A classic, old fashioned coconut cream pie with meringue. You either love it or you hate it. If you are reading this, chances are you love it, like I do. Nothing beats freshly toasted, unsweetened coconut folded into the most luxurious coconut custard with coconut milk.
And outside of german chocolate cake, this is my favorite of all the delicious coconut desserts out there.
I have been making this coconut cream pie for years, and actually, I can't believe it took me this long to share the recipe.
For some reason cream pies scream spring and summer to me. I am always making this pie or key lime when spring hits and throughout the summer. This old fashioned coconut cream pie with meringue is simple to make and intensely coconut-y, kind of tropical flavors, I guess in a quintessentially American custard pie.
Ingredients for the coconut cream filling
I think what makes this custard so wonderful is the coconut cream with coconut milk. I mean, for real, this custard is so smooth and velvety...it is unlike any other custard I make. For this filling you will need:
- Cornstarch and egg yolks. This is traditionally the thickener in a custard-base, and it is no different for this recipe.
- Heavy cream or half and half. You can use either, and if you go with heavy cream you will have a significantly thicker custard base for this coconut cream pie recipe. While I find these to be interchangeable, I do not recommend using milk (whole or otherwise), they are just too thin.
- Canned coconut milk. Not the carton of coconut milk in the fridge section. The canned variety, which is made for baking and cooking is the only kind that will work. And this is available in every grocery store I have been in for years (check near the Asian food section).
- Vanilla extract or paste. It add just a lovely something extra to the coconut cream
- Butter. Adding butter to a custard really rounds it out, and gives a smooth, shiny and velvety texture.
- Unsweetened shredded coconut. Half of it toasted, half of it not toasted. I know a lot of recipes call for sweetened, but unsweetened is now readily available and I really think the custard is sweet enough on its own, and what you're after is genuine coconut flavor.
Ingredients for the meringue
Meringue is the only way to top this pie in my opinion, I love the sweetness and light texture this gives to the pie. I think whip cream is too similar in texture to the custard and a little boring. This is really a marshmallow meringue and it is truly lovely.
- Egg whites. Cleanly separated from the yolks. Be careful here, even a little bit of yolk in there.
- Cream of tartar. This acts as a stabilizer in meringues and helps to keep them from weeping (more on that later)
- Candy thermometer. If you are an experienced baker, you might be able to tell by touch when the mixture is a proper temperature, but if not you will need one of these if you have one.
How to make meringue
We are going to gently warm it over a double boiler. This is a classic method, and doing this will really give you that shiny marshmallow meringue topping.
After warming it over the double boiler (if using a thermometer, the temp should be 160), it gets whipped into a fluffy meringue.
This is known as a Swiss meringue, and I think it is the most stable kind (Italian anf French being the other two).
What kind of crust should I use?
For a truly old fashioned coconut cream pie a traditional pie crust is the way to go. I recommend either of these pie crust, like I have for all my other pie recipes - homemade or store bought - these are the best out there. The crust will need to be prebaked as this pie does not go in the oven.
Tips for success
You know I have a few...
- Sift the cornstarch for the coconut custard. Cornstarch can be lumpy, this just makes your life easier.
- Make absolutely certain you use canned coconut milk and not cartons in the fridge section. I cannot stress this enough, they are not the same and will not behave the same in a custard.
- Make sure your bowl is absolutely clean and dry for the egg whites. I also cannot stress this enough, yoru meringue will not happen if there is any fats (meaning egg yolk, oil residue on the bowl), water or anything in contact with the egg whites and sugar
- Toast that meringue. I use a kitchen torch because I have one. If you don't have one you can bake it real quick in the oven.
- Stand mixer
- clean metal or glass bowl
- kitchen torch optional
- Pie crust either homemade or store bought, prebaked in a 9-inch pie pan
For the filling
- 4 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup cornstarch sifted
- 1 can full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup whipping cream or half and half
- ⅔ cup white sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste alternatively you could use vanilla extract or one vanilla bean split with the seeds scraped
For the meringue
- 3 egg whites
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons of white sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon of cream of tartar
- Whisk the egg yolks and cornstarch together in a bowl. In a medium saucepan combine the coconut milk, half-and-half, sugar, vanilla bean if using (if using extract or paste do not add yet), and salt and whisk together. Whisking occasionally, bring the cream mixture to a simmer (you should see tiny bubbles around the edges). When it begins boiling, pour (VERY SLOW AND IN A STEADY STREAM) about ½ cup of the cream mixture, while whisking the entire time, into the egg yolk and cornstarch mixture. Don't stop whisking or I promise you that you'll end up with scrambled egg yolks. Then in a slow stream, pour the egg yolk mixture into the pot while continuing to whisk and keep over medium/low heat.
- Rather quickly, the custard will bubble and thicken. Keep whisking. Whisk and cook for 1 minute or so while it is bubbling . Remove from heat and stir in the unsweetened coconut, butter, vanilla, and coconut extract (if using).
- Pour warm filling into cooled pie crust. Cover tightly with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding (to prevent a skin from forminand refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight until chilled and thickened. Pie may be refrigerated for up to 1 day.
- To make the meringue, fill a wide saucepan with water about ⅓ of the way. In a large stainless steel bowl of a stand mixer, put egg whites, sugar, salt and cream of tartar. Place the bowl over the simmering saucepan of water. Being whisking the egg white mixture and using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do this until egg white mixture reaches 160 on a candy thermometer, about 12 minutes give or take. If you don't have a thermometer - don't worry, test the egg whites with you finger after about 10 minutes, if it is hot - but not so hot that you have to pull your finger back - then it is ready. If it is just warm, continue for another 2-3 minutes. Take the bowl off the sauce pan and attach to the stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, whip on high for about 8 minutes until the meringue is a light and fluffy ball.
- To assemble the pie - take out your chilled pie and top with the meringue all the way to the crust (end to end to prevent the meringue from shrinking). Using an offset spatula, pillow the meringue into multiple small peeks.