As a baker, my friends have come to expect me to show up to gatherings with a dessert to share. Usually, I’m more than happy to oblige. But, on a hot day, even I am loath to heat my oven for very long. This is where vintage icebox recipes like million dollar pie come in.
Million dollar pie is a classic icebox pie made with pecans, coconut, and pineapple in a whipped cream filling spread over a crumbly graham cracker crust. Put it all together and it’s rich, creamy, tangy, and nutty. It’s a smart dessert for a hot and lazy summer day.
What Is Million Dollar Pie?
Icebox pies were popular in the 1930s and 40s as refrigerators became increasingly common in households. Many claim that million dollar pie was invented in South Carolina, but I haven’t been able to confirm its exact origins. This much is true: it’s a Southern recipe dating back to the 1930s or 40s.
A traditional million dollar pie always includes pecans, shredded coconut, and canned pineapple. Store-bought whipped topping is folded into sweetened condensed milk to make the filling. Lemon juice not only balances the sweetness but also thickens the filling when combined with the sweetened condensed milk. It usually features a graham cracker crust or a shortbread crust.
My Take on the Classic
I created an updated version of this vintage recipe with a few easy flavor boosters: homemade whipped cream, a baked graham cracker crust, and toasted pecans and coconut. Yes, you have to turn on your oven, but just for a few short minutes. The toasty flavor and crunchy pecans and coconut warrant it, and you can bake the crust and toast the nuts at the same time.
In my research, I found that cream cheese is a controversial ingredient. I decided to include it because a little bit of cream cheese is my preferred way of stabilizing homemade whipped cream. It works better as a replacement for store-bought frozen whipped topping, and I also like that the tanginess balances the sweet filling.
What Makes This Pie Worth a Million Bucks?
With a name like million dollar pie, this recipe has a lot to live up to. Here’s why I think it’s worthy of its name.
- Million dollar pie is an almost no-bake recipe. You only need your oven for 10 short minutes. As a comparison, a traditional fruit pie takes about an hour to bake, which makes a big difference on a hot day.
- You can make it ahead. It needs to set for several hours in the refrigerator, making this a fantastic contender for any event where you want to get some of the prep work done ahead of time.
- In terms of flavor and texture, it has everything—it’s sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy, and rich and nutty. It’s a total crowd-pleaser.
Shortcuts and Upgrades
My version only adds a few steps for an upgraded million dollar pie. You can take a few shortcuts from the original, or upgrade it even further for a billionaire pie.
- Completely no-bake pie: Skip baking the crust and skip toasting the pecans and coconut. Chill the crust for at least 1 hour before adding the filling.
- Shortcut pie: The original million dollar pie uses frozen whipped topping (thawed) instead of whipped cream. Substitute a store-bought crust and a container of whipped topping for the homemade versions, then you can assemble the pie in five minutes.
- Billionaire pie: A variation on million dollar pie incorporates a can of cherry pie filling. To avoid adding too much liquid to the filling, I would instead add one-half to one cup of chopped maraschino cherries.
Beat the Heat with Icebox Treats
- Lemon Icebox Pie
- Blueberry Icebox Pie
- Easy Lime Icebox Cake
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Arrange racks in the bottom and top thirds of the oven.
Make the graham cracker crumbs:
Use a food processor to grind the graham crackers into fine crumbs. If you do not have a food processor, place the graham crackers in a 1-gallon zip-top bag and use a rolling pin to crush them into fine crumbs. You should have 1 1/2 cups of crumbs.
Mix the graham cracker crust:
Add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt to the food processor and pulse a few times to distribute. Pour in the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened and the mixture looks sandy. Alternatively, mix in a large mixing bowl.
Shape the crust:
Transfer the crumb mixture to a 9-inch pie plate. Use your hand or the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crumbs firmly into an even layer along the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
Prepare the pecans and coconut:
On an ungreased baking sheet, spread the pecans in an even layer on one half of the pan and the desiccated coconut on the other half.
Bake the crust, and toast the pecans and coconut:
Place the crust on the bottom shelf and the pecans and coconut on the top shelf. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust and coconut begin to turn golden. Keep an eye on the coconut. If it browns too much, give it a stir, or take the pan out early.
Let the pecans, coconut, and crust cool completely before filling, at least 15 minutes for the nuts and 30 minutes for the crust.
Strain the pineapple:
While the crust cools, strain the pineapple. Empty the can of crushed pineapple into a fine mesh strainer. Use the back of a spoon to squeeze out as much juice from the pineapple as possible. Set the mesh strainer with pineapple over a bowl to continue draining while you prepare the filling.
Start the filling:
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice. Set aside while you make the whipped cream.
Make the whipped cream:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the heavy cream in a steady stream. Continue beating on medium speed until the mixture thickens and stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. When you lift the whisk out of the cream, the cream should come to a point at the tip of the whisk that stays upright.
Reserve 1 cup of the whipped cream for the topping and store it, covered, in the fridge until needed.
Finish the filling:
Fold 1/3 of the remaining whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk mixture using a silicone spatula, then fold in the remaining whipped cream until just combined.
Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the pecans and 2 tablespoons of the coconut to use for the topping. Gently stir the remaining pecans, coconut, and all of the strained pineapple into the filling mixture until evenly distributed.
Fill and chill:
Use a silicone spatula to scrape the filling into the cooled crust and smooth the top. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate the pie until chilled and set, 4 to 6 hours.
Depending on the depth of your pie plate, you may have extra filling.
Add the topping:
Once the pie has thoroughly chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and take off the plastic wrap.
Spread the reserved whipped cream over the top of the pie. Sprinkle the reserved pecans and coconut on the whipped cream. Garnish with 8 to 10 maraschino cherries along the perimeter of the pie.
Slice and serve cold.
Store leftover million dollar pie covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.