Dessert

Vegan Chocolate Fudge Cake – The Easiest Recipe Ever!

Adding a can of pumpkin to a boxed chocolate cake mix.  A gluten-peanut-dairy-soy-free chocolate cake mix?

Success!

I can say without a doubt that this is the easiest recipe for a vegan fudge chocolate cake EVER!  The pumpkin obliterated the dry, crumbly issue I had last weekend with the gf cakes, and the denseness and moistness balanced out the dark semi-sweetness of the chocolate.  My host commented on how you couldn’t taste pumpkin specifically, but that it added a vanilla finish instead.

I served the cake on a dish of coffee vanilla sauce, also vegan, and with a few fresh blueberries.  While one desserter noted that the sauce tasted like something you would get at a vegan restaurant, another said it was the coffee that hit them first and then the texture.  Not a bad pairing for the cake, but I’m going to find a better one.

Conclusion to this experiment?  I will, with confidence and excitement, use a can of pumpkin and a boxed allergy-free cake mix to make a cake for those with food sensitivities and food snobs alike.

Oh, and our hosts created a phenomenal dinner for us – short ribs that literally fell of the bone, beet and goat cheese salad, cheese and cured meats that were divine, and more bottles of Prosecco and red wine than I care to admit.

Not a bad Friday night for this tired, dusty baker.

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Allergy-Free Chocolate Cake

…That is, unless you’re allergic to chocolate.

This afternoon your Dusty Baker got on the subway with four bags and a good book.  About 30 minutes later I realized I was express-ing my way past any station I could transfer at and was headed to the Bronx.

It was a long trip home to making this chocolate cake, I tell ya.

Luckily, the book was really good and I’m NYC savy enough to figure out a way to not go the 100 blocks back in the opposite direction to transfer, but rather did a little schlepping and got my ingredients home.  A can of organic pumpkin and a box of gluten-free chocolate cake mix from Gluten-Free Dreams, to be exact.

I read on a vegan blog that you can substitute the oil and eggs in a cake recipe with a can of pumpkin.   Why not throw this into the mix of my boxed gluten-free cake mix experimentation?

As with the Betty Crocker and Glutino mixes I used last week, this mix from Cherrybrook Kitchen is made primarily with rice flour, potato starch, sugar and xantham gum.  Not my personal favorite mix of ingredients.  Allergy-free, yes.  Healthy alternatives, not really.  But I remind myself of the purpose of the experiment – is baking gluten/allergy-free now just as easy as traditional recipes? – and soldier on.

Into the bowl goes one box of allergy-free chocolate cake mix, one can of organic pumpkin and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. I mix until everything is absorbed, and then throw in 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (if you’re allergic to nuts, obviously substitute with cow, soy or rice milk).

The mix is thicker than a traditional cake batter, but with confidence I lump it into a 9″ greased cake pan and into the 350 degree preheated oven.  29 minutes later, the toothpick comes out clean.  15 minutes later, it’s successfully flipped over and onto my carrying plate.

I’ll let you know what the peanut-eating-gallery thinks.

Vegan Coffee Vanilla Sauce

I’m bringing a vegan chocolate cake to a dinner party tonight,  And to go along with a cake, one needs a frosting or a sauce, right?

Last weekend I made a gluten-free chocolate/vanilla layercake with a traditional buttercream frosting for a friend’s birthday.  It was way sweet, and full of, obviously, butter.  And since the cake was vegan, logic follows that I shouldn’t just dump some animal by-product frosting on top, right?

In a pastry class I took a few years ago I learned how to make chocolate mousse out of silken tofu.  Figuring the texture was the first thing to worry about with a vegan sauce, I grabbed a container of the stuff from Whole Foods and figured I’d improv the rest.

Okay, here’s the list of what eventually made it into my new food processor.  It took a bit of trial-and-error-and-trial-more.

  • 1 package silken tofu, drained
  • 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, the insides only
  • 1 tablespoon of wild clover honey
  • 2 tablespoons of palm sugar
  • 1 rounded tablespoon instant coffee granules

A mess of ingredients, right?  I mean, palm sugar and maple syrup and honey?

