This pie was inspired by my dad. He requested coconut cream pie in place of cake for his birthday, so I got to work. I knew he was after a homemade, old-fashioned version. It needed to be a creamy, sweet coconut cream pie loaded with whipped cream and coconut flakes. He reminisces about Marie Callender’s version, so I kept a photo of one of their pies on my desktop as reference. Lol. At the same time, I was also aiming for a pie that had some balance. After a few rounds, I landed on using buttermilk and sea salt in the coconut filling for a filling that is hard not to love.
Coconut Cream Pie: The 3 Main Parts
A classic coconut cream pie has three main components.
- A really good pie crust: Golden, flaky, with good structure. The pie crust will be fully baked prior to filling. Instructions below! I use this pie crust dough for a lot of pies.
- Creamy coconut pudding filling: Arguably the heart and soul of this pie. Spread it across the fully baked pie crust (pictured below). Then refrigerate until set.
- Whipped cream topping with toasted coconut: Just before serving whip some heavy cream with a kiss of powdered sugar and pile it on top of the coconut cream filling. Add a finishing touch of toasted coconut flakes, slice into wedges and enjoy!
How To Make the Coconut Cream Pie Filling
There are basically two major ways to approach coconut cream pie filling. You can make a homemade coconut pudding on the stovetop or you can make the filling using pudding mix as the base. This pie uses vanilla pudding mix to provide a quick, stable, reliable foundation. The pudding mix is combined with buttermilk and sea salt to balance out the sweetness contributed by the pudding mix and a lot of sweetened coconut. A bit of whipped cream is folded into the mix to bring a bit of lightness to the filling. You will be able to make the filling in five minutes flat. It’s fool-proof and absolutely delicious.
There’s certainly an argument for making homemade coconut pudding for the filling here. But because this has become one of my favorite “quick” pies to throw together, I go the pudding route. No egg tempering required.
How Do I Blind Bake a Pie Crust?
A pie like this requires a fully baked pie crust also known as a blind baked crust. Blind bake pie crusts are used for pies with a no-bake filling. I include detailed instructions in the recipe, but the picture (above) demonstrates the general set-up. To blind bake a pie crust, line a pie plate with your pie dough. Place a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil to cover the dough. Then fill completely with pie weights, or dried beans. Bake until the edges of the pie crust become golden. Carefully remove the pie weights, dock with a fork to prevent air bubbles, and brush the edges with an egg wash. Bake for another 15 minutes or until the entire crust is beautiful golden.
What Kind of Vanilla Pudding Mix Should I Use?
When you go to buy pudding mix for this pie, you want instant pudding mix. That’s the first thing. My recipe calls for two boxes of 3.4-ounce vanilla instant pudding mix. I’ve been using the 365 Whole Foods Market Vanilla Instant Pudding most often - works great. But I’ve also tested with Jell-O instant vanilla pudding (3.7-ounce boxes). Seems a bit sweeter, but works well. Basically, don’t get hung up on the weight of the pudding boxes, just aim for something in the 3.5-ounce size range and confirm it is instant.
Coconut Cream Pie: Variations
Little tweaks to your coconut cream pie filling and topping can have big impact. If you want a classic flavor profile, go the vanilla route. Personally, my favorite version is made with a couple generous splashes of bourbon. It's boozy, decadent, and wildly good. Instructions for both versions are included in the recipe below.
- Bourbon Coconut Cream Pie: Add 2 tablespoons of bourbon to the coconut cream filling and mix until the pudding begins to thicken. Follow the instructions for whipping the cream with powdered sugar. Adding 1 tablespoon bourbon to as soft peaks are forming and continue to mix.
- Vanilla Coconut Cream Pie: This is my basic recipe. Some recipes use coconut pudding or coconut pudding mix, and/or coconut extract, and coconut milk in their coconut cream pie. But I feel like the amount of sweetened coconut in the filling delivers plenty coconut flavor. And I prefer the texture and mouthfeel here. I use 2 teaspoon of good vanilla extract in the filling, and 1 teaspoon in the whipped cream topping.
This is one of the easiest pies I make. And least time intensive. And it's a breeze to thread into your life. Even if you only have a few minutes here, and a few minutes there. The most intensive aspect is keeping an eye on the pie crust as it is baking, to get it just right.
- Make the pie dough: You can do this weeks ahead of time and place each round of pie dough double-wrapped in the freezer. Or make it a few days ahead of time and keep refrigerated.
- Make the filling and fill the pie: You can do this up to a couple days ahead of time.
More Pie Recipes
Coconut Cream Pie
If you don’t want to use bourbon, substitute vanilla extract - just not quite as much. A small splash, 2 teaspoons or so, in both the filling and the whipped cream on top is perfect. Also some instant pudding boxes are 3.4 ounces. Those are fine to use make sure you’re using instant though. No other adjustments are needed. If you don’t have buttermilk, substituting milk is fine.
- 1 9- inch pie crust enough for one bottom crust
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- zest of one lemon (optional)
- 1 2/3 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
- 2 3.7- ounce boxes of vanilla instant pudding
- 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
- scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 3 tablespoons bourbon (optional or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract), divided
- 1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup large flake coconut, toasted
Preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C with a rack in the lower third. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie dish.
If your dough has been chilling overnight allow it to sit at room temperature for a bit before rolling out - 10 - 15 minutes, or so. Lightly flour your work surface, hands, and rolling pin, and roll the pie dough out to 12 inches or so. Large enough to relax into your pie dish with a bit of extra dough beyond the edge. You’re going to want to turn the pie dough clockwise after every few passes with the rolling pin to prevent sticking. Flour more as needed as you’re rolling.
Transfer the dough into the 9-inch pie plate by gently wrapping it around a rolling pin and unrolling it across your pan. Working quickly, coax the dough into place, fold any extra dough onto itself, and then press confidently into the pan to anchor it. Work quickly so your dough doesn’t warm. To make a decorative edge, crimp or pinch around the pie using a fork or pressing your thumb and forefinger of one hand into the forefinger of the other hand. Chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.
You’re going to fully bake this pie crust. Once it has fully cooled, the filling will go in. But there will be not further baking.
Remove the pie crust from the freezer and place the pie dish on a large baking sheet. Line the crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill with baking weights. Dried beans, rice can be used for this purpose and saved for future use. I like to make sure the foil doesn’t cover the edge, allowing me to gauge how the crust is progressing in the oven.
Transfer to the oven. Bake until the edge is medium golden, this usually takes 40 minutes or so.
Remove from the oven and carefully remove the pie weights. Prick the base of the crust all over with a fork to prevent puffing. Brush the edges with a light coating of the beaten egg. Place the crust back in the oven and continue to bake until the bottom of the crust is beautifully golden. This usually takes another 15 minutes or so. If the rim of the crust is getting too dark, protect it with foil or (my preference) a pie crust shield. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a rack. Sprinkle the pie crust with the lemon zest.
Start by whipping 2/3 cup of the heavy cream until you get peaks. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine the pudding mix, buttermilk, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the bourbon (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract). Stir until the pudding begins to thicken. Add the sweetened coconut and mix until combined.
Fold in the whipped cream until the filling is uniform. Add the mixture to the prepared (and cooled!) crust and spread into an even layer. Chill for a few hours or overnight covered with plastic wrap.
When you’re ready to serve the pie, whip the remaining 1 cup heavy cream with the powdered sugar until you start to get floppy peaks. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of bourbon (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract) and continue to whip until the peaks get a bit firmer. Dollop onto the pie and use a spatula to cover the coconut pudding. Finish by sprinkling with the toasted coconut. You can refrigerate until ready to serve the pie or serve immediately.
Makes one 9-inch pie.