Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wholesome Birthday Apple Pie

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Last weekend was my Dad's 64th birthday!  I hope he's okay with me revealing his age.  My dad is one of the most influential people in my life, and I was so happy to be able to celebrate his birthday with him this year.  The last time I was in town for his birthday was in 2009 for his 60th, before I moved out east.  It's certainly been awhile, so I figured I had to somehow make up for lost time.  Solution?  I made him his favourite dessert - apple pie!

4 candles to represent 64 wholesome years of life!

Now this isn't just any apple pie.  As I was growing up, the first and foremost requirement of a dessert for dad is that it's sugar-free.  Since apples have some of their own natural sweetness, we're off to a good start!  Next criteria, a more recent realization on his part, is that he does much better following a gluten-free diet.  Having been strictly gluten-free in the past myself, and continuing to be mostly gluten-free now, I felt this didn't present too much of an issue (Especially since Thanksgiving, when I made a fantastic pumpkin pie with the Sweet & Salty Spiced Pecan Crust from Oh She Glows - this really boosted my confidence in making gluten-free pie crust!).  The final bit of criteria for my dad's birthday pie was for it to be dairy-free; not essential for him, but important for me so that I could enjoy it with him!

So, a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free apple pie?  Is this actually going to resemble apple pie when it's done??  I wasn't too worried about it.

As for apples themselves, the old adage goes, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."  How much truth is there to this statement, anyway?  Actually, apples are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, and dietary fibre, and may reduce the risk of cancer, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and heart disease.  They are also protective against neurotoxicity and stroke, and may help to lower LDL ('bad') cholesterol.

One additional note - apples are an important fruit to consume organic, as they rank highest in pesticide residue of all produce, according to Environmental Working Group.  To read my posting about pesticides on produce, click here.

Enough on the health benefits - let’s get started!  This recipe is adapted from Jules’ Fuel (blog of a nutrition consultant, life & health coach); when I saw that the crust featured ground nuts instead of gluten-free flour, I knew we were off to an excellent start in both the taste and texture departments!

The crust was the first task.  This nut crust features ground almonds as the main ingredient, and an egg to hold it all together:

Crust Ingredients:
2 cups of almond flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

Combine almond flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add egg and melted coconut oil and mix well to form dough.  Press dough firmly and evenly into the base and sides of a 9” pie dish.  Using a fork, poke a few holes into the crust before baking.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

'Pat-in-the-pan' pie crust, gluten- & grain-free version!

Next step – the juicy, spiced apple filling.  No wonder this is dad’s favourite dessert!  I did some research into the best apples for apple pie, and honestly, for the most part it seems to be up to personal preference.  For this pie, I decided to use a combination of Fuji (my favourite apple for eating out of hand) and Pink Lady.  Both are sweet, juicy, and delicious.  Other apples that do well in pies are the classic Granny Smith and Honeycrisp (another of my favourites!).  It's best to avoid apples with flesh that breaks down during baking, such as McIntosh and Red Delicious.  It’s hard to go terribly wrong with your apple choice, but these general guidelines will help to prevent a mushy pie.  If you’d like a more in depth discussion of choosing the best apples for pie, read here.

Filling Ingredients

4 large apples
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cut apples into thin slices, or smaller if preferred, and place in a large bowl.  Health tip:  Don't peel your apples - most of the fibre and antioxidants are in the peel!  Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix well to coat apples evenly.  Layer apple mixture evenly in the pre-baked pie crust.

And the glorious finishing touch – crumble topping!  This is my favourite way to complete a pie crust, as it takes advantage of the best of apple crumble and traditional pie crust.  Having this crumbly mixture on top adds incredible flavour and texture, and truly is the perfect finishing touch to any pie.

Crumble Topping Ingredients 
1 cup coarsely ground walnuts

1/4 cup coconut flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Process walnuts in food processor or magic bullet, and mix with coconut flour and cinnamon.  Sprinkle the topping mixture on top of the filling, and add a drizzle of honey evenly on top, if desired.

I drizzled honey on less than half of the pie - I didn't notice it made much of a difference!

In the oven, already looking good!

Bake at 350F for 1 hour.  Allow to cool briefly and serve hot with coconut whipped cream.  Don’t forget the candles if it’s Dad’s (or anyone’s!) birthday!

Fresh from the oven!

Coconut Whipped Cream

2 cans coconut milk, refrigerated for 24 hours or at least overnight
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey (optional, or to taste)

The purpose of refrigerating the coconut milk is to separate the thick coconut cream from the coconut water.  When you open the cans, scoop off the thick cream and place in a deep mixing bowl.  Save the coconut water if desired for use in other recipes, or discard.  Add vanilla extract and honey, and whip with an electric mixer for 4-5 minutes, or until thick.  Refrigerate to thicken even further; Coconut Whipped Cream keeps well in the fridge for a week.

Ready to dig in and enjoy!

A couple key points here to make this recipe a success:  First, don’t use lite coconut milk – it doesn’t contain enough fat, which is what we need!  Also, I’ve found huge variation among different brands of coconut milk.  I recommend Thai Kitchen’s organic coconut milk, as it has been the most consistent in separating when refrigerated.

This pie was a hit!  I was so happy to be able to make a treat that dad could really enjoy, and to pass along to others wanting to make a nutritious and delicious apple pie.  Success!  I better start brainstorming now how I’m going to top this for dad’s milestone 65th birthday next year!  Any suggestions?  Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your ideas!


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