Originally I had meant to make a maple vanilla sauce.  But I only had about 2 teaspoons of syrup left.  Not wanting to use the dreaded agave, I thought maybe palm sugar would suffice.  Nope.  Adding more vanilla to the original teaspoon?  Well, it was something.   Adding honey for sweetness?  A bit better.  But the darned thing still tasted like tofu!

(By the way, I totally just swore and then edited myself.  It was a frustrating scenario but even when things are dusty, one must retain her propriety, right?)

So the sauce wouldn’t be a maple vanilla sauce.  I was determined not to melt chocolate and throw it in.  Then, brilliance struck (while Sigur Ros was playing, as often happens in my kitchen, for some reason.  Icelandic magic, maybe).

Coffee brings out the richness in chocolate and the depth of vanilla.  Would it save the sauce?

It did!! I now have a mildly sweet and richly complex sauce to drizzle over the chocolate cake.  For friends who, by the way, have no food allergies or special dietary requests.  I will probably reel from the amount of sugar in what I’ll be sampling – I just hope it’s enough for their taste buds to do a happy-dance.

Boxed Gluten-Free Cake Mix – Taste Test

My how the world has changed in the 17 years I’ve been gluten-free. Back in those days a girl couldn’t get a cookie or a decent piece of bread, let alone make a cake from a Betty Crocker gluten-free mix. This absence perpetuated the need for me to learn how to bake for myself, as it has for thousands upon thousands of us.

But now we have the gift of being able to make a cake just as swiftly as our glutenous counterparts through several brands of cake-in-a-box. And a new friend’s birthday party this weekend gave me the opportunity to test a few brands out.

I chose to use both Betty Crocker’s Devil’s Food and Glutino’s Gluten-Free Pantry Old Fashioned Cake and Cookie Mix, since both only make one round cake and a bit of chocolate and vanilla layered in one cake never hurt anyone.

I must confess, I had my doubts. Both mixes use rice as their only flour, and sugar bulks up the flavor content. The mixes felt grainy between my fingers, and the vanilla one sort of went flying in the air when I poured it into the bowl.  Here’s the nutritional content of both:

For the Betty Crocker chocolate layer:

  • one cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk rather than the one cup water in the recipe.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not in recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons of instant coffee (not in recipe)

I baked it according to the instructions at 350 degrees for 43 minutes in a lightly greased 9″ round pan, and cooled it for about 15 minutes in the pan before inverting it to a cooling rack.

For the Gluten-Free Pantry Vanilla layer:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

And baked it for 28 minutes in a lightly greased 9″ round pan, and cooled it for 15 minutes before inverting it onto a cooling rack.

The frosting:

I made Williams-Sonoma’s Quick Buttercream Frosting, using unsweetened almond milk instead of cow’s milk.

The result:

The cake went over far better at the party than I had expected, and many were shocked to find it was gluten-free.  I was told it was actually a bit denser than a normal boxed cake, which people seemed to prefer.  The payoff for this was that I thought it was a bit dry.  No one could tell the difference between the two brands, neither being particularly more or less sweet than the other.

I was particularly shocked that it wasn’t grainy, but think the cakes would have benefited from the addition of another flour such as amaranth to both moisten and naturally sweeten.  While I could respect that they tasted like traditional boxed cake mixes, I’d still rather make my own cakes from scratch so that I could use more natural forms of sweetener and bulk up the flavor content with a few different flours.  But I was impressed.

Several people said they’d pick up the brands to make for an event where a gluten-free guest was in attendance, knowing that other guests would still enjoy it.

Two thumbs up.  That’s really all I have to say about that.    In a pinch, these cakes are nutcrackers.

Coming up, one more boxed cake-test using canned pumpkin instead of the butter/eggs to make a vegan version!

Corn-and-Dairy-Free Apple Pie

 

Dusty Dan - the Brother

My brother Dan’s friend Matt’s fiance Marissa can’t eat corn or dairy.  Dan is spending New Year’s Eve with them and some friends in Vermont.  I owe Dan a baking session as part of his Christmas gift.  On a snowy, cold evening in Washington Heights at the late hour of 11pm, we head into my kitchen to develop a recipe for a corn-and-dairy-free apple pie all the revelers will enjoy.

