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June 8, 2014

coconut cream pie bars.

Whenever I watch tennis, soccer, or any really athletic sport (sorry golf), I at some point appreciate how fit those people are. The thought sometimes continues, in-between admiring Rafa's outbursts of greatness and Djokovic's insane flexibility (can you tell I've been watching the French Open?). Commercial breaks come, and I start to plot out a regime of health foods & exercise to get my heart pumping on the level of the players I was just watching. The game comes back, and an exciting rally reinforces my vow to reform my life.

Eventually, the game ends. And instead of immediately going for a hike or run, I stay on my bed, stalk foodgawker, and decide to make coconut cream pie bars. Well ... everyone has their own thing to love, right?

The barely there layer of chocolate prevents the crust from getting soggy.

I gotta say though, it has been hard finding motivation to bake lately. Don't get me wrong, my sweet tooth is strong as ever. But the mangoes, pineapples, melon, and berries right now are just too sweet and delicious to substitute with heavy cakes or cookies.

I had a recipe for these bars bookmarked, but looking at it again, the levels of half-and-half and cream were just too high for me to conscionably make. 

So I cobbled together some components to form my own version - not healthy, but definitely lighter. The crust is an indulgent shortbread crust - basically just butter and flour, with very little sugar and salt. 

The filling is an adapted version of a coconut cream pie recipe. Although I used 2% milk and light coconut milk, I have included alternatives which would undeniably result in a richer, more indulgent bar. The lighter version was still highly enjoyable, though. The only thing I wish I had was more coconut milk, for a stronger flavor of coconut.

Lightly toasting the flaked coconut (for the filling) adds a slightly richer flavor, as well. The filling is not super sweet, so sweetening the whipped cream is okay. I did not top it with more toasted coconut because I preferred to maintain the creamy texture of the whipped cream.

Coconut Cream Pie Bars
filling from Lee Bailey's Country Desserts cookbook. 
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (reserve one Tablespoon for the filling)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 Tablespoons confectioner's (powdered) sugar

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2% and the remainder of the can of coconut milk - whole milk will make richer custard)
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk (I used light, but any will do)
  • 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or unsalted butter
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, lightly toasted (both sweetened or unsweetened work)

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 - 4 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  1. Prepare crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the butter into the flour, powdered sugar, and salt. Press onto the bottom of an 8x8" glass pan, or one that has been lined with parchment paper (leave some paper hanging out over the sides for easier removal later). Bake for 18 - 21 minutes, until light brown.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare filling: Combine cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk in some of the milk to dissolve the dry ingredients. Then whisk in the rest of the milk, while turning on stove to medium heat. Stir frequently. 
  3. When the milk mixture is quite warm, just before it starts steaming, stir egg yolks in a separate bowl. Add a ladleful of the very warm milk mixture to the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Continue doing so for 5-7 ladlefuls. Then, whisk the diluted egg yolks into the saucepan, stirring constantly to prevent the yolks from cooking.
  4. Whisk mixture over low heat until it starts to thicken and bubble. Then, remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract and coconut oil (or butter). Fold in coconut. Pour filling into a bowl, cover by placing plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard, and let cool completely in the fridge.
  5. Remove crust from oven when baked, and let cool completely.
  6. Finally, place whisk and bowl (in which the refrigerated cream will be whipped) in the freezer for at least 10 minutes. Whip cream until it forms soft peaks. Add in sugar. Whip till peaks stiffen slightly more.
  7. Assembly: Stir custard filling till smooth. Pour over the crust. Top with whipped cream. Top with more toasted shredded coconut if desired.

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