I will be brutally blunt — most roadside/pasalubong buko (coconut) pies I have purchased over the years have NOT made a good impression. I may be biased against this Southern Tagalog favorite, but I almost always find it lacking in taste, overly starched and with a paste-y crust to boot. I tried to get over my aversion to buko pie a while back, with this recipe, and actually ended up with a pretty decent pie. But the recent proliferation of roadside buko pie purveyors on the way to Tagaytay (there seem to be nearly 3 dozen places in less than 20 kilometers) had me wondering if I was simply missing something essential. I headed back into the kitchen yesterday to take another crack at making a buko pie I would be proud of…
I would like to point out that this isn’t a traditional or classic Filipino recipe. At most, it goes back a hundred years to the American occupation or should I say, administration. The concept of a fruit filling in a lard/butter crust is something we must have picked up from them, together with the mad planting of coconut trees throughout the archipelago to meet America’s insatiable desire for coconut oil at the time. First, the crust. I wanted a tasty, somewhat shattery top crust and supportive (not soggy) bottom crust. I decided to make a crust with some vodka in lieu of some of the water, AND I used a mixture of butter and homemade leaf lard for flavor and texture. I thought I would ramp up the flavor by adding some dessicated coconut into the dough, and I ended up with a terrific crust, if I may say so myself. :) I could have opted to blind bake the crust for a few minutes to crisp it up the bottom some more, but didn’t do that in the end, nor do I think it is necessary.
The filling was made with long strips of fresh coconut meat, perhaps a few days shy of perfect age… where they are firm but not yet hard and opaquely white. The last time I made one of these pies, I used large scooped segments of coconut, a bit too old the nuts were then, and I was aiming for a different consistency this time around. I used some fresh coconut water, cornstarch as thickener, and some good heavy cream. I mixed these in a small pot on the stove until a nice thick consistency and set this aside to cool before filling the pie. As an additional “zhugging” move, I made some long strips of baked coconut for garnishing. These toasted strips looked good and helped make things more vertical, but were honestly unnecessary, and an optional move for home bakers. We served the pie with some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It tasted very good, though a tad sweet (I have adjusted my recipe below). I am beginning to see that a good buko pie, can indeed, be a good pie. :)
For the crust, I used a slightly modified version of the Cook’s Illustrated vodka pie crust. Into a food processor, put 1.5 cups of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons sugar and blitz for a few seconds. Add 2/3 cup of cold butter, cut into cubes, and 1/2 cup of cold leaf (pork) lard. Blitz for a few seconds. Add a cup of all purpose flour and 1/4 cup of dessicated coconut and pulse/blitz a few times until there are coarse bits. Do not over process. Tip this into a medium sized bowl, sprinkle 1/3 cup of vodka and 1/3 cup of water over the flour mixture and mis with a spatula, pressing down to bring the flour and liquid together into a dough. Bring this all together with your hands and divide dough into two, wrapping each portion in plastic wrap and letting this rest in the fridge for an hour, and up to overnight. This crust works wonderfully and is easy to roll out and handle, even in tropical weather like Manila’s hot, steamy days of late.
For the filling, I put 1 and 1/2 cups of good heavy cream into a medium saucepan and added 1 and 1/4 cups sugar and turned the heat onto medium, stirring to dissolve the sugar. I added in 4 cups of coconut strips from 5 whole fresh coconuts, and I mixed 1/2 cup of fresh coconut water with 5 tablespoons of corn starch that I then added to the pot and stirred to combine all the ingredients. When the mixture has thickened, turn off the heat and let this cool down.
Pre-heat your oven to 425F. Roll out your dough and place one disc on the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate. Fill with the coconut mixture. Roll out your second piece of dough and place over the filling. Crimp the edges, brush with egg wash, and bake the pie on the bottom shelf of the oven for 12 minutes or so (this is to help the bottom crust cook and crisp up better) and then re-position the pie in the center of the oven, lower temperature to 350F and cook another 20 minutes until lightly golden. Let this cool completely before serving. I was impatient and cut into the pie whilst still warm, and the filling was a bit runny. But it tasted wonderful. Richer than most commercial buko pies. You may wish to reduce sugar a bit more if you use a sweetened heavy cream. Garnish with whipped cream and long strips of baked coconut. This pie would cut better if it is fully cooled down before serving.