I must admit, I’m a little concerned about this assignment.  Butter is the one thing I can count on in baking when my sugar and flour sources are limited.  I completely avoid milk, cream, cheese and the like, but the minimal presence of protein in butter somehow makes it easy enough for me to digest without too much disturbance.  Especially clarified butter, where more protein has been removed.  So no matter the flour combination or inclusion/lack thereof of sweetener, I’ve always been able to rely on butter to add complexity and flavor.

Technically, butter also acts as the fat that binds the flour together in a crust.

Now, while I generally don’t use corn flour or products when I bake, I also haven’t been particularly attentive to it being in products I use.  So when Dan said Melissa uses Smart Balance Light as her “butter”, I stick to it.  I’m a bit confused about it’s being made with canola oil, which I assume is from corn.  Or if there’s a specific reason she doesn’t use Crisco shortening, which is made from palm and soybean oils.

After some quick googling I realize that canola isn’t made from corn but from rapeseed – who knew?!?

These are all questions to ask her at another time when we make “Melissa’s Apple Pie Take Two”.

For now, here’s how this basically plays out:  I use regular flour so that the gluten binds and develops the pie dough.  Other than replacing the butter with the Smart Balance and only using 1 tablespoon of water, we make the Williams-Sonoma Basic Pie Crust.  I also use white sugar in the dough and the filling, which I don’t usually do.  I figure this pie needs to be a gentle step for those who don’t have food allergies.

So – this pie is NOT gluten-free nor sugar-free.  Not a particularly alternative recipe, it just lacks corn and dairy together.  For tips on making the best of your apple pie, check out my posts on Apple Pie Filling and The Best Basic Pie Crust.

Ingredients: Apples

  • 12-16 hard, ripe apples, of three different varieties.
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, two varieties if possible (one sweet, one spicy)
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (preferably ground fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions: Apples

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Peel, core and slice your apples, and spread them equally on two rimmed cookie sheets.
  • Sprinkle 1/4 cup white sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon cloves on EACH of the sheets.
  • Mix with your hands until all apples are coated.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes while you prepare your crust, turning the apples once, until softened.
  • Remove from oven and let cool before filling.

Ingredients: Crust

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 16 tablespoons cold Smart Balance Lite
  • 1 tablespoon ice cold water
  • 1 egg (for washing on top)

Directions: Crust

  • Fix a standing mixer with a paddle attachment and pour in flour, sugar and salt.  Whisk together.
  • Add the Smart Balance in little chunks and start mixer on low.  Mix until the dough just starts to pull together.
  • Add the 1 tablespoon ice water and mix until the dough forms a ball, being careful not to over mix.
  • Separate dough into two balls, flatten into disks, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate until a bit harder.

Directions: Assembling and Baking the Pie

  • Turn the oven down to 375 degrees when the apples are done baking.

  • Flour your workspace and rolling pin, and place one disk of dough in the center (an option is rolling between two pieces of parchment paper).
  • Start rolling from the center out, in one direction, to stretch dough.  Because we used Lite Smart Balance, which I assume means the water content is higher and fat content lower, this dough has much more of an elastic pull and a bit more oil to it.  Rolling away from the center in one direction with a good amount of weight seems to help it extend.
  • Gently place the crust into the plate.
  • Fill with apples, pressing down slightly and roll the top crust.
  • Place the top crust gently on the filled pie and crimp edges with a fork.  This won’t crimp as easily as other crusts, but as long as the edges are together, the filling will steam nicely.
  • Wash the crust with the egg, slightly beaten, and dust with sugar.
  • Bake on a cookie sheet or “pizza” stone for 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until apples are fully tender and crust lightly browned, covering edge of crust halfway through with tin foil or a pie lip.
  • Cool before serving and, if you can wait, don’t eat until the next day! Enjoy!


