There’s almost nothing more comforting than cream pie.
I have always been partial to a thickly frosted cake or the first bite of a near-baked cookie, but when my friend Jillian made her take on coconut cream pie in July, I became a pie convert on the spot.
The two of us spent years in the kitchen together, attempting our quick versions of brownies and chocolate cakes with the eager promise of sugar that followed.
Now that Jill is a certified pastry chef – one who knows how to crack eggs without a hard surface and makes the task of tempering milk look like a effortless dance – I notice there’s an art to the craft of sweets that makes me want to pause and watch how it’s all done.
On a recent Wednesday, we stood at the countertop to make a dessert I’d been imagining on my tongue since my last slice.
This pie is rich without being too sweet. A graham cracker crust is filled with dark chocolate ganache and a heavy pastry cream whipped to perfection. The bitter chocolate fudge balances out two layers of whipped custard and cream, while the crust provides a welcome crunch without overpowering the flavors.
The recipe is also delightfully simple. Aside from the wait for chilling time, the absence of a hot oven means one less steamy kitchen and a slice cool enough for those Indiana summer evenings.
Chocolate Coconut Crunch Pie
Recipe by Jillian Zimmerman
- 1½ cups finely ground graham crackers
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 6 tbsp. butter, melted
- 2 cups milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 yolk
- 1 egg
- 2½ tbsp. cornstarch
- 4 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. butter
- ½ tbsp. vanilla
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut
- 2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
- 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate (we used Baker’s chocolate)
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
Whipped Cream topping:
- 1½ cups cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 tbsp. sugar
Let’s start with the shell, a buttery crumb crust that doesn’t overpower the delicate topping.
Melt butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Grind graham crackers; fill a plastic bag, place on a baking sheet, then crush using a rolling pin.
Combine crumbs with melted butter and sugar in a bowl and press into 9” pie plate. Start with an even layer of crust on the bottom, then kneed from the middle up to the sides with your fingers. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes and let cool.
Now for the pastry cream filling, which is a culinary school staple.
Heat milk and sugar together over medium heat until it comes to a simmer (do not boil – watch for the very beginnings of bubbles).
While the milk is heating, combine one whole egg and one separated yolk in a bowl and whisk with cornstarch and sugar.
When the milk and sugar begins to simmer, pour half of the sauce into the egg mixture while whisking the eggs vigorously to prevent curdling. This process is called tempering.
Pour the entire mixture back into saucepan with the rest of the milk and heat over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. The mixture should thicken to the consistency of pudding.
As sauce thickens, stir constantly to prevent burning. When the cream begins to bubble, remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into a bowl and let cool in the refrigerator for one hour.
Chocolate ganache sounds a bit intimidating, but if you have a microwave and some heavy cream, it’s a simple process.
Melt chocolate squares in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring every 30 seconds so the chocolate doesn’t burn. Heat whipping cream for 30 seconds – this helps the chocolate to mix without hardening.
As you stir the chocolate, pour heavy cream in a little at a time, mixing vigorously from the middle of the bowl until the chocolate is smooth and spreadable with a shiny consistency.
Pour ganache directly into the graham cracker crust and spread evenly. Let cool in fridge for about 30 minutes until firm.
Whip cream on high speed for the last layer of topping.
After the pastry cream and pie are cooled completely, fold coconut flakes into custard.
Top the ganache with pastry cream, and finish with a layer of whipped cream, covering custard completely to lock in the freshness.
Dust with cocoa powder or toasted coconut using a sifter.