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Combine Ube and Coconut for an Ultraviolet Pie Unlike Any Other

I'm willing to bet your Thanksgiving desserts table is pretty drab. I don't mean in terms of flavor or even styling, but if your pie selection sticks with apple, pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato, you're looking at shades of brown that, at best, reach no further on the color wheel than ochre. Not to knock ochre, but you can do better. Have you ever considered rounding out your spread of pies with violet?

The color comes by way of ube, the Philippine purple yams that Epi contributor Arlyn Osborne has worked into a must-make pie. While Osborne says she didn't eat ube pie growing up, she writes that these days, when she's with her mom's side of the family, "no holiday is complete without ube pie." 

Over email she continued: "I'm seeing versions pop up more and more these days, at FilAm holiday gatherings and on menus." Osborne says that ube pie has also made a splash in an online forum she belongs to that's dedicated to sharing recipes for and photos of Filipino foods, but that most recipes she's seen incorporate frozen, grated yam. Her version, though, starts with a jar-namely, the Filipino staple ube halaya, which Osborne compares to canned pumpkin purée. Halaya is the Tagalog word for "jam" or "jelly," and ube halaya is a sweet spread made from purple yams cooked with sugar and sometimes other flavorings that may include some form of dairy. A 12-ounce jar is easy to find in most Asian markets or online.

In terms of texture, ube halaya is similar to sweet potato purée or apple butter. The flavor, however, is more floral and nutty, reminiscent of vanilla and pistachios. It can be eaten on its own, spooned straight from the jar, or spread on toast. A scoop is also a regular addition to the Filipino dessert halo-halo, sometimes whipped into ice cream first. It's also used as a stuffing for buchi, a sesame-crusted sticky rice ball, and mooncake-like ube hopia. Osborne likes to use ube halaya to stuff sweet yeast rolls (à la cinnamon buns) or as the base for another popular Filipino dessert, ube crinkle cookies.

For her ube pie, Osborne says she drew inspiration from Jollibee, a bastion of Filipino fast food, whose ube hand pies have inspired a flood of internet copycats. But, instead of a hand pie, Osborne takes a custard pie approach, pouring a mix of eggs, coconut milk, and ube halaya into a blind-baked pie shell. She also adds a splash of ube extract, which boosts both the flavor and color of the custard-it's optional, but highly recommended.

The pie bakes until set-think sweet potato or pumpkin pie in terms of jiggle-and allowed to cool completely before getting a genius topping of whipped cream sweetened with marshmallow fluff. "I couldn't decide between whipped cream or marshmallows," Osborne told me. "I naturally think of whipped cream for pumpkin pie, marshmallows for sweet potato pie-I figured you can't go wrong with both." The result is something with a little more body than plain whipped cream but less cloying sweetness than plain marshmallows. And it's going to look great on your buffet of Thanksgiving desserts.


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