Notes:  This crust doesn’t taste like much on its own.  But paired with lots of apples sweetened with white sugar and scented with cinnamon and nutmeg, it’s a hearty compliment.  The crust softened the day after it was baked, and continued softening so that it was still tasty (I’m told) days later, and somewhat even more so.

Punch Yo Mama Kentucky Apple Pie – Take One

“Bourbon Bacon Molasses Apple Pie”.

Until today, nothing would come up in a search engine with those five beautiful words strung together.

Now, this is not a healthy pie.  Nor a medicinal pie, except in that it may have magical qualities when trying to lure lovers or tame unruly children.  It blends those delirious tongue-teasers of savory and sweet, the unsuspected crunch of candied bacon embedded in folds of apples both sweet and tart.  A blend of spicy and soothing cinnamon and a dash of fresh nutmeg fuse them together and they sleep contented in a flaky, free-0f-the-demon-gluten crust.  This pie is work, but so worth it.

In making this recipe I combined techniques I’d learned from other kitchen explorations – par-baking apples, candying bacon, blending healthy flours for a gluten-free crust – and am very pleased with the first incarnation.  But this recipe still has further to go; it’s delicious on day one but the bacon sags into an unappetizing texture if you keep eating it on successive days (but if it’s more than you and a roommate trying to wipe it out of existence and you can eat it in one go, bake on).  The bourbon gives a delightfully oak-y slight to the senses, but hasn’t packed a wallop yet.

If you’re looking for a comforting, complex apple pie recipe with a twist, check this recipe out.  It’s fuller-bodied than your traditional American pie, and the flavors round themselves out very well.

This recipe requires three steps: 1. Candying bacon. 2. Preparing your apples. 3. Preparing and filling crust.  Refer to my BAKING BASICS posts for recipes on both filling and a variety of pie crusts.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons GOOD Kentucky bourbon (I used Blantons, one of my favorites)
  • 3 tablespoons organic blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar plus more as desired
  • six strips very thin bacon (from a butcher)
  • About 18 apples, prepared (CLICK HERE for page on apple pie filling)
  • Unbaked pie crust, enough for bottom and top.

Directions: Bourbon Blackstrap Bacon

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Lay a baking rack over a cookie sheet with high rims and spray the rack with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Heat small saucepan over medium/low heat.  Once hot, pour in 2 tablespoons bourbon and heat until it just gets bubbly.
  • Add 2 tablespoons molasses and stir with spatula until the mixture starts to bubble and expand.
  • Add 1/2 cup light brown sugar, mixing in, and bring to heat until the mixture expands again.
  • Turn off heat and let cool slightly.
  • Prepare to get sticky: using your hands, rub each piece of bacon in the bourbon mixture until coated.  By the 3rd or 4th piece the sugar mixture will be cooling and drying out a bit – don’t worry! Just drudge it as much as you can to coat the bacon.
  • Coat entirely with extra brown sugar until completely covered.
  • Lay on sprayed rack and bake in preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until bacon is crispy.  Set aside and cool completely.

Directions: Apple Filling. On EACH tray sprinkle:

  • For this recipe, I used 2 kinds of cinnamon, 1 very spicy and one mild and sweet. I love cinnamon, so I used 2 tsps. of each.  Vary this to your tastes.
  • Sprinkle on each trap 1/4 tsp of ground cloves and 1 tablespoon sugar, preferably something light like palm sugar over regular white sugar.
  • Toss the apples thoroughly.
  • Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the apples are slightly softened.
  • Remove from heat and let cool.

Directions:  Let’s Fill This Thing

  • Use a deep-dish 9″ pie plate (my favorite pie dish is my Emile Henry 9″. It’s wonderfully deep and the ceramic bakes to perfection) and fill it with your bottom crust.
  • Layer the apples in and pack them tightly – the apple should be piled into a very hefty dome.
  • In a small dish, combine remaining tablespoon bourbon and molasses, and drizzle completely over the top of the apples.
  • Place second crust on top, and pinch to close.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, covering the edges halfway through baking so they don’t burn.

