Nana * French Coconut Pie


The story of my grandmother’s French Coconut Pie really begins in Nashville, Tennessee, during the summer of 1950, and in fact, it begins with a Cherry Pie. At the time, my grandfather was a first-year medical student at Vanderbilt University, and my grandmother was a freshman in the nursing school. My grandfather loved sweets, and the first time my grandmother had him over for dinner, she promised to make his very favorite dessert: “Oh, yes,” she told him. “I could bake you a cherry pie!” My grandmother had never made a pie in all her life.

And so, what began as a simple cherry pie (a recipe handed down straight from the files of Betty Crocker), soon evolved into all sorts of culinary escapades: pumpkin-pecan pie, bourbon-soaked bread pudding, raspberry-lemon trifle. And in 1953, on the cusp of their  senior year, that cherry pie turned itself right into a marriage.


My grandparents on their wedding day, 1953

Shortly thereafter, my grandparents graduated and moved to New Orleans. About six years after that, my grandmother quit her job as a nurse to take on the task of raising three young children. Meanwhile, she worked her way through Betty Crocker’s cookbook, continued to experiment in the kitchen, and perfected the art of the pie crust. “Your grandfather had to have a different dessert every night,” she tells me. “Maybe he would take a piece of leftover pie to lunch the next day, but at night, it was never the same thing twice.”

Not surprisingly, my grandmother was always on the lookout for great-tasting sweets, and one of her favorite recipes came from her mother-in-law, Juanita. It’s a recipe for French Coconut Pie that Juanita made at Christmas one year; when I asked my grandmother where it came from originally, she wasn’t sure. “Juanita was from a small town — Waurika, Oklahoma — and the ladies swapped recipes all the time. She probably got it from a friend. Cooking was a big thing at the time. It was an accomplishment I think most women strived for. It was sort of a badge of honor to be considered a good cook.”

Today, my grandmother is still baking that French Coconut Pie, and it’s one of my favorite desserts of all time — a dreamy combination of flaky golden crust, pillowy soft coconut, and a crisp, honeyed shell. For this recipe, I thank my grandfather, his sweet tooth, and the cherry pie that started it all.

***If you like coconut and/or this recipe, be sure to check out my grandmother’s Coconut Pound Cake as well: http://www.dramaticpancake.com/2012/04/coconut-pound-cake/

Three Quick Questions…and Nana’s Answers

It’s your last meal. What do you have?

Just a good old fashioned apple pie.

Your kitchen is burning down. What’s the one thing you grab?

My Christmas cookie cutters, because those are the cutters I used when I sent you and your brother cookies all those years. And you can’t find that set anymore.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

The original Betty Crocker Cookbook. I still go back to it to look things up.

French Coconut Pie
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10
Recipe is for an 8- or 9-inch pie crust. If your kitchen is warm, place your shortening, flour, mixing bowls and utensils in the freezer briefly before you get started.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 tbsp shortening
  • 2 to 3 tbsp ice water
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. For the pie crust:
  2. Measure flour and salt into bowl. Cut in shortening thoroughly using either two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles large, coarse crumbs. Sprinkle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with a stiff spatula until the dough just begins to clump. You may or may not need the full 3 tablespoons of water to reach this point, so don’t feel like you have to use it all.
  3. Gather dough into ball; shape into flattened 4-inch round on lightly floured cloth-covered board. (If you have time, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more. When you take it out, let the dough soften slightly at room temperature)
  4. On a lightly floured board, use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a circle 2 inches larger than the inverted pie pan. Roll from the center outward in light strokes. As you roll out the pastry, periodically rotate it a quarter of a turn. As needed, lightly flour the board so that the pastry does not stick. Occasionally, flip the pastry (if you dare!). When completed, gently fold the pastry into quarters (fold the pastry in half and then in half again); place the folded pastry into the pie plate with the point in the very center and then unfold it in the pan.
  5. Trim overhanging edge of pastry 1 inch from rim of pan. Fold and roll pastry under, even with pan. To crimp the edges, pinch the dough in one spot between your left thumb and index finger on one side and with your right thumb and index finger on the other; then twist each pinch in opposite directions to crimp the dough. Move over to the next portion of the edge, repeating all the way around the edge.
  6. For the filling:
  7. Preheat oven at 350°F. Combine all of the filling ingredients and pour in unbaked pie shell. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown.

Course: Desserts

Tagged: ,


  • This looks delicious! I’ll be taking it with me to a holiday party on Friday :)

    • Grace

      Lindsey- I may be a bit biased, but I think it’s a wonderful choice! :) Let me know how it goes over!

      • It was AMAZING. Really, totally amazing. Everyone devoured it and I took home an empty pie plate! This recipe is going in my secret stash for sure :)

        • Grace

          Woohoo!! So glad to hear it was a hit!

  • Heidi

    This is what my grandmother, from Kentucky, called chess pie. The addition of a tablespoon or so of cornmeal was what made the top crunchy.

    • Grace

      Ooh, I love chess pie! Definitely very similar to this one, with the exclusion of the coconut and a slightly different consistency. Grandmothers seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to dessert!

  • Jason

    I made this for Christmas and it was sooooo goooood!!! Will be making it when I meet up with my friends this week.

    • Grace

      Jason- I’m going to have to tell my grandmother, she’ll be thrilled! :)

  • Great post. Will try this for sure.

    ~ Carmen

    • Grace

      Thanks, Carmen! Let me know how you like it!

  • […] adapted from dramatic pancake […]

  • This is the most wonderful site. I have liked so many recipes on foodgawker only to be led to dramatic pancake. I have one question about this recipe. What makes the crisp honeyed shell?

    • Grace

      Kelly, I’m so glad you found my site! Thank you so much for the sweet words :) As for the crisp honeyed shell, it’s really just the sugars from the pie filling that caramelize on the surface of the pie while it bakes. The caramelization creates this thin, crisp “shell” of sorts. It’s delicious!

  • Today is National Pie Day 1-23-13! I was wanting to make a pie for my husband today. Just happened to find this, and yes in the south it is chess pie and my husband loves it! I am making this recipe today it sounds yummy!

  • Laura

    BEST. PIE. EVER. thanks!!!

    • Grace

      So glad you liked it, Laura!

  • heather

    Thank you for the recipe! My husband had been buying coconut pies from a lady at his brothers church. They were delicious but I was determined to replicate it! After several failed attempts I finally found it!! Your grandmothers recipe! My husband is happy :)

  • JOAN

    I would love to print out the recipe for the coconut pound cake. Any way I can? Sounds delicious and my 92 yr old Mom loves pound cake

    • Grace

      Hi Joan! Yes, just click on the “print” button in the lower right corner of the recipe.

  • Amy

    I am baking one now with a graham cracker crust….I didn’t have stuff for a regular crust…I will let you know how it comes out. My son loves coconut and has wanted to bake his own pie forever…this looked perfect. Can’t wait to try some!

  • Oh my, I’m in love… This Coconut Pie looks amazing and I know it taste equally just as good. I so cannot wait to try it. I was planning on making banana foster creme brulee this weekend but I think I might have to place that one on hold.

    Thanks for sharing grandma’s recipe.

  • Lovely post, Kathryn! Thanks for sharing this story and recipe! I just found your site – wonderful job with it! Cannot wait to try this pie. Happy Baking!

  • Grace

    Ah, good catch! Sorry about that. Fixed now. :)

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