Triple Coconut Cream Pie

Tommy Douglas has changed my life. He's changed my sister's life and my parents' lives too. Our knowing he exists, like many culinary related things, is thanks to the Maki family. Without them, I'm not sure my family's legacy of good eats would be so strong. I forget the context, but one wintry evening, John (Kelsey's Dad) pulled out Tommy D's cookbook, The Seattle Kitchen, and gave it to us as a present. Since, we've made countless recipes from the book and bought his other one called Tom's Big Dinners. I can only recall one semi-failure when my Dad made baked trout with apple rings; the trout wasn't very good, so dinner wasn't very good, and Dad was kinda sad. But it really wasn't his fault, plus, success and deliciousness wouldn't be so good if they happened all the time.

Katherine and I have this phenomenal on-going dream where we move to Seattle, live in a tiny over-priced apartment near Pike Street Market looking out onto the harbour. We'd work in one of Tommy D's six restaurants, side by side, getting yelled at by the chef, furiously peeling potatoes, washing dishes with suds up to our ears, and stagger home very late at night, only to get up in the morning, groggily drink copious amounts of thick black Seattle coffee, get some exercise and do it all over again. It'd be amazing and probably very sweaty, dirty and frustrating. At least we'd have each other. Because you see, the other on-going dream is to open a restaurant, and we're going to need some training at some point about what this whole thing is about. We'll get there.

One of the first desserts I remember my sister making many years ago when she was probably 13 or 14, is the Triple Coconut Cream Pie. Her comments next to the recipe in the cookbook read: a bit rich... She wasn't exaggerating. A best-seller twelve years in a row at the restaurant (as of when the cookbook was written in 2001), there's coconut in the crust, in the pastry cream and on the top; not a pie for the weak-minded. After eating Katherine's pie, I rolled out of my chair onto the floor holding my stomach, groaning first of course with pleasure and then from the serious dairy overload. But I survived to tell the tale and ate it again last winter when the Makis and the Murphys went to Lola for an epic feast. (More stomach holding and groaning insued. Oh my phenomenal tendency to over eat!) Then finally, I rubbed my hands together, pulled up my socks, dressed to impress and made the pie. Ros and Ben were coming for dinner, and I wanted to impress. He didn't let me down; Tommy D never fails to impress. And despite the fact that pastry crust mystifies me every time, it turned out quite delicious, producing terrific comments from Ben's side of the table: pas real! oh, this is pas real!

Triple Coconut Cream Pie

As adapted from Tommy Douglas' Seattle Kitchen

I am not going to give you the 411 on Pastry Making. Despite all my reading about the mysterious, necessary procedures, I still don't really know what I'm doing. I have already given one recipe here for Max's mother's recipe, and it's really terrific, almost fool-proof, but since, my dad has modified it and I've lost track of which recipe I'm making. So I followed Tommy D's directions exactly, and well, the crust was fine. I knew it could have been more tender, but I have horrifically high expectations and we can't have everything.

This is definitely a time consuming recipe, so save it for those moments when everything else has gone totally wrong and you need some serious respite from this crazy demanding world, or when some super-excellent friends are going to grace you with their presence and you want to impress the hell out of them, ie., Ros and Ben. Thank you guys for being so incredibly wonderful! So here you go Ros, you can make pastry too, promise.

Coconut Pie Shell

You pre-bake the shell before filling it with the pastry cream.

1 C plus 2 TBS all-purpose flour
1/2 C unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 C (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt, or sea salt
1/3 C ice water, or more as needed

- Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until pea-sized.
- Add the ice water gradually, flicking the dough with a fork so you don't over mix. This dough is on the drier side, so don't add too much water, but you still need to add enough just until it looks like it'll barely hold together (I needed about a TBS more). All this caused me great doubt, and much worrying, but with faith I persevered. Gather the dough into a ball (it will be crumbly), place it onto some Seran Wrap and form it into a disk. Completely cover it and refrigerate for at least an hour. It can be made the night before.

