Peter and Grant are the fanciest friends that I know. They are the only people I know that actually own not one but multiple tuxedos (one can only assume because one is never sure when one will have to go to back to back black tie events). They were the people I went to French Laundry the second time I went (remind me to tell you how I went the first time, it’s relatively amusing). And they are the only people I know who actually shop at Brooks Brothers, without any sense of irony whatsoever. And, of course, they are the ones that inspired me to take a simple basic all American dessert like an apple pie and make it all fancy. I present to you, the vegan Southeast Asian Inspired Apple Blackberry Pie with coconut crumb topping and coconut scented crust.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile (all three four of you), you might recognize the name Peter and Grant from the cabin they own up in Sonoma that AJ and I borrowed to host our friends and their babies. I’ve known Peter since freshman year of college, where we lived on the second floor of Koenig Hall (a dorm that no longer exists). His roommate was a wonderfully sweet man from upstate New York (and I’m not talking Syracuse upstate, I’m talking Potsdam upstate – practically Canada) named Steven Sukanek. He’s probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met, utterly immune to the cold (he perpetually wore threadworn tshirts that I’m sure he had since 7th grade and shorts year round) and also, frankly, one of the messiest guys that I’ve ever met (which is saying something as I’m not very tidy myself). True, Steve wasn’t as messy as our sophomore roommate Hank, who would leave half eaten cans of creamed corn around the apartment complete with a crusty spoon in it and once brought home live chickens for a fraternity prank, but that’s a pretty low bar if you ask me.
Steve and Peter made quite the odd couple in college, but their room became the centerpiece social room where our group of friends would all congregated that year. This was always something Peter struggled with as he was not only impeccably tidy, but utterly unabashedly particular about the way he decorates a room – a small dorm room that seemed always occupied with slovenly dressed freshmen kids who basically wanted to hang out and play cards. Fast forward 15 plus years later and Peter’s currently an immigration lawyer, though he’s studying to be an interior designer, a vocation that he is perfect for. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s just wanted to surround himself with gorgeous things.
Peter and his partner Grant invited AJ and I over for a dinner party a few months ago to their ultramodern high-rise condo. Peter believes that it’s easier to organize his dinner parties around themes. It’s not that he’s kitchy or queeny (though on occasion he can be both of those things, but who, in my circle of friends, isn’t?) nor does he call us up and tell us that we must come dressed for his “Oscar Wilde-n-Crazy Brunch” ala Modern Family but he prefers to have the food be specific to a genre. Classic American comfort food (chicken pot pie, deviled eggs, iceberg wedge lettuce salad) or Vietnamese (pho, fresh spring rolls, beef salad) are examples of the sort of themes that he puts together when hosting a party.
Case in point, a few nights ago, we were invited over Halloween night to watch Game Four of the World Series of the SF Giants vs The Texas Rangers. It being both Halloween AND an opportunity to cheer on the SF Giants, the theme of the night was orange and black. Peter, of course, was completely decked out in 80’s punk glam drag – an orange wig that he bought at the ghetto wig shop at fifth and market (while trying to decided between two safety orange wigs, the old Chinese woman who ran the shop told him the shorter bob would be more flattering, so he went with that one) as well as the oversized vintage 80’s BOY LONDON shirt that my friend Stephanie and I had found for him fifteen years ago at a thrift store (Peter never throws away any of the thrift store finds that we got him, no matter how useless or inappropriate to him – a quirk of his that I love) and vintage black go-go boots. The main course itself, was squid ink pasta (the black) with a Frutti di Mare sauce (the orange). Black and Orange all the way.
On a side note, you haven’t truly watched baseball until you’ve watched it with a dozen homosexuals, some of whom were in drag, most of whom were drunk or at least a little tipsy, all cheering on the SF Giants as they won their third game for the World Series. Hilarity inevitably ensued.
But I digress. Also impressive is that Grant is a vegetarian and hence, Peter often makes two version of the dinner, one for Grant (and other vegetarian lovers) and one with meat protein (for the rest of us omnivores). We’d all be just as happy with the vegetarian dishes, but Peter aims to please all of us, so he makes sure that there are dishes with and without meat.
So when Peter and Grant invited us over for dinner, we knew it was going to be a wonderful night of fabulous food, great company and (with their floor to ceiling windows) a killer view. I offered to make dessert for the party but I had to make sure to ask Peter what sort of theme the party was. “Oh, we’re doing a Southeast Asian dinner. Larb, springs rolls, pad thai, red and green curries, that sort of thing.” I had to think about that one. I never make Southeast Asian food at home and I definitely have never made a Southeast Asian desert.
