Yucatan-Style Fresh Coconut Pie
Pay de Coco, Estilo Yucateco
Makes one 9-inch tart, serving 8
I can easily get rapturous about dense fresh coconut stuck together with a little richness, packed into a nutty crust and baked to caramely brown. It's all texture and tender freshness, unlike anything you could make from desiccated packaged coconut. Yes, it is work to hull, peel and grate the coconut, but the payoff is enormous.
Pay de Coco is a Yucatecan specialty I first tasted in Merida, where it was stuck together with sweetened condensed milk. Though there are cultural and historical reasons to use the canned product, I decided to make my own condensed sweetness in order to utilize the water from inside the fresh coconut. The pie has other virtues: It can be made several days ahead and it travels well (it's not at all fragile). Just rewarm it before serving to restore all the unctuous goodness.
1 cup (4 ounces) slivered almonds
3 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces (about 5 slices) firm white bread, torn into pieces (or 2 cups fine, fresh bread crumbs)
3 1/2 tablespoons (about 1 3/4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 medium-size coconut with lots of liquid inside
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2/3 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1/2 cup Mexican crema, creme fraiche or sour cream thinned with a little milk, for serving
1. The crust. Turn on the oven to 325 degrees. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the oven, stirring occasionally, until golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool; set 1/2 cup of the almonds aside. In a food processor, pulverize the remaining almonds with the sugar. Add the bread and pulse the machine until reduced to fine crumbs. Drizzle in the melted butter and pulse to mix thoroughly. Evenly pat the mixture over the bottom and sides of a 3/4-inch deep, 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate several minutes to set.
2. The coconut. Twist a cork screw (or drive an ice pick or screwdriver) into 2 of the coconut's "eyes" (the dark indentations on one end), then drain the trapped liquid into a cup (strain if it contains any bits of coconut shell). Place the coconut on a baking sheet and put into the oven for about 15 minutes to help loosen the flesh from the shell. With a hammer, crack the coconut into several pieces, then use a small knife or screwdriver to pry the flesh from the shell. Use a paring knife or a vegetable peeler to peel away the dark brown skin. In a food processor (or, with determination and stamina, using a four-sided grater) grate the coconut into medium-fine shreds. Measure out 2 1/2 cups for the pie; reserve the remainder for the garnish.
3. The pie. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees. In a small (1- to 1 1/2-quart) saucepan, combine the coconut water, cream and sugar. Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1 cup, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into a large bowl, then stir in the 2 1/2 cups of coconut, the reserved 1/2 cup almonds, the egg yolks and vanilla. Set the prepared crust onto a baking sheet, scoop in the coconut filling and bake in the middle of the oven until set and lightly browned on top, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. While the pie is baking, toast the reserved coconut on a baking sheet in the oven, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, 7 to 10 minutes.
It's easiest to cut the pie when cool (easier still when refrigerated), so I cool or chill it, cut it, then warm the pieces in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, since I like this pie served warm. Though it's gilding the lily, I'm partial to a dollop of thick cream and a sprinkling of coconut as a garnish.
Advance Preparation - The pie can be made several days ahead, wrapped in plastic and refrigerated.
Variations and Improvisations - If you have tart pans, you can make these small (you will need extra crust mixture - make double) to put out onto a dessert buffet. The almonds can be replaced with other nuts (hazelnuts and macadamias are particularly good), and, if you are so inclined, the finished pie can be drizzled with melted chocolate.