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Everytime I make a pie, I get a different result as far as the stiffness of the pie. I am trying to perfect coconut cream pie (and other cream pies).

I have been researching Shirley O, Corriher and Harold McGee's work, and understand that the alpha-amylase in the egg yolk must be deactivated by boiling for a short time (although I also saw things like "approach a boil" to keep from breaking starch bonds). Otherwise it digest the starch as in the cornstarch, flour or tapioca starch. I understand that once the granules burst and release the starch chains and bond, that the process will start to reverse after the cream reaches its thickest point. So, I am careful not to stir too much, etc. I researched the different starches and found that cornstarch is not very heat resistant, so I looked into flour and tapioca (cassava) flour or starch. I don't think I have looked at arrow root as much.

OK, what about the sugar? Will too much sugar make it runny (I did try a recipe with less sugar). What about the milk? I use whole milk. Is there something with the milk? Do I need to use cream instead? I have read about using gelatin, but am not sure I want that consistency. Surely there is a secret so that the pie will come out right every time. HELP!

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    Forget the gelatin, it dissolves at 50°C (and starches start to thicken at 70°C, but often need higher temperatures). You cannot use it in a baked filling. If you found a recipe calling for it, it probably specified a prebaked crust or layers with a cake ring around them, and the filling is supposed to set outside of the oven, like a poppyseed-cream cake.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 15, 2011 at 21:02
  • That's assuming you are baking the filling. See my answer below. Mar 15, 2011 at 21:12
  • I removed the [baking] tag that I added because I think it was causing confusion. Although I'd consider any pie to be baking, the question does not specify anywhere that the filling itself is being baked.
    – Aaronut
    Mar 15, 2011 at 21:25

5 Answers 5

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My coconut cream pie recipe uses milk (2 cups, whole milk gives a creamier flavour), 6 eggs, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons of gelatin (and coconut of course). It doesn't go like jelly, it has more of a silky consistency.

You divide the milk thusly:

  • 2/3 cup, sprinkled with the gelatin, whisked, and left to soften for 5 mins
  • 1 1/3 cup to make the 'custard'

Once the custard is made (i.e. sugar whisked into egg yolks, hot milk poured in after tempering), simply whisk in the gelatinised milk. My recipe then calls for cream and the egg whites to be folded in (after cooling) to lighten the whole thing.

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  • This sounds as though it is not baked; I guess you'd have to pre-bake the crust and then... pipe the custard in? I guess you could just pour it in if you've got a high crust; I've always tended to think of cream pies as bursting with cream.
    – Aaronut
    Mar 15, 2011 at 21:15
  • Yes, it's a blind-baked shell. I usually just pile the filling in and smooth it off, then top with coconut. You could pretty much do what you like with it though. Mar 15, 2011 at 21:17
  • Ah, got it. Yeah, I just looked at a few recipes and that seems to be typical. For some reason I was thinking of a filling more akin to that of a cream puff, where the crust is a bit player. This is more like any other kind of pie.
    – Aaronut
    Mar 15, 2011 at 21:20
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Most cream pie recipes that I have used call for corn starch. Flour is sometimes used but it seems to be in older recipes and the texture turns out a bit different than you would expect in a cream pie.

The yolk enzyme does have to be deactivated but this is not a big deal. After you add the starch, according to the recipe, bring the mixture to a simmer for a few minutes. The corn starch can take it and won't break just from that. I have had pies not turn out from not cooking them long enough- I've never had one cooked too long.

Using whole milk does make a difference. A little bit of milk fat adds a lot to the texture and consistency of the custard. You can successfully make the pie with lower fat milk but it will be creamier and thicker with more fat (as you would expect).

As for tapioca starch... One Thanksgiving I ran out of corn starch. I looked through my cupboard and all I had was tapioca starch that I had used for an oriental recipe. I substituted one to one.

Tapioca starch sets nothing like cornstarch. Where corn starch sets up like a creamy pudding, tapioca starch has an amusing rubbery quality to it. When I sliced the pie the knife would go almost to the bottom of the pan before the custard would slice and spring back up. I could hold up a slice of pie by the back crust and the entire slice would stretch about two feet and dangle in the air.

The pie was delicious but I didn't think it should be served to guests. :) I don't recommend using tapioca starch unless you are going for silly.

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There are two styles of coconut pie, one of which has 2 variants. One version is a true custard pie filling that is poured into the raw crust and baked as one in the oven which sets the custard. The other style is NOT a custard, but commonly mislabeled because the ingredients are much the same. A "Cream Pie" can either have flour, cornstarch, or gelatin as it's thickener. This can complicate matters seeing as how flour and cornstarch thicken when brought to a certain temperature, but gelatin thickens once it cools below a certain temperature. Regardless, the texture of the second style is much less firm than the baked custard style. In the States, it would be similar to a "dessert pudding" (not to be confused with any of the savoury or bread puddings Europe has to offer) like Jell-O brand chocolate or vanilla pudding. Furthermore, this second style should be topped so that the "pudding skin" doesn't form on the top of the filling (unless desired). The 2 variants in topping I mentioned earlier are whipped cream and marshmallow meringue. I personally prefer the second style with the first variant, Young Thai Coconut Cream Pie w/a gelatin stabilized (for height and to prevent moisture weeping) whipped cream topping sprinkled w/ slivered almond & toasted unsweet shredded coconut. The Joy of Cooking cookbooks regardless of year have some of the best, classical French based building block recipes and knowledge of any publicly available cookbooks I've personally ever owned. They explain the base recipe, method and technique for an unreasonable number of known dishes worldwide, and give you the knowledge to adapt any of the recipes to suit your own flavor or needs. It's my go to for any new culinary ground. Good Luck.

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The best coconut cream pie, or any cream pie recipe, is in Joy of Cooking and uses flour for thickening. Makes fab pudding, too. I also (carefully) use whole eggs instead of the called for yolks for firmness. I've made this\these recipes for around 55 years, all flavors (made up flavors, too,) at home and in restaurants (for the big bucks 🙄) and it always disappears into appreciative faces.

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Corn starch always works. It stiffens the pie

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  • It doesn't always work, as the OP already mentioned.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 28, 2013 at 7:27

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