Many people love fruit pies. Not me. I love fruit, but it's best fresh or dried, and usually unsweetened. Let's have fruit as part of our meal, and have our dessert be a pie that's smooth and creamy, like this Coconut Cream Pie.
Coconut Cream Pie is one of my favorite pies. I don't consider myself to be a huge pie person. I have a few favorites (five, which is more than I expected*), but I seldom choose pie over other dessert. I don't make pie often, because it's hard for a family of 2 and a half to finish an entire pie before the crust gets soggy.
Not this one, though. I've said for years that coconut cream pie was my grandpa's favorite pie too. He passed away 10 years ago at this point, and I can't recall if that's actually true. I hope it is, though, because it makes me happy to think so.
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Even so, this isn't a family recipe at all. I only first made this recipe because it was the only pie recipe in my 2000 Betty Crocker Cookbook that called for a premade graham cracker crust; thus it became recipe 203 of my 365 Recipe Challenge in 2010.
I loved the recipe when I made it, so much that I've never tried another recipe for it. It's a creamy pudding, thickened with cornstarch, that you cook on the stove. It's got a heavyish dose of vanilla, and you stir in a large (but not excessive) amount of sweetened shredded coconut.
Yes, it would be easier to just stir milk with a box of instant pudding mix, but trust me that homemade pudding is so much tastier and wholesome. And you can adjust its sweetness to taste!
How to Make a Coconut Cream Pie
There's 3 components to making a coconut cream pie: crust, filling, and whipped cream topping. You can use a store-bought graham cracker crust, and whipped topping or spray whipped cream from the store if you'd like. No judgment here. The filling is the most important and delicious part to make from scratch.
What follows is a rather long tutorial, if you need a step-by-detailed-step walkthrough. Skip to the end for a more concise recipe.Jump to Recipe
Pastry Shell versus Graham Cracker Crust
You can use whatever kind of crust you'd like, homemade or store-bought. I prefer graham cracker crust. Try a cookie crumb crust if you'd prefer, or even a regular, pre-baked pie shell.
I've included an optional graham cracker crust recipe below. I didn't include it in this recipe in 2010, but I tested it this year. It makes a thicker, and tastier, crust than a store-bought crust.
Keep in mind - a homemade crust has to cool completely (about an hour) before adding filling, or the crust might become soggy.
Melt your butter for the crust and stir in the 2 tablespoons sugar briefly to dissolve. Then, stir in the graham cracker crumbs with a fork. Stirring with a fork will help keep the crumbs from clumping up in the butter. You want it sandy and light, not clumpy and dense.
(Using whole graham crackers instead of boxed graham cracker crumbs? Start with 10 whole crackers, and crush them [with a meat mallet, or your hands, or your preschooler's hands] in a sandwich or quart sized bag until fine. You don't want any big pieces.)
Once the crumbs are moistened, dump them into your pie dish. (I prefer glass or ceramic over metal.) Gently and evenly pat the crumbs out over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. If you pat too lightly, the crust won't stick; too hard, you won't be able to cut through the crust. Don't worry about creating much of an edge crust (as I tried to do); it will fall off when you cut the pie.
Bake the crust at 350F for 10 minutes. Your house will smell amazing! Remove the crust from the oven and cool it completely, about an hour, before filling the pie. If you don't cool it completely, it will become soggy when filled.Jump to Recipe
Coconut Cream Pie Filling
You can really taste the difference in making a pie filling from scratch versus making it from a boxed mix. Even if you buy a crust and use spray whipped cream, it's 100%+ making this pie filling.
Basically, you're making a thick vanilla pudding on the stove and stirring shredded coconut into it, then pouring it into a pie shell. Start by getting all your ingredients in place.
Whisk your 2 eggs in a medium mixing bowl. This mixing bowl should be heatproof, since you will stir some of the hot milk into it later. It will ideally have a handle or ring so you can easily hold it to pour the egg/milk mixture back into the pan to cook more.
Next, set your 2 tablespoons butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1 cup of shredded coconut out so it'll be easy to add in once your filling is cooked.
What else will you need? I make cream pies a few times a year, but I still like to pour my filling through a mesh strainer as insurance that I won't end up with lumps if I don't stir as well as I should. I forgot to get mine out first, but set yours alongside everything else.
In a heavy, 2-quart saucepan (or larger), stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the milk. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils.
