Buko (Coconut) pie seems to be the omnipresent food pasalubong or purchase if one happens to be on a road trip to Laguna, Batangas, Cavite, etc. Judging from the number of roadside vendors proclaiming they have the â€œitâ€ buko pie, and the number of folks who buy them, one would expect something truly special, unique, flavorful, addictive, desirable, memorable. Frankly, I just donâ€™t remember a single buko pie that I have ever tasted that I would describe as being special. However, in the interest of Market Manilaâ€™s readers and my own personal curiosity, I set out to make a buko pie that would challenge the best out there on the market. First of all, this pie canâ€™t be more than say 100 years old since the concept of two crust pies must have come to us from the Americans during the early 1900â€™s, along with modern ovens, and their mad desire to totally blanket the country in coconut palm plantations. So it is a relatively new invention, yet it has stuck in a big way.
Coconut as a filler for the pie is an unusual choice, normally you would go for intense fruit such as blueberries, plums, peaches or even apples but spiced up. Using truly bland coconut without much flavoring but lots of sugar instead seems like a poor choice at bestâ€¦why not mango or duhat pies or mangosteen tarts or mixtures of guava jelly and other tropical fruits? My theory is that we just had so much coconut coming out of our ears at one point and someone got the brilliant idea to use the coconut in a pie. Even a caramelized pineapple pie sounds more intriguing to me, and I am allergic to pineapple! Why buko pie has prevailed over all the other possible tropical fruit pies is beyond me. Nostalgia to a time when food was not so plentiful or available? Cost? Brainwashing? Texture? Childhood memories? What?!? I donâ€™t get it. Will buko pie lovers please explain? Despite this base negativism, I did set out to make a great pie and I did do it with the best ingredients I could find.
First, I stopped by a coconut vendor in Batangas and asked for 6 top notch young coconuts which he provided for PHP45. He lied a bit. They were about a week older than they should have been so the meat was a touch firmer than I would have liked. Next, I made the best pie crust I know how to make using lots of butter, shortening, flour etc. as described in my apple pie post. I used a deep 10 inch pie pan, not those shallow namby pamby 8 inch glorified oversized tart pans. To make the filling, I used 5 cups of coconut meat from about 6 coconuts, scooped out with spoons and cut into largish pieces. Put that in a heavy enameled pot along with 1 and Â¼ cups of granulated sugar, Â¾ cup evaporated milk, 1 and Â½ tablespoons butter in little cubes, Â½ cup coconut water wherein 5 â€“ 6 tablespoons of cornstarch has been dissolved and put over medium heat until it thickens a bit. Add a little coconut water if you think it looks too thick. You can also substitute canned coconut milk for the coconut water if you want added richness. The secret Marketman ingredient? Half of a fat fresh locally grown vanilla bean which released a phenomenal amount of seeds and added tremendous flavor – that 1/2 bean cost PHP80 or nearly twice as much as the coconuts!
Roll out the bottom crust and put in a ten inch pie pan. Add the filling. Cover with a top crust. Brush with an egg wash and puncture with a fork and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool and serve either at room temperature or cold. Actually, I liked its consistency better the next day, and chilled. The result? One of the best buko pies I have ever tasted. The vanilla was a noticeable addition and the little specks of vanilla screamed â€œI am superior to my roadside cousinsâ€ – an elitist buko pie!But, despite the creaminess, the fresh coconut, the vanilla, and the good crustâ€¦it still did not impress. It was blander than most pies and if you were to be unkind, you could describe it as eating cold, vanilla flavored, elmers glue with chopped coconut meat. The crust was the best part, frankly. Everyone in the house thought it was good, but not GREAT. I still donâ€™t know why it is such a big deal for some folks. I made it once, and well, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m making it again in the near futureâ€¦ At least our discerning labrador thought it smelled good enough to explore… Now a slimmer pie or tart with a macapuno filling sounds a lot more interesting to meâ€¦I just have to find me some fresh macapuno again…