Coconut cream pie is one of my favorites. When I was little girl growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa., our family would sometimes go to a restaurant called Gullifty’s, a sort of striving-to-be-high-end cosmopolitan diner with a huge rotating case of the sort of over-the-top desserts featured in trendy establishments in the 1980s. I always ordered something big and creamy, and if memory serves, it was coconut.
Decades later, I encountered a transcendent slice of coconut cream pie at Blue Plate, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, and this recipe takes its cues from that adult version. The crust must possess just enough salty crunch, and the filling must be cool and creamy and include a bit coconut flesh. The directions are for a straightforward coconut cream pie, but smearing a layer of melted chocolate on the baked crust or topping the finished pies with a scattering of chocolate shavings is not a bad idea.
Be sure to buy real-deal coconut milk, the kind that has a pad of solid cream on top when you open the top. Light coconut milk simply won’t deliver the same flavor or consistency to the pudding-like filling.
Line six ½-pint (240-ml) jars with the butter crust with the pastry. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees (165°C/gas 3). Spread the dried coconut evenly on a rimmed baking sheet/tray, place in the oven, and toast until golden, about 5 minutes. Once the coconut starts to brown, it can overdarken quickly, so watch closely. Remove from the oven and immediately transfer to a shallow bowl or plate and let cool completely (do not leave it on the hot pan or it will continue to brown). Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees (200°C/gas 6).
Fit a piece of parchment/baking paper into each pastry-lined jar, extending it beyond the rim, and fill with pie weights. Arrange the jars on a rimmed baking sheet/tray, place in the oven, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, lift out the paper and weights, return the jars to the oven, and continue baking until the pastry looks dry and is golden, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a baking rack before filling.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended. Set aside. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl.
In a saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk, milk, 2/3 cup (130 g) of the sugar, the cornstarch, and the salt. Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to steam and bubble at the edges of the pan, 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Gradually add about ½ cup (120 ml) of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour this mixture into the saucepan while stirring constantly. Return the pan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened to a pudding-like consistency and is just beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through the sieve into the bowl. Stir in the vanilla and 1 cup (115 g) of the toasted coconut (reserve the remainder for topping the pies). Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the mixture, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.
Just before assembling the pie, in a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the cream until about tripled in volume. Add the sugar and whip until soft peaks form. (Or, use a large bowl and a handheld mixer or whisk.)
Spoon about ¾ cup (180 ml) of the coconut filling into each jar and smooth the tops. Top the filling with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the whipped cream, then sprinkle the reserved toasted coconut evenly over the cream.
Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days then serve chilled or at room temperature. These pies cannot be frozen.