crystalline coconut cream pie

In this pie, coconut is the star. There is coconut in the crust, in the pastry cream in the center, and decorating the whipped cream on top. Based on the triple coconut cream pie  from Seattle’s Dahlia Bakery, I’ve adapted this recipe by using crystalline coconut, dried sweetened coconut meat instead of the dessicated coconut normally used in desserts. Called maprao kaew (literally “glass coconut” in Thai) it is a soft, chewy, lightly sweet snack, and tastes like real coconut.


Crystalline Coconut Cream Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie

Coconut Pastry Cream
1 cup (235 ml) whole milk
1 cup (235 ml) UHT unsweetened coconut milk
1-2 cups (75g to 150g) finely shredded crystalline coconut (use more or less as desired)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (113 g) caster sugar or vanilla sugar (I reduced the sugar to 100 g)
3 tablespoons (25 g) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, room temperature (72˚F)
2-4 teaspoons rum (can add up to 1 tablespoon, if desired)

Combine the milk and coconut milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture develops bubbles around the edges. This is called scalding the milk.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined—no lumps. Temper the eggs. This means that while whisking the egg mixture, pour 1/3 cup of the scalded milk into it. Then add this egg mixture to the saucepan. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, about 4-5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Add the rum. Mix in the shredded coconut. Pour the pastry cream into a clean bowl set inside a larger bowl filled with ice water. Stir occasionally until cooled. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools. DO AHEAD: one day before baking the crust.

Coconut Crust
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup (37g) finely shredded crystalline coconut, loosely packed
8 tablespoons (110 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed

Cut the coconut into half inch dice. Process in a food processor until finely shredded then scrape into a large bowl. Add flour, sugar, and salt and stir to combine. Sprinkle cold butter over and use a pastry blender to work butter into flour until mixture resembles a coarse crumb. Gradually add water, drizzling 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir to combine. After adding 1 tablespoon water, pinch a piece of dough. If it holds together, do not add any more water. The dough will not come together in a ball and will be quite loose.

Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and dump the coconut dough onto it. Pull the plastic wrap around the dough, forcing it into a rough flattened round with the pressure of the plastic wrap. Chill 30 minutes to an hour before rolling.

Baker’s Note: Chill the pie pan too!

To roll the dough, unwrap the round of coconut dough and put it on a lightly floured board. Flour the rolling pin and your hands. Roll the dough out into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. Occasionally lift the dough with a dough scraper to check that it is not sticking. Add a bit more flour if it seems like it’s about to stick. Trim to a 12-13 inch circle.

Baker’s Note: Rolling the dough out between sheets of waxed paper, parchment, or plastic wrap eliminates the tearing and stickiness of this fragile dough, and makes transfer easier.

Transfer the rolled dough to a 9-inch pie pan. Ease the dough loosely and gently into the pan. You don’t want to stretch the dough to fit otherwise it will shrink when it is baked. Trim excess dough to a 1-1 1/2 inch overhang. Turn the dough under along the rim of the pie pan and use your fingers and thumb to flute the edges. Freeze the pie shell for 15-20 minutes while the oven preheats.

Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Place a piece of parchment in the pie shell, with sides overhanging the pan, and fill with dried beans. This prevents the pastry from puffing up while it is baking. Bake the pie crust for 10-15 minutes or until the pastry rim is golden. Remove the pie pan from the oven and reduce heat to 350˚F/175˚C. Remove the paper and the beans. Return the pie crust to the oven and bake for another 10-20 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust is golden brown. Be careful that the edges don’t burn because of the coconut in the dough. Remove from the oven and allow the pie shell to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Baker’s Note: Crumple a large sheet of parchment paper then fold it out into the pie shell. Pour in the beans. The crumpled shape will fit the pie shell better.

Whipped Cream

2 cups whipping cream, chilled
3 tablespoons granulated or caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
1/2 teaspoon powdered unflavored gelatin dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water and heated for 5 seconds in the microwave (optional)

Chill bowl, whisk, and measuring cup for at least 1 hour. Pour chilled cream into the chilled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the chilled whisk attachment. Turn the machine on to Level 3 and whisk for 1-2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla, if using. Turn the speed up to 4-5 and whisk until soft peaks form. Stop the machine and remove the whisk. Turn it upside down. The cream should be soft and curl over on itself. Re-attach the whisk and continue whisking on Level 4-5 until stiff peaks form. Because cream can “weep” if it is not eaten right away, you may wish to stabilize the cream with gelatin. Slowly add the dissolved gelatin and continue whisking until stiff peaks form.

Baker’s Note: A vegetarian alternative is to make a whipped cream icing made with cream cheese instead of gelatin.

Whipped Cream Icing

1 8-oz package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup white superfine/caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract or rum extract
2 cups heavy cream, chilled

Combine cream cheese, sugar, and extracts on medium-low speed in a stand mixer. While the mixer is running, gradually add the cream. Whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. This could happen quickly so watch carefully.

Assemble the Pie:

Scrape the chilled pastry cream into the cooled crust. Smooth the top with an offset spatula. Spread about a cup of the whipped cream on top of the pastry cream, mounding it slightly in the center. Spoon the remainder of the whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe cream in mounds all around the outer edges of the pie.

For Garnishing the Pie
1 1/2 cups (55 g or 2 oz) thin slivers of crystalline coconut
4-6 oz good white chocolate to make 2 ounces of curls

Slice the coconut into thin strips (julienne). Lengths will vary and that’s okay. Sprinkle crystalline coconut strips in the center of the pie. Use a vegetable peeler or a small knife to scrape about 2 ounces of white chocolate to make curls. Sprinkle curls on top of the coconut strips.