As long as you're stirring the mixture and scraping the bottom of the pan, don't be afraid of the heat. You need to scrape the bottom of the pan to be sure the milk doesn't stick to it as it thickens. If it seems to thicken a lot (like a paste), turn the heat down a tiny bit.
You will need patience, though. The recipe originally said cook time was 15 minutes. For me, I find that it takes more like 25 total, from start to finish; I proceed more cautiously. And it took me longer the first time! So, if you're not used to making puddings, proceed cautiously for success! It's worth it.
Once the mixture bubbles everywhere along the surface consistently, let it boil for one minute, stirring and scraping the bottom constantly. This cooks the cornstarch to thicken it.
Immediately and gradually drizzle and whisk half of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture in your mixing bowl. You want to do this very slowly, and whisk constantly, so that you don't scramble the eggs. If you're concerned your mixing bowl will move, put it on a silicone pad so it won't slide around, or wrap a wet towel around it in advance.
Next, take your egg mixture and whisk it back into the remaining hot milk mixture in the saucepan. You can pour this through the mesh strainer . (Or, you can save the strainer for after you're done cooking the pudding but before you add coconut.)
Return the pudding to a boil. Boil and stir the pudding constantly for one more minute. This cooks the eggs and thickens the pudding further.
This is enough time to get the pie to cook and set as long as the entire surface is steadily bubbling. If you're nervous, you can boil either the cornstarch mixture or the egg mixture for an extra minute, and it'll be fine. However, the longer you cook it, the less creamy and more firm the texture will be.
Remove the pudding from heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla, and shredded coconut (unless you plan to strain the pudding for lumps again - if so, add the coconut after straining).
Pour the coconut filling into the cooled pie crust. Press a layer of plastic wrap or waxed paper directly on the hot filling, as this will help prevent a skin from forming on it.
Refrigerate the pie for at least 2 hours, until set.Jump to Recipe
Whipped Cream Topping
You can't have a cream pie without a cream topping, right?
My mom didn't like meringue. Growing up, we topped everything with Cool Whip, which is inexpensive.
I'm not a huge topping person, but I keep a can of spray whipped cream around the house for Alex. For this, I decided to make a little whipped cream for the pie to make it pretty, though.
You can make whipped cream with a mixer or with a whisk. I did a whisk, and wondered why I didn't use a machine. (The answer was: more dishes.) But either way:
Take heavy cream, and whip it until soft or heavy peaks form. That is to say, when you take the whisk or beater, stick it into the cream, pull it straight out, turn it upside down, and the peak either sticks mostly straight up, or droops over a little.
If it flops over too much, it's not ready yet. But proceed cautiously. Things can overwhip easily.
If your cream overwhips, add a little extra cream, stir loosely to deflate it, and whisk slowly to start again.
You don't actually need any sugar in your whipped cream. There's enough sugar in the crust and filling.
Remove the plastic wrap from the pie and top it with the whipped cream. If you use spray whipped cream, the whipped cream will deflate somewhat, even refrigerated. So, don't top until serving, and top individual slices separately.
Homemade whipped cream will last longer, even in the fridge. Below you can see a thin layer of homemade whipped cream after one day, topped with 10 minute old sprayed whipped cream.
Top whipped cream with shredded coconut to make the pie look pretty. I actually misplaced mine between finishing the pie filling and topping it with whipped cream. Neither Alex nor I could find it anywhere. (I apparently buried it underneath chocolate chips and found it a few weeks later.)
There are quite a few recipes out there that use coconut milk, or even more coconut. I thought about looking for them. But honestly, I love this recipe so much, I don't want to try any others. I only make this every year or two. Why mess with what I already like so much?
So, I don't use coconut milk. Otherwise, does it matter what kind of milk you use? Yes, and no.
Use dairy milk. Whole milk, 2%, and 1% are all fine. I'm not sure skim milk would work properly because it's non-fat. I've used both 1% and 2% milk, so use whatever's in your house. I do not know if non-dairy milks such as soy or almond would work. If you were going to try them, just try a recipe that called for coconut milk, and skip dairy altogether.
The original recipe took egg yolks, but I use whole eggs. I honestly don't like separating eggs and having to deal with discarding, freezing, or using egg whites. Using whole eggs makes the filling a little less rich, which doesn't bother me. It's simply a whole lot easier.