This pie is best eaten the same day it’s made, but should be cooled completely before cutting if using a gluten-free crust (they crumble very easily).

The Best Basic Pie Crust

In my early baking days, I explored many pie crust recipes of staggering variety: blends of butter and shortening, sugar and salt, refrigeration or immediate rolling, standing mixer or food processor.  I’ve rolled with traditional American and French pins and tried buffering on the board with wax and parchment papers.  Recipes from mothers, aunts, grandmothers and cookbooks have all made their ways through my fingers.  But I’ve found the most delicious and easiest pie crust recipe to be an incredibly simple one from one of the loves of my Dusty Baking life, Williams-Sonoma.

This crust does not need to be refrigerated, saving time and the wretched skinny window of cold-enough-but-not-too-cold.  It only uses butter, so the crust is flaky and tender.  And it’s guaranteed to have its praises sung – everyone I’ve recommended it to has only returned their highest compliments.

Dusty Pie Crust Form:

  • Butter Temperature is Important! Make sure your butter is COLD, and handle it as little as possible.  When butter melts its moisture is released, which can develop the gluten in flour and causes it to be more tough than flaky.  Little pads of cold butter in your crust will melt and release steam while baking, creating delicious little pockets of air flaky-ness.
  • Salted Versus Unsalted Butter: Use unsalted butter, preferably organic.  Organic butter simply tastes better.  Salt pulls the water out of (any) food, so salted butter has a different moisture content to begin with and makes you have to vary the amount of salt you add to your crust.
  • Use ice-water: If your crust is dry and you need to add water, make sure it’s ice-cold.  Literally place a cube of ice in a small glass, add some filtered water and add one tablespoon at a time until your crust pulls together.
  • Handle with care: The more you mix your dough, the more the gluten will develop and the less flaky the crust will be.  The same goes with handling – try to keep your hands off the dough as much as possible to keep the ingredients cool.
  • When in doubt, roll with protection: Using wax or parchment paper can help your dough not stick to your rolling pin and flip easily into your pie dish.  Wooden rolling boards also help absorb excess moisture.
  • Play with your pie plate: Different types of plates yield slightly different crusts.  I love my Emile Henri 9″ pie dish.  It’s pretty much the only one I use now.  It’s extra deep so my pies are loaded with filling.  It heats evenly and the fluted rim contributes to gorgeous crusts.  And at $45, it’s an amazing investment.  When baking thinner pies, a basic Pyrex can’t be beat for heat distribution and ease of lifting slices out.  When doing a gluten-free tart, I go for tart pans with removable bottoms.
  • Experiment With Your Pin: I used to use my mother’s marble rolling pin until I realized I like the lighter weight of a traditional wooden pin.  Then, after a phenomenal gluten-free pastry course, I decided I also like the dexterous manageability of a French pin (a long, dowel-like pin with no handles/rolling on its own).  The weight and shape of a pin is up to the preference of the Dusty Baker, so have fun exploring.  NOT recommended are plastic pins, which stick more readily to any sort of dough.
  • Wash and Sprinkle: There are many options for topping your crust.  Washing with melted butter adds a bit more flavor and a golden color.  Egg whites or yolks give a shiny sheen.  Water does the trick for helping a sprinkle of sugar stick adequately.  Whichever you choose, wash lightly with a clean pastry brush and only add enough sugar for some added texture and shine.  Don’t forget to cut slits for steam to escape when necessary.

Basic Williams-Sonoma Pie Crust Recipe: (enough for 2 crusts)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted, organic butter, cold
  • 6 Tbsp. ice-water, as necessary

Directions:

  1. If using a standing mixer, use the paddle attachment.
  2. Place flour, sugar and salt in bowl and toss to combine.
  3. Cut butter into small cubes and toss into dry mixture.
  4. Start the mixer on medium-low and combine until the flour resembles cornmeal-like crumbs.
  5. Add ice-water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just pulls together. Do not over-mix.  Divide dough in two.
  6. Lightly flour your rolling surface, and place half of dough on surface. With a rolling pin, tap the dough until it’s a relatively flat disk.  Turn dough over and roll out to a 12″ circle, adding flour as necessary to your rolling pin.
  7. Place in plate and fill, then repeat with top crust.