Sure I’ve made the occasional stuffed mochi, but that’s more Japanese than Southeast Asian. Red bean is more Chinese and Peter really hates bananas so anything with that flavoring is out. Making sticky rice with mango probably would work, but I just wasn’t feeling like tracking down the glutinous rice. So I wondered, how can I adapt the sort of dessert that I usually make (American comfort food) into something more Southeast Asian inspired.
So I decided to take the all American Apple Pie and give it a Southeast Asian twist. Out goes the cinnamon, in goes some cardamom and five spice. Out goes the plain sweet pastry top crust and in goes a crumb topping with coconut flavoring. And just to mix it up a little, I threw in some blackberries. And as a nod to Grant, I decided to make it vegan – coconut oil all the way.
Side note. Just for the record Grant is NOT a vegan. He ADORES cheese and dairy. But I figured, why not go vegan? It’s been awhile since I’ve actually baked vegan and if I’m doing Southeast Asian, it gives me an excuse to bake with coconut oil, something I love to do, but rarely do.
The dinner party was pretty fab. Peter and Grant had invited over a mutual friend Mark to the dinner and we all had an amazing time taking in the view and having amazing conversation. Dinner was excellent (as was to be expected) and during the conversation, Mark asked about me leaving my job and if I had thought about opening up my own bakery. I told him I had thought about it, but most likely I wouldn’t as the amount of time and energy that goes into a brick and mortar shop is huge, more than I probably would be willing to do. But never say never right?
The Southeast Asian Inspired pie seemed to have worked for the party. It’s funny how just swapping out a few ingredients (using unrefined coconut oil instead of butter, using cardamon and five spice instead of cinnamon) completely shifts the flavor profile of the dessert, from all American, to something slightly foreign and subtly exotic. Playing with spices is a simple and easy way to change the flavoring of a baked good without having to worry about whether the shifts in ingredients would ruin the texture or outcome of the baked good.
Peter ended up eating the pie for breakfast the next day and said it was just as good then as it was the night before. I love the idea that my Southeast Asian Inspired pie served as both a way to end the night and a way to start the day. Of course, sometimes the fanciest people you know are also the most down to earth…eating pie for breakfast.
Whilst baking this pie, I listened to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, an album that I’ve been rather obsessed with for the past couple of months. Though every time I hear the song We Used To Wait, I feel like I should be running through the streets of the suburb that I grew up in.
Southeast Asian Inspired Vegan Apple Blackberry Pie with Coconut Crumb Topping and Coconut Scented Crust
So here’s my confession. I like the flavor of coconut, but I really dislike the pre-shredded coconut that you buy in the bags. It’s dry and has a chewy stringy texture that I’m just not too fond of. So instead I used coconut oil to impart the flavor of coconut. If you like the shredded coconut, add a 1/2 cup of it to the crumb topping and leave out the almond meal.
coconut scented crust
1 1/2 cups of unbleached AP flour (divided)
1/2 tsp of kosher or sea salt
1 Tbsp of sugar
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) of cold vegan buttery stick (I used Earth Balance)
6 Tbsp of unrefined coconut oil at room temperature
5 Tbsp ice cold vodka
5 Tbsp cup ice cold water
1. Put 1 cup of AP flour into a food processor with the salt, sugar. Pulse a couple of times to blend and then add the buttery stick (sliced into 1/4″ pieces) and coconut oil cut into 4 pieces. Process the mixture until dough/paste lump starts to form – about 15 seconds or so.
2. Add the rest of the 1/2 cup of AP flour to the mixture and pulse a few times to break up the dough. If the dough is still clumped up, open up the processor and break it up a little bit with your fingers or a fork and then pulse a few more times. You want the mixture to look sorta like cottage cheese lumps.
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl and sprinkle the vodka and the water over the dough. Using a large spatula fold the liquid into the dough. The dough should be a little sticky, but don’t worry about that. You’ll be adding more flour when you roll it out to compensate.
4. Gather the dough and press into a disk and wrap with plastic film and put in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.
6 to 7 medium sized apples (enough for 6 cups once peeled, cored and sliced)
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoon cornstarch (5 tablespoon if you are using frozen blackberries)
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon five spice (store bought. If you’re bad ass and make your own five spice, then only use 1 1/2 teaspoon of it, because it’ll be so much more fragrant and flavorful).
3 cups of fresh blackberries (you can use frozen as well, see note)
Coconut crumb topping
1 cup unbleached AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup almond flour of almond meal
7 tablespoon melted unrefined coconut oil
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (sometimes called Sugar in the Raw)
1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F
2. Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9” pie tin. Crimp the edges of the pie crust decoratively. Take a fork and prick the bottom of the pie crust all over.
3. Place a piece of parchment paper or coffee filter inside the pie crust and then fill with pie weights, or dry beans/rice. Bake for 10 minutes and then remove from the oven. Gently lift the paper/coffee filter directly up, removing the pie weights/beans/rice (I usