Even coconut-haters love this luscious dessert at Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Lounge in Seattle. Here’s how to make it at home.
Triple Coconut Cream Pie, Dahlia Lounge, Seattle
When Seattle chef Tom Douglas opened his upscale Dahlia Lounge in 1989, he put a decidedly down-home coconut cream pie on the menu as a lark. Little did he know that the pie would take on a sweet life of its own.
Not only is it the best-selling dessert at Dahlia Lounge (2001 Fourth Ave., 206-682-4142, tomdouglas.com ), but it’s now available at 12 of his 13 Seattle establishments. Only 12? If you’re hankering for it badly enough at the other one, a server will be happy to run across the street to another Douglas eatery and fetch a slice.
Douglas sells 1,000 coconut cream pies a month. The pie's popularity was also an inspiration for Douglas's Dahlia Bakery. The pies are so highly regarded that they've fetched hundreds of dollars at charity auctions.
All this fuss over a pie? You bet, when it’s this luscious—with coconut in the crust, shredded coconut in the filling, and big shards of toasted coconut atop ripples of whipped cream and curls of white chocolate. Even coconut-haters love it.
“That’s because it doesn’t taste like suntan lotion,” Douglas says. “Every other coconut pie out there has fake stuff in it. When you use real ingredients, you realize how good it can taste.”
The recipe appeared in the chef’s first cookbook, Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen, and will show up again in a forthcoming Dahlia Bakery cookbook. It’s based on a recipe by celebrity pastry chef Jim Dodge. Any confident home cook can make it, Douglas says, although the ingredient list may seem long. (Unsweetened coconut chips or large-shred coconut can usually be found in natural foods stores or in the bulk section of supermarkets.) Because the recipe is time-consuming, he suggests making two pies at once. Give the extra one to a neighbor or to a local charity and make friends for life.
Triple Coconut Cream Pie
Makes one nine-inch pie.
Adapted with permission from the recipe of chef Tom Douglas.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
⅓ cup ice water, or more as needed
2 cups milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 large eggs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 coconut pie crust (recipe above), prebaked and cooled
2 ½ cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces unsweetened “chip” or large-shred coconut
Chunks of white chocolate (4 to 6 ounces, to make 2 ounces of curls)
To make the crust:
1. In a food processor, combine the flour, coconut, diced butter, sugar, and salt. Pulse to form coarse crumbs, gradually adding the water a tablespoon at a time. Use only as much water as is needed to hold the dough together. (Test it by gently pressing a bit of dough between your fingers.) The dough will not form a ball or clump in the processor. Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and pour the dough onto it. Pull the plastic wrap around the dough, then flatten it into a rough round. Chill 30 minutes to an hour before rolling.
2. Unwrap the round of dough and place it on a lightly floured work board. Dust the rolling pin and your hands with flour. Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8 inch thick, adding more flour if it begins to stick. Trim to a 12- to 13-inch circle.
3. Ease the rolled dough onto a 9-inch pie pan. Don’t stretch the dough to fit; it will shrink again when baked. Trim any excess to a 1- to 1 ½-inch overhang. Turn the dough under along the rim of the pie pan and use your finger to flute the edge. Chill the unbaked pie crust at least an hour before baking.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper in the pie crust and fill the cavity with dried beans or pie weights. Bake the crust until the edge is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, lift off the foil and beans, and return the crust to the oven. Bake until the bottom of the crust shows golden-brown patches, 10 to 12 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
To make the pastry cream:
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and sweetened shredded coconut. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir the mixture occasionally until it begins to steam and tiny bubbles start to form around the pan’s edges. (But don’t let it come to a boil.) Remove the pan from the heat.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. As you whisk, temper the egg mixture (to keep it from curdling) by pouring about 1/3 cup of the scalded milk into the egg mixture. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the milk and coconut mixture in the saucepan. Place the pan over medium-high heat and whisk until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the pastry cream is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, then place it over another bowl filled with ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming, and refrigerate until cold, about an hour. The cream will thicken as it cools.
3. When the pastry cream is cold, pour it into the prebaked pie crust, smoothing the surface with a spatula. In an electric mixer with whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high, and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it over the surface of the pie, or spoon it over.
To finish the pie:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a baking sheet, spread the coconut chips, then place the baking sheet in the oven. Stir the chips once or twice while they toast, watching carefully—coconut burns easily—until they are lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to shave about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls. Just before serving, decorate the pie with the toasted coconut and white chocolate curls.
2. The coconut pastry cream can be made a day ahead, covered with plastic wrap as above, and chilled in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to serve the pie, fill the prebaked crust with the cream, then top the filling with the whipped cream, coconut, and chocolate.
Photography by Tom Douglas
This article was first published in October 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.