Recipe Development = A LOT of Tweaking + Coconut Cream Pie

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Once, while we were miserable and living in Florida, my best friend sent me a message from West Virginia.  She told be to go to a specific place at a specific time to pick up a present.  How cryptic right?  At this point I can’t remember if it was my birthday, or just a Thursday – but I went of course.   It was pie – it was THREE PIES!   I know – I have the best friend ever!

As any best friend could tell you, I prefer fruit pie.  But on this special occasion, my favorite of the trio was the coconut cream.  It was the coconutiest coconut I had ever had, with a graham cracker crust and billows of whipped cream.  Most coconut cream pie tastes like vanilla pudding with coconut crumbled on top – nothing special.  Well I think we can do something about that, don’t you?

I can’t say how others approach recipe development.  But I start one of two places, either I’m trying to recreate something that I’ve had that I loved (like this coconut pie), or I have an idea of a flavor that I think would be interesting.  Either way, job one is to see what else is out there.  I have several trusted stops that I make; Bon Appetit, Cooks Illustrated, Smitten Kitchen, New York Times Cooking.   I start with the simplest version that I can find from a place I trust – in this case it was Cooks Illustrated. 

Then it is tweaks, I swapped a traditional piecrust for cookie crumb because the bakery pie had that, and I used coconut oil rather than butter to bump up the coconut.  I added a bit more salt, and backed off the cornstarch.  I added more coconut cream and less heavy cream.  I added booze!  I researched brands of coconut milk, because they are VERY different.  I remembered something from one of my favorite baking cookbooks (The Cake Bible anyone?) about super stabilized whipped cream that included gelatin so that the whipped cream didn’t melt at room temp.  Even when I made it for the pictures, I made some changes, I cut the crust recipe by a quarter because it was way too thick.  The tweaking continues…

Coconut Cream Pie

Course: DessertDifficulty: Intermediate


Prep time


Cooking time




  • Crust
  • 7.5 oz Graham Crackers (215g)

  • 3 Tbl Brown Sugar; Packed (38g / 1.25oz)

  • 1 C Sweetened Shredded Coconut; Toasted (75g / 5.25oz)

  • 4.5 oz Coconut Oil; Melted (133ml)

  • 3/4 tsp. Fine Sea Salt. (4g)

  • Custard:
  • 2 Lg Eggs

  • 2 Lg Egg Yolks

  • 1 C Sugar (198g / 7oz)

  • 2 Tbl All Purpose Flour (16g / .5oz)

  • 3 Tbl Corn Starch (23g / .75oz)

  • 1 1/2 C Whole Coconut Milk* – 1 can (300ml)

  • 2/3 C Coconut Cream* (150ml)

  • 1/2 C Heavy Whipping Cream (120ml)

  • 1 1/2 Tbl Rum; Optional (25ml)

  • 1/2 tsp Coconut Extract; Optional (3ml)

  • 3 Tbl Unsalted Butter (40g / 1.5oz)

  • 1/4 tsp Fine Sea Salt (2g)

  • Topping
  • 1 1/2 C Heavy Whipping Cream (300ml)

  • 1/4 C Brown Sugar; Packed (50g / 1.74oz)

  • 1 tsp Unflavored Gelatin (6g / .25oz)

  • 1 Tbl Rum; Optional (15ml)

  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract (3ml)

  • 1/2 C Unsweetened Coconut Flakes; Toasted (35g / 1.25oz)


  • Make the Crust
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with foil and set aside.
  • Break Graham Crackers into the bowl of a food processor, add the Brown Sugar, and Toasted Coconut. Pulse until the mixture reaches fine crumbs.
  • Transfer to a mixing bowl and drizzle the Melted Coconut Oil over the crumbs. Sprinkle over the salt and stir until the mixture resembles wet sand. You should be able to squeeze a handful together and it will hold its shape when you release.
  • Transfer the mixture to your tart pan or pie plate. Using your fingers, firmly press the mixture into the pan, starting at the middle and working your way out and up the sides. Try to make the crust as even as you can, especially around the edge where the bottom meets the sides.
  • When you are satisfied with the thickness, use a straight-sided glass or measuring cup to tamp down the crust until it is firmly packed all around. If you want, you can press together the leftover crust mixture into a “cookie” and bake it alongside the crust. Once baked and cooled, you can crumble and use for decoration.
  • Place on the foil-line baking tray. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and fragrant. Remove crust from oven and set aside to cool.
  • Make the Custard
  • In a clean mixing bowl, combine the Eggs, Egg Yolks, Sugar, Flour, and Corn Starch. Whisk until smooth and completely incorporated.
  • In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream, and Heavy Cream; whisking to combine. Place over medium heat and bring almost to a boil, stirring occasionally. The mixture should be steaming hot, with small bubbles starting to appear at the edges, but not quite boiling.
  • Remove the coconut milk mixture from the heat. Slowly, very slowly, add a ladle full of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time. I usually brace the ladle against the inside of the bowl and let the hot milk run down the inside of the bowl, it helps me to control the pour while I whisk, because I don’t have four hands.
  • Repeat with a second ladle of milk, still whisking the entire time. Transfer the Egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining hot milk and return to the heat.
  • Cook over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens significantly to a pudding-like consistency – 10-15 minutes. Stir slowly the entire time to prevent lumps and the mixture from scorching.
  • Once thickened, add the Vanilla and the optional Rum and Coconut Extract. Mix well and remove from the heat.
  • Add the Butter, one piece at a time, stirring until incorporated after each addition.
  • Add the salt and stir to combine. Scrape into the baked crust, smoothing to the edges. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
  • Cover in plastic wrap, pressing down gently so that the plastic touches the top of the custard (this will prevent a skin from forming). Chill, covered, until firm – at least 6 hours, but up to 24.
  • Make the Topping and Assemble
  • Remove chilled pie from the fridge and allow to warm up slightly.
  • In a glass, liquid measuring cup, sprinkle the Gelatin over 1/4 Cup of cold water. Set aside for 5 minutes to let the gelatin bloom. Microwave fro 30-45 seconds until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture is liquid.
  • In the chilled metal bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a chilled whisk attachment, combine the Heavy Cream, Brown Sugar, Vanilla and optional Rum. Whip, starting on low speed and gradually coming up to high speed, until the whipped cream reaches soft peaks – about 3 minutes.
  • Lower the speed to the lowest setting and slowly stream in the gelatin-water mixture. Be sure to avoid both the whisk and the side of the bowl. The gelatin will set on the cold metal and won’t incorporate smoothly. Once all the gelatin is added, increase the speed to high again and whip to firm peaks.
  • Pile the whipped cream onto the pie, making creative swooshes with a spoon. Decorate with Toasted Unsweetened Coconut Flakes and Reserved Crust mixture if desired.
  • Pie can be kept in the fridge, loosely tented with plastic wrap for a day or two.


  • Equipment:
    Food Processor
    Measuring Cups and Spoons or a Food Scale
    2-Cup Liquid Measuring Cup
    Straight-sided Glass or Measuring Cup
    Large Heavy Sauce Pan
    Baking Sheet
    9-inch high sided tart pan with removable bottom (or a metal or glass pie pan)
    2 Medium Mixing Bowls
    Stand Mixer fitted with Whisk attachment (Bowl and Whisk Chilled)
  • *We are looking for the coconut milk in a can – usually in the Asian food section – not the dairy alternative coconut milk in the refrigerated section.

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