CLICK HERE for the recipe on Williams-Sonoma

Apple Pie Filling

Creating your apple pie filling should be a personal quest that requires little more than a keen sense of taste, an imagination, the internet, and a little voodoo.  Almost like magic, blending apples with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg becomes a little bit like your holiday calling card – it may vary a bit from year to year, but it should always be true to your sense of originality and flair.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  And her name is Dusty Baker. (Or his name, if you’re a man…)

So, from one Dusty Baker to another, here are some tricks for coming up with your own apple pie filling that will wipe out memories of pies of old and create new mainstays on your holiday table.

  1. Peeling/Coring/Slicing: If you bake apple pie at least once a year and aren’t too strapped for space, consider purchasing an apple peeler/corer/slicer.  You can get them for about $20 (Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Tabla, and most stores like T.J. Maxx and Home Goods and discount stores all carry them) and they save you SO much time, especially when slicing enough apples for a deep apple pie.
  2. Pick at least two kinds of apples. There are no best apples for apple pie, but blending a variety and knowing what you’re putting in there definitely helps.  Have fun exploring what is local and seasonal so that your pie is unique to the hills and plains of wherever you’re camping out during the autumn season, and try to blend three kinds together: an apple pie mainstay like Granny Smith or Golden Delicious, something tart like Empire or Cortland, and something that’s sweet and refreshing like Mutsu or Honeycrisp.  No matter the apple, if it’s local, try it.  Look for apples that are firm and as consistent in shape as possible, which makes them easier to peel (if they’re too soft they’ll fall apart when being sliced, and if they’re lumpy the peel will come off unevenly).
  3. Par-bake your apples before filling: Par-baking the apples helps them soften and become more infused with flavor.  It also shrinks them so that, after they’ve been placed in a pie shell, there’s less collapsing and the crust isn’t suspended in mid-pie-air.  AND it helps to reduce some of the liquid that could potentially puddle inside a pie.  To par-bake apples, prepare them by peeling, coring and slicing them thinly.  Lay them out on 2 cookie sheets with deep rims, sprinkle with your blend of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss to combine.  Then place them in an oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes, until they’re just soft.  Let them cool while you prepare your crust.
  4. Not all cinnamon is created equal. In fact, what is commonly sold in the market in the United States is not cinnamon at all, but rather Vietnamese cassia, one of the many kinds of Cinnamomum but not true cinnamon itself.  One day I grabbed several types of cinnamon from Penzeys and went to work tasting them purely and blindly to pick what I felt would be best for my personal apple pie blend.  For mellower pies, I choose mellower cinnamon.  For the Punch Yo Mama Kentucky Apple pie, I chose a blend of mild Ceylon cinnamon (the only true cinnamon, evidently) and Tung Hing China cinnamon, which is darker and packs the punch delivered in the title of said Kentucky pie.  As cinnamon is very good for you (it aids digestion and circulation and helps regulate blood sugar levels ), I’d say have fun and explore.  CLICK HERE for a nifty article from my favorite food mag, Saveur, who devoted a gorgeous spread last year to the spice.
  5. Use whole nutmeg: When possible, have a nutmeg or two on hand and grind yourself right onto the apples.  They’re not expensive and easily found in grocery stores, and the flavor will be much more full.  In general, ground spices have released the oils original to the spice and lose flavor rather quickly.  Buying your baking spices in the fall is a great way to make sure they’ll be fresh through the holiday season.
  6. Be creative with your sugar: In general, I suggest finding an alternate sugar that you’ll use when baking instead of white cane sugar; it obviously requires a good deal of insulin to process and wreaks havoc for those with blood sugar problems such as diabetes and hypoglycemia.  Alternatives such as palm sugar, date sugar, xylitol or maple sugar will be enough to sweeten your apples.  Or go completely au-natural and omit sugar altogether.  I drizzle molasses onto my apples when they’re filled in the crust to add some complexity, and don’t add any additional sweetener as a result.  If you are going to add sugar, add as little as possible.  This will also let the true nature of your apple blend shine forth!
  7. Play with the amount of spice: The amount of cinnamon and sugar needed to best season your filling depends on what kind you use.  Consider tasting your sweeteners and spices, then your kinds of apples, and estimate the amount you’ll need from there.  2 teaspoons of cinnamon may be adequate for a mild pie with many apples, but 1 tablespoon may make it zing.  Nutmeg and clove are easy to overdo, so go sparingly and maybe add more after the apples are par-baked.

