Suzi's Blog

Coconut Cream Pie ala Zachary from Paris

There may come the day when you begin to think that your spouse is as smart as you are. Or, smarter. It’s a matter to reflect on.

I know Suzen is smarter than I am. I simply refuse to acknowledge it. It’s not that she has an ego. I just don’t want to open the door any wider than it is.

Yes, husbands have pride, too.

Suzen has a very deep philosophy about cooking, about the power of the kitchen as the ideal place for communication and learning. I have seen her develop teambuilding programs for adults, using the kitchen as a metaphor for life. I’ve seen and I’ve believed, but now I’ve experienced.

How do you bond with a little kid? That boy in the picture is Zachary, the son of Suzen’s cousin-one-removed from Paris. [If you don’t know what cousin-what-removed means, then look up cousins in Wikipedia. Zachary is not a second cousin. That’s if I understood the mathematics in the Wikipedia article correctly!]

It’s my second time with Zachary and at two years of age, he’s naturally shy. So, again, how do you bond? After extensive experimentation, Suzen has determined the food that is best for bonding with young children. You may have heard of it before: whipped cream.

I got to Zeva’s place with a lug holding the core pie, a bowl of whipped cream, and a bag of freshly toasted coconut. “Zachary,” I said, “I need help. We need to complete this pie.”

Living in Paris, I doubt that is a sentence the two-year old had heard before. Not even if you substitute “tart” for “pie.”

I needed to demo. I took up a big spoonful of whipped cream and dropped in on the pie and spread it out with the back of the spoon. Zachary watched. I took another. Then another. Then, as proof of his great intelligence, and with no verbal prompting, Zachary literally grabbed the spoon from my hand, scooped up a mountain of whipped cream and plopped it on the pie. I had to do the spreading, actually. That’s how you learn: one motor skill at a time.

Further to his credit, all the whipped cream went to the pie. None to his mouth. I don’t have that control.

In the picture above, we are past the whipped cream stage and Zachary is helping me spread the toasted coconut. Zeva took the picture and I think she had the speed wrong, which is why my hands are blurry. I don’t shake that fast at all.

I would bet, bet a lot, that you have never made your own coconut cream pie. This recipe, from Pie by Ken Haedrich, is awesome. On my first bite, I honestly thought this is best pie I have ever made, ever tasted. It’s so easy, I feel like an idiot for only having tried cream pies from restaurants or bakeries before. Some were good, some were old. This was heavenly and fresh.

Everyone at the table, and I mean everyone, said this pie was a wonder. That crust picture is the graham cracker crust, also from Pie but my thicker version, that I blogged early.

As I said, everyone loved the pie. Zachary said something to me. It was in the French of a two-year old but it sounded remarkably like “more.”

Ah, two notes. This recipe calls for coconut extract. You have some, right? Neither did I. So, I used some caramel extract, from one of those unopened bottles in the back of my shelf. It was right there next to the purple food coloring I bought for some reason. Anyway, caramel was fine. You can always improvise.

And, the recipe here calls for toasted coconut. Ken Haedrick has ideas about that and I’ll post that tomorrow. In the meantime, yes, 10 minutes in an oven at 325⁰.

Coconut Cream Pie

Yield: 1 9-inch pie, 6-8 slices, 1-8 people [some people like a lot of pie]


In advance:

  • 1 graham cracker crust, baked and cooled [see the blog post on this site for a great recipe]

For the filling:

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 cup sweetened flacked coconut

For the topping to be applied just before eating:

  • ¾ cup cold heavy or whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted


Whisk the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium-sized heavy saucepan, preferably nonstick. Whisk in the milk and egg yolks. Place over medium heat and cook, whisking virtually nonstop, until the mixture thickens and starts to boil, about to 7 minutes.

[Note, the heavier and wider your saucepan, the sooner it will boil. Mine did in 4+ minutes. Keep the heat on medium to medium-low so things don’t scorch.]

Continue to cook, whisking nonstop for about 1 minutes.

[Note, you will know, don’t worry. The cornstarch will kick in and the mixture will thicken very rapidly. You may want to lower the heat a tad, again to prevent scorching. And, as it thickens, the mixture will begin to cling to the sides of pan. That’s the reason for wanted a non-stick pan if possible. The parts that do stick may scorch so you want to be careful about what goes in the pie and what stays in the pan. Remember, you can always lick the pan before cleaning.]

Whisk in the vanilla, coconut extract and flaked coconut. Immediately pour the filling into the cooled pie shell and smooth the top with a spoon. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly over the filling, leaving no gaps or air pockets to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool, thoroughly, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

[Note, this is one place where I take exception. After filling the pie, I would let it cool to down towards room temperature before covering with plastic wrap. The thought of very warm filling in contact with plastic is not one I’m happy with.]

When you are almost ready to serve the pie, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until stiff but not grainy. Spread the whipped cream over the pie, as decoratively as you desire. Dust with the toasted coconut.

This pie will save well in a cold fridge for a day or two, but that is an unlikely experience.

Source: Pie by Ken Haedrick




Two Wonderful Pie Books

We are two thirds of the way through summer, and it is now peak season for pie makers. There are still berries to be had. Peaches abound. And soon, as fall enters, we’ll have apples by the ton. In just two months, fresh pumpkin pie will tempt us.

I like pies of all kinds, but fruit is dearer to me than even chocolate. I remember my first lemon meringue pie, from the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angles. Like a first kiss, that first pie was confirmation that life could be grand.

Suzen and I have collected pie books aplenty over the years. Pie books tend to be slim, with a few dozen recipes. Slimness is not bad and those smallish books have some wonderful ideas.

But when I am in a pie mood, when I need a pie encyclopedia for something different, where do I turn? I happen to be ambidextrous and therefore I can do two page turns at once. If you love pie, then there are two very thick books that you want to consult. Great Pies and Tarts by Carole Walter is a bible at almost 500 pages. Pie by Ken Haedrich comes to us with over 600 pages. Both books are wonderful and both are indispensable. And, they complement each other.

Do you want a tangerine pie, then you need Great Pies and Tarts. Is there a watermelon afoot in your kitchen, then you need Pie. And, Great Pies and Tarts does not address watermelon while tangerine does not appear in Pie. It turns out that these wonderful books truly complement each other.

If the slim books have a few dozen recipes, these two tomes have hundreds. Does size, or quantity, matter. It does.

When you ask someone to name a pie, they are going to answer “apple.” Then “cherry” and “berry” will pop up. “Peach” perhaps. “Watermelon?” Never.

Besides offering the most delicious spectrum of flavors, these two books serve a vital role. They capture and preserve a tradition of American pie recipes that might otherwise be lost. Pies from different eras and a different America. You won’t find a “Deep-Dish Pluot Pie with Oatmeal-Walnut Crumb Topping” in the freezer section of your supermarket. You will in Pie. “Creamy Green Grape Pie?” Not in the store but Carole has the recipe ready and waiting for you.

Over the coming weeks, you’ll see some great recipes here from these books — I’ve already posted Ken’s Watermelon Chiffon Pie. And, recipes for crust, lots of recipes. Pie crust is something that frightens too many of us to a shelf in our store we can find one “pre-made.” That’s really good marketing talk for manufactured. You want your own crust, your own personal crust, and we’ll have many good ideas here for you.

Along the way of this pie journey, you can visit Carole Walter at her website or join Ken Haedrich’s Pie Academy for lots of serious instruction. Just click here and enjoy: