I love to attend a dinner party or a wedding where individual sized desserts are served. Something about having my own personal 3 ½-inch diameter lemon curd tart, set on a full circle of buttery graham cracker crust, placed in front of me makes me feel like the pastry chef prepared the dessert just for me. Miniaturization is also a growing trend on restaurant dessert menus all over the country. Because tiny versions of desserts are served to the guest in one whole piece, as opposed to by the slice, the presentation is so much more attractive. I have even been to restaurants where trios of mini-desserts are offered, such as a small tart, cake, and truffle all on one plate, all for one person. This is a fantastic concept for someone like me, who has a hard time deciding what to order, and would much rather have a little bit of everything--genius I tell you, genius!
These personal portions of coconut cream pie might be small in size, but they pack a triple punch of tropical coconut flavor. There is shredded coconut in the flaky fluted crusts and in the rich pastry cream filling, then pies are topped with additional toasty coconut goodness. This would be the perfect impressive dessert to serve at your next dinner party, or even for Easter, which occurs early at the end of March this year. Everyone will swear that you purchased these from a bakery! Here are my tips for making these dreamy cream pies:
- If you don't have mini brioche molds (see photo), then you can always use muffin tins or mini tart pans to shape the crusts. The dough can also be used to make one large 9-inch pie as opposed to the miniature ones. To do this, flatten all of the dough into 1 disk, and chill for 1 hour. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 12 inch round and then transfer to a pie pan. Trim the edges and crimp decoratively.
- As a substitute for the vanilla bean, which is an expensive ingredient, you can either use 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon of a product called vanilla bean paste (see photo). This is a syrupy liquid packed with vanilla seed. The jar that I buy from Trader Joe's is much less expensive than vanilla beans, and it lasts much longer.
- To make these rich pies a bit lighter, substitute low fat or 1% milk for the whole milk when making the custard.
- The pies are best served immediately, however, if you are planning to make them in advance, the baked shells can be filled with the pastry cream up to 8 hours ahead of time and then topped with the whipped cream and garnishes just before serving. Pastry cream will keep, refrigerated and covered, for two days. Formed pastry shells will keep, frozen, for a few weeks.
- To toast coconut, place on a cookie sheet in a 350F degree oven until golden, 6-8 minutes.
- For an extra coconut-ty flavor, add ½ teaspoon coconut extract to the custard along with the vanilla.
Mini Coconut Cream Pies
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 large eggs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter, cubed
9 Coconut Pie Shells (recipe follows)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 ounce block white chocolate, room temperature (garnish, optional)
1 cup unsweetened large-shred coconut or ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted (garnish, optional)
Make the pastry cream: Combine the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and the bean to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour. While whisking, drizzle about ⅓ of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, and then slowly whisk the egg mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking, until pastry cream thickens and just begins to bubble, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the butter until melted, and discard the vanilla bean.
Spoon the hot pastry cream into a bowl and set it over a larger bowl of ice and cold water, stirring occasionally, until cooled to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and chill until cold, at least 3 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the Coconut Pie Shells (recipe follows).
Fill the pies: Carefully remove the baked shells from the molds. Spoon the pastry cream into the shells, filling each a little more than halfway. Using an electric mixer, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until it holds stiff peaks. Fill a pastry bag with a large star tip with whipped cream and pipe a double layer of cream onto each pie.
For garnish: With a vegetable peeler, scrape wide curls or shavings from the chunk of chocolate. Sprinkle the curls over the pies and top with the toasted coconut.
Coconut Pie Shells
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4-6 tablespoons ice water
In a food processor, pulse together the flour, coconut, butter, sugar, and salt to form coarse crumbs. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition, just until the dough holds together when pinched.
Unwrap the rounds and, working with one disk at a time on a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 5 inch circle about ⅛ inch thick. Transfer the dough to a brioche mold, letting it fall into place. Trim the overhang so that it is flush with the edge. Repeat with the remaining rounds and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees and place a rack on the lowest rung. Lay a small sheet of parchment paper in each pie shell and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Put shells on a cookie sheet and bake until golden, 10-12 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, return shells to oven, and bake until the bottoms of the crusts have golden patches, 10 minutes. Cool completely.