Young Coconut Cake

Ten years or so ago, when I was researching in the Philippines for my Rice Book, came across an abundance of pies in and around Manila in which the filling was the flesh of young coconuts. I believe these are still very popular. The local name for them is ‘buko pie’, and there are buko pie stalls everywhere, with many variations on the basic recipe. For example, the pie can become a cake simply by omitting the short-crust pastry casing. It is that variation that I describe here.

The main ingredient is the thin layer of soft flesh that is easily scraped out of a very young coconut after the water has been poured off and drunk. Some Thai shops in Western cities sell these young nuts. Their shells, at the top, are easy enough to chop open, so that you can put a straw in and suck out the sweet liquid, but cutting the thick fibrous shell in half is not so simple. The solution is to buy young coconut flesh, in packets, from the freezer of an Oriental supermarket.

The spiny plants pandan, pandanus or screwpine (Pandanus odorus) produce long, tender, aromatic leaves, delicately perfumed with a scent that has been compared to that of newly cut hay or new rice. In the West, pandanus leaves can be found in Asian food shops, sometimes cut into short strips and sealed in plastic packets, sometimes left whole and bundled together in threes or fours. For most home-cooked dishes, one piece of leaf about 5 cm / 2 inches long is sufficient. Therefore, buy as little as you can and freeze the surplus.

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Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 150 g/ 5 oz caster sugar
  • 115–175 g/ 4–6 oz frozen young coconut strands, thawed completely before use
  • 115 ml/ 4 fl oz thick coconut milk
  • a large pinch of salt
  • 115 g/4 oz plain flour
  • 2 tbsp melted butter, plus more for the cake tin
  • 1 pandanus leaf, cut across into 3

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas 4 and generously butter the sides and bottom of a 20-cm/ 8-inch diameter cake tin, preferably one with a removable bottom.

Whisk the eggs and sugar until fluffy and light in colour. Add to this the young coconut, the coconut milk and the salt, and mix well. Sift in the flour, again mixing it well with a metal spoon. Finally, stir in the melted butter.

Lay the strips of pandanus leaf on the bottom of the prepared cake tin. Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake it in the preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes, or Until the cake is well set and slightly brown on top.

Leave it to cool for a little before lifting it out of the tin.