on top. I think pops agreed! I tried to get away with skipping the step where you bake the crust because I typically like a denser moister cookie crust, but he would hear none of that. It had to be crispy like a cookie, he said. And once I stopped being lazy and added that baking step back in, I saw what he meant. Overall I think our pie kicked butt!! It's got a big thick crust (we love crust in this family!!!!), a pudding that is just sweet enough, tons of whipped cream, and a great rustic yet clean aesthetic. It’s definitely worthy of being famous. Right?! Right.
You know what your Thanksgiving dessert table needs? This. And you know what can be made ahead of time?? This!
coconut cream pie
makes one 9" pie
to make the cats: preheat the oven to 325ºf. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
in a small bowl, whisk together the flour, coconut flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. mix in the vanilla extract and coconut extract. with the mixer running on low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. it will still be a bit crumbly. pour the mixture onto a work surface and give it a few kneads to bring it all together. (at this point you can wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour, up to overnight, but I find that the dough is stiff enough that this isn't totally necessary).
on a work surface, roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness, dusting with cocoa powder if the dough is sticky, and cut out small cats or 1 1/2" circles. transfer them to the baking sheets, 1" apart (using a small offset spatula helps with this step). re-roll the scraps and cut out more rounds.
bake the cookies until the tops are no longer shiny, about 12 minutes. let cool on the pan. Cookies can be made up to a couple of days in advance and stored at room temperature.
To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 325ºf. Line the bottom of a 9” springform pan with parchment and set it aside. In a food processor, combine 40 of your ugliest cats (you'll have some leftover and since those are staying in tact you want them to be the pretty ones) with the coconut oil and salt and pulse until the mixture is sandy and starts to clump together. Add the coconut and pulse just a couple more times to get it evenly distributed. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan, pressing it up against the sides to give it a 1-1 1/2” tall crust and bake until set, 25 minutes. Let it cool.
To make the filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt. Cook over medium high, whisking constantly, until thickened. Stir in the shredded coconut and pour into the cooled crust. Refrigerate for 2 hours, until set. (This can be done up to 2 days in advance; keep covered in the refrigerator.)
To make the topping: With an electric mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream to stiff peaks. Spread it on the pie. Toast the flaked coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until golden brown. Let it cool and sprinkle it on the pie. Top with shaved chocolate or chocolate sprinkles and refrigerate until ready to serve. When you’re ready to take it out of the pan, run a small offset spatula around the edge and carefully remove the sides. Enjoy!
photos by chantell and brett quernemoen