How to Serve Coconut Cream Pie
Coconut Cream Pie is best served straight from the refrigerator. Return it to the refrigerator as soon as possible, too. Since it's a cream pie, the filling and whipped cream will pick up off flavors easily, so keep it covered securely with plastic wrap. Once we have just a few pieces left, I move it from the pie plate to containers with secure lids.
As I mentioned, homemade whipped cream won't deflate as easily and so you can top the entire pie with it when you make it (if you don't care much about second day presentation). The same with whipped topping. However, only use canned whipped cream to top individual slices before serving.
This pie is still delicious after a few days, and the filling isn't runny. However, the crust does get a little soggy by Day 3 or 4. I don't mind this much with a graham cracker crust, but you might.
I hope you've read my walk-through of how to make this pie, which is one of my favorites, and decide to give it a try! It really is incredibly delicious and easy to make. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as we do.
*My other favorite pies happen to be Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie, Pecan Fudge Pie, Chocolate Pie, and Key Lime Pie. I also make Pecan Pie often for my dad, but I personally prefer it with more nuts and a little less goo.
Interested in other recipes? I save and share recipes I like or want to try on my Pinterest page - follow me there! You can also check out my Facebook page for more recipes and helpful tips. I'm also happy to try to help troubleshoot my recipes there.
Have you tried this recipe? Or have a question about it? Rate it or leave a comment below! (PS: rating my recipes helps other people find them, too!)
In the past:
One Year Ago: Bulgogi Tacos
Three Years Ago: Carrot Soup with Sesame and Chickpeas
Five Years Ago: Mini Chocolate Bundt Cakes
Eight Years Ago: Ginger-Pecan Scones
This Coconut Cream Pie is a sweet and creamy, homemade vanilla pudding with lots of coconut, in a pie shell. Easy to make, and a family favorite!
If making a homemade graham cracker crust, add an additional 1 hour to the total time.
- ⅓ cup melted butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar (28 grams)
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (160 grams)
- 2 eggs (can use 4 egg yolks if desired)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla (10 grams)
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (100 grams)
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar (145 grams)
- ¼ cup cornstarch (32 grams)
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 3 cups milk (781 grams / 24 ounces) (1%, 2%, whole milk all work equally fine)
- 1 cup whipped cream (for topping)
- extra shredded coconut (for topping; optional)
Combine melted butter and sugar. Stir briefly to begin to dissolve sugar. Use a fork to stir in graham cracker crumbs. (A fork helps keep the crumbs from clumping together.)
Pat moistened graham cracker crumbs into a 9-inch pie plate. (Mine was ceramic.) Use your hands to gently and evenly pat the crumbs over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. No need to make much of a lip or crust over the rim; it won't stay attached.
Bake crust at 350F for 10 minutes. (It will smell amazing!) Cool completely, about an hour, before filling.
Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk them together. Set aside. Measure out your butter, vanilla, and coconut and set them aside for when the pudding is ready. (If you're confident in your pudding-making skills, you can do this all while you make the pudding/filling below.)
In a 2-quart saucepan, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. As long as you're stirring and scraping the bottom, don't be afraid of the heat. Boil and stir one minute.
Immediately and GRADUALLY whisk half of the hot mixture into the eggs. Then, stir them back into the remaining hot mixture in the saucepan. Return everything to the boil, and boil and stir for one more minute.
Remove the filling from heat and stir in the butter, vanilla, and coconut. Pour the filling into cooled pie crust and press plastic wrap directly onto filling to prevent a skin from forming.
Refrigerate the pie for at least 2 hours or until set.
Remove plastic wrap. Top with whipped cream and extra coconut, if desired. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
All stoves cook differently. Be careful if cooking on a gas range, so that your milk does not scorch on bottom. When using electric, feel free to turn up the heat if you feel like it is not cooking quickly enough.
The source recipe said that it would take 15 minutes to cook; it took me 30+ when I first made it and did not cook confidently. Scrape the bottom of the pan well from the beginning, and turn the heat back down if it seems to cook too quickly.
I have used both 1% and 2% milk in this recipe. Both work well. I have never used non-dairy milk in this recipe.
Recipe updated 4/24/2019.
Calorie count is an estimate based on pie made with 2% milk and only 1 cup of whipped cream made from ½ cup of heavy whipping cream. Actual calorie count, of course, will vary.
Adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook
[Originally published August 21, 2010. Updated text, pictures, and recipe May 6, 2019.]