Fall Apple Pie

Molasses Apple Pie

October conjures up images of pumpkins, falling leaves and little children running around in costumes.   It’s also the time for the inevitable transition from salads to soups, the pulling of comforters from storage, and for grabbing the hiking boots and tromping through orchards.  And when one can’t get away from the urban jungle to feel the sensation of grabbing a perfectly ripe apple off a tree, you can thank the rising trend of artesinal apples for the variety that can be found at local farmer’s markets and specialty food stores.

I have no magical combination that I use in my apple pies.  Over the years I’ve explored the most local kinds for wherever I happen to be, and generally follow a combination of a 3-apple blend of sweet, tart and complex.  Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are staples, depending on how delicious the particular bunch is.  I also am a huge fan of Macoun, Northern Spy, Braeburn and Mutsu.  I’m even a bigger fan of dozens of varieties I can’t recall, because they just tasted so good when I took that first bite.

The best pies start with a little voodoo: enjoy the magic that is touching, smelling, tasting, and conjuring up ideas of how a combination will taste when baked into a crumbly crust.

I par-bake the apples together while making the crust.  This helps the spices infuse more thoroughly and then you don’t have to bake the crust so long, so it can be flakier and softer than ever.

This crust recipe utilizes a unique blend of gluten-free flours – sweet rice, amaranth, quinoa and flaxseed.  I tried these together for both health and flavor reasons, and was more pleased with this result than any other combination I’ve recently tried.  The rice provides structure, the quinoa both protein and optimum digestibility, the amaranth sweetness and a slightly different texture, and the flax provide a nutty flavor and fiber.

I swirl a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses over the par-baked apples to provide even more depth and complexity – an experiment of old that sent me over the full moon!

Ingredients – Crust :

  • 3/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 3/4 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/4 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
  • 1/3 cup tapioca starch
  • 2 tsps xantham gum
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoons date or palm sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 sticks unsalted organic butter, cubed small

Ingredients – Apples:

  • A blend of 3 apples, 4-5 each depending on size, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Saigon cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 farenheit
  2. Spread apples on 2 baking sheets, and sprinkle evenly with palm sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  3. Bake apples for about 10 minutes in preheated oven, until just soft.  Remove to cool slightly.
  4. While apples are cooking, prepare the crust.  In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment place all crust ingredients, and use a fork or whisk to blend.
  5. Toss in butter.  Start mixing on low, then medium/low, until the crust just pulls together.  If too dry add ice-cold water, a tablespoon at a time and waiting until incorporated to continue adding.  Try not to overmix – make sure the butter is incorporated but don’t go beyond that.
  6. Roll or press half of the crust into a deep-dish pie plate.  Fill with all the apples, layering high.
  7. Drizzle entire tablespoon of blackstrap molasses on top.
  8. Roll out top crust, cover the apples, seal the edges and slice a few vents in the top.  If desired, use a pastry brush to brush with water or melted butter, and sprinkle with palm sugar.
  9. Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, being sure to cover the edges of the pie halfway through so they don’t brown.
  10. Cool before serving.

Notes: Gluten-free crusts can be hard to roll.  I suggest rolling on a floured piece of parchment or wax paper, flipping the dough after a few rolls, and then using the paper to flip into the plate. Luckily they’re sturdier than traditional crusts, so you can easily refrigerate and roll again.

The crust will crumble initially when cutting.  Refrigerating the pie, slicing and reheating works out best.  No matter how you slice it, it’s a delicious recipe.  The crust is both nutty and sweet, and the flavor of the apples both complex and comfortable.

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