I was at work when I received a text from Caroline saying, “Mom, I just made coconut pudding. We should make coconut cream bars.” I immediately responded, “Heck yeah! Let’s see what we can come up with.” So we went to work.
Caroline had already made a perfect pudding with two cans of coconut milk that were collecting dust in her pantry. Now we had to make the crust and the whipped cream. The big question was whether to use a flour or a graham cracker crust. Obvious choice: lemon meringue, key lime, and coconut cream pies are so much better with graham cracker crusts.
Our first attempt was good, but we knew it could be better. We thought adding coconut extract was optional, but it was definitely not. We didn’t add enough to the pudding the first time and didn’t add any to the whipped cream. We instead put a bit of almond extract in the cream, which was delicious, but even the tiniest addition overpowered the subtle coconut flavor of the pudding. So, back in the kitchen we went for round two (I had secretly hoped for a second go-around because that meant Caroline would be spending a few more hours in the kitchen with me!).
This time the pudding was perfectly coconutty, and Caroline declared that the whipped cream was “the best whipped cream I’ve ever had!” The coconut extract did wonders. Caroline said she could have eaten the whipped cream all on its own and that we should add coconut to whipped cream every time we make it! There are quite a number of times when we think we have a winner of a recipe but the results is a major fail. There are other times, however, where we feel that we absolutely nailed it, and we nailed it this time!
A few desserts that have really left a mark on my brain and taste buds. One was a pecan pie that I had had on the Delta Queen while cruising down the Mississippi River. The other was a coconut cream pie I had while visiting my mom in Georgia. These coconut cream bars are on par with that pie, which I can still taste from many, many years ago. Food truly has a wonderful capability of eliciting much-welcomed nostalgia. Our hope is that one day one of our recipes will be able to take you on a fond trip down memory lane as well.
2 cans full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, separated (2 egg yolks, 1 whole egg)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp coconut extract
2 tbsp butter
Graham cracker crust
½ cup toasted sweetened coconut
2 sleeves of graham crackers
1 tbsp sugar
10 tbsp butter, melted
2 cups of whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp confectioners sugar
1/8 tsp coconut extract
1 cup of sweetened flaked coconut is needed for the crust and for garnish. 1/2 cup is for the crust and the other half is for garnish.
Toasted coconut: Bake the sweetened coconut flakes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in a preheated 325 degree oven for 7-10 minutes. Let cool.
Crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, toasted coconut flakes and butter until evenly combined. We used a food processor, but if you don’t have one, you can put the graham crackers in a ziplock bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Press mixture into a 9”x13” pan and bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool.
Coconut pudding: Into a medium size bowl, add the egg, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Mix until combined. Set aside. Place the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk continuously until the milk just begins to boil. Temper the eggs by slowly adding the hot coconut mixture to the bowl with the eggs, stirring vigorously. Once the eggs are hot enough, pour them into the saucepan while whisking continuously. Cook for a few minutes longer. Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract, coconut extract, and butter. Pour the pudding on top of the crust and allow it to cool enough to cover it with plastic wrap (you want the plastic wrap to touch the pudding so a skin doesn’t form). Chill in the fridge.
Whipped cream: Whip the cream, vanilla, confectioners sugar, and coconut extract until stiff peaks form. Wait to complete this step until the bars are completely chilled.
Coconut cream bars assembly:
Once the coconut pudding has cooled, plop the whipped cream topping on top of the cooled pudding and spread it evenly. Sprinkle with the remaining toasted coconut flakes and enjoy. Best stored covered in the refrigerator. •
Olivia and Caroline are enthusiastic foodies and bakers who are constantly in the kitchen, as well as explorers who create their own adventures in our area – and did we mention they are mother and daughter? Follow Olivia on Instagram to see her many creations at @oliviawvalentine.