- When you're ready to bake the pie, get out a 9-inch pie dish.
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface, turning the dough clockwise after ever roll so you form an even round disk, until it's about 1/8 inch thick. (If it seems like it's not going to work, just exercise some serious patience and be gentle.)
- Transfer the dough by rolling it around the rolling pin and laying it very gently into the pie dish. Help the dough to reach the bottom by lifting it up at the edges and pressing it into the dish with your fingers. Try not to stretch it.
- Trim the outside edges so you have about an inch hanging over. Tuck the excess dough under itself and crimp the edges.
- Freeze the shell again for one hour. This is supposed to help prevent shrinkage in the oven. I think it helped, but who knows.
- After an hour, preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Place a sheet of aluminum foil inside the shell. Fill it with dried beans and bake the shell for 20-25 minutes.
- Take the pie shell out of the oven, remove the beans and cook for 10 minutes more, or until the bottom begins to brown.
- Let it cool before adding the filling.

The Coconut Pastry Cream

This will need a couple of hours to cool down.

2 C milk
2 C unsweetened coconut
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 large eggs
1/2 C plus 2 TBS sugar
3 TBS all-purpose flour
1/4 (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softned

- Combine the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan.
- Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds from it. Add the seeds and the whole pod to the pot.
- Bring to an ALMOST boil on med-high. STIR FREQUENTLY. Otherwise, your milk is going to burn. Another way to do this is in a double boiler.
- Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar and flour. When the milk is hot enough, add about 1/3 C to the egg mixture to warm them up. You don't want the eggs to curdle when you add them to the milk and coconut mixture.
- Add the warmed egg to the milk and whisk until the pastry cream starts to thicken. It should be hot enough so that when you stop stirring, it will kinda blurp and bubble. But it's very important to stir, otherwise it'll burn. This'll take about 5-7 minutes.
- When it's very thick, take it off the heat, remove the vanilla bean and stir in the butter. Place the pastry cream into a bowl over another bowl of cold water to cool it down. I made it the night before, so I just left it on the counter and stirred it around a couple of times before putting it into the fridge.

NOTE: Before you refrigerate the pastry cream, place some Seran Wrap directly onto the surface. This will prevent a film from forming.

- When the pie shell and the pastry cream have cooled, scrape the pastry cream into the shell, smoothing it out to make an even layer.
- Garnish with whip cream, large-flaked toasted coconut and white chocolate curls. (Recipe for whip cream follows.)

Sweetned Whipped Cream

1 1/2 C whipping cream (35 %)
1 tsp vanilla
1 TBS sugar

- Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, add the vanilla and the sugar and beat a few more times.

* I always whip cream by hand, and as long as you use a metal bowl and big light strokes, it should take about 5 minutes. However, if you try stirring it, or just swishing the whisk around, it will take forever. So, use a lifting motion and hop to it.

- Put the whipped cream on top of the pastry cream and sprinkle on the large flakes of toasted coconut (you can find this at the grocery store, or if not, at the health food store) and white chocolate curls*.

* These curls can easily be made from a block of white chocolate using a vegetable peeler. I couldn't find a block of chocolate easily, so I bought some curls...I know, next time I'll make them myself.

The pie will keep at least four days in the fridge. I had to send some home with Ros and Ben because I didn't want to eat more than half a pie all by myself. Even though I made it on Wednesday, it was still delicious Saturday night after a meal of chickpea curry, broccoli and sweet potatoes. But I'd say four days is the max amount of time you'd want to keep it.

- murph


  1. After learning about him at a meal at your parents' house, Jane gave Bob a copy of Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen, which includes the coconut pie. We haven't made the pie yet, but we tasted it when we visited Jane in Seattle last March and had dinner at one of his restaurants, I think Palace Kitchen. Now she lives in Dallas and we have yet to visit her there. I hope that will happen in January or February. Although it's certainly not the food Mecca that Seattle is, there must be some good food there.

  2. What good news that you food-loving folks are enlightened too! I must have missed that meal, I'm sure I did.

    I just got a letter from Jane in the mail! She was making my butternut squash soup while writing it. It sounds like she's doing quite alright down there.

    Also, Texas has a reputation of pretty delicious slow-cooked delicacies. I'm sure you'll be able to find something divine.

  3. Trade you a slice of triple-chocolate no-flour chocolate torte w/veins of raspberry purée for a slice of your pie ?

    As for Dallas ... oh yeahhh, they got the COW going on !

  4. Sounds like a wicked fair trade. Could you fed ex it?

  5. I would like a piece of this pie right now. It would be the perfect accompaniment to the load of homework I have yet to plough through. This says a lot for your skill as a photographer lady, I don't think I have once desired this pie since I wrote the words "a bit rich..." in the margins of the cookbook. That was at least 6 years ago, but more like 7 or 8 I think.

  6. I remember that cookbook. I think Tommy signed it too!


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