I met my friend Lee through her best friend Andy whom I met decades ago when my hospital was installing his company’s software. Andy once organized a wine trip through Napa for eight of us which involved multiple wine tour stops per day and traveling around in a big white van– but that’s another blog post…
Lee’s a shadow member of the mommy dinner club– meaning she’s so busy raising her spunky daughter Maggie, working, and participating in Andy’s theater productions that she has yet to attend a dinner! Thankfully she and I are frequent flyers on FB and we can keep up a bit with each other’s lives.
She recently posted a picture of coconut cream pie bars that looked so luscious and rich that I immediately clicked on the recipe link. Sugar cookie crust topped with a coconut cream custard made with milk and coconut milk. A final topping of vanilla sweetened whipped cream. I knew I had to make them, even though Kurt isn’t fond of coc0nut (“it has a weird texture”). I knew Ken would like them because he likes both pudding and pie!
The original recipe is here, but I changed a few things along the way, both before and after making the bars. For the crust, I was too lazy to measure the flour at 1 1/4 cups PLUS 2 TB; I rounded to 1 1/3 cups. For the custard, I swapped the milk for half-and-half. We only have 1% milk and I thought that would be too thin for the custard, and, well, I had the half-and-half, so why not? Instead of measuring 1 1/2 cups of coconut, I just used the entire 14.5 oz can– what would I do with 2.5 oz of coconut milk?
I also don’t usually buy imitation extracts, so there was no coconut extract for the crust or the custard; however, the coconut itself has plenty of flavor for the filling. For the whipped cream, I didn’t use powdered sugar, but used a tablespoon of granulated instead, plus a packet of whipped cream stabilizer (I use Whip It, which you can find at the grocery store). I didn’t want the whipped cream to weep onto that yummy pudding!
Next time around, I will reduce the sugar for the crust from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup, as listed below and add 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. The crust was too sweet for me and Kurt. When I made these bars, I used a square 8×8 inch baking pan; the crust was very thick as was the filling layer, so I will switch to a 9×9 inch pan next time. Do keep the pan in the refrigerator because of the filling; so far, the crust has not fallen apart!
Coconut Cream Pie Bars (all changes reflected below)
for the crust:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 c sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 1/3 c AP flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
for the filling:
- 3/4 c sugar
- 1 can of unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 1/2 c half-and-half
- 1/4 c cornstarch
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 TB butter
- 1 c shredded coconut
for whipped topping:
- 1 c heavy cream
- 1 TB sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 packet (or enough for 1 c cream) stabilizer
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 9×9 inch square baking pan with cooking spray, set aside. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder for the crust and set aside.
Cream together butter and sugar in a medium mixing bowl.
Add the egg and vanilla to the butter/sugar mixture and blend well.
Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended.
Pat dough into the oiled pan and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Let crust cool for 15 minutes on the counter, then refrigerate. While crust cools, make the filling. In a small bowl or cup, blend the cornstarch and 1/2 c half-and-half, set aside. In another small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with salt and set aside.
Add the sugar, coconut milk, 1 cup of half-and-half to a saucepan. Heat milk til scalded (bubbles just begin to break along the sides). Remove pan from heat.
Measure about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture and temper the yolks by slowly add the milk to the yolks, whisking constantly.
Add the warmed yolks and the cornstarch slurry into the milk/sugar mixture; whisk to blend all ingredients. With the heat on medium to medium-high, continuosly whisk mixture until it becomes a thick pudding. Be careful if the mixture begins to bubble; it’s very hot.
Remove the thickened pudding from heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and coconut. Press plastic wrap across the surface and let the custard cool slightly; I put the entire pan into the refrigerator to cool for about 15 minutes.
Remove the crust from the refrigerator. Whisk the pudding to loosen, if necessary, then pour pudding over the crust. With an offset icing spatula, smooth filling over crust. Cover crust with plastic wrap and let cool; I let the pan sit overnight.
When ready to top the bars, whip the cream, sugar and stabilizer together until soft peaks form. (I usually place both my beaters and a stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes to chill; the cold utensils and bowl really help to increase the volume of the whipped cream).
Spread the cream over the cool bars; you’re ready to dig in!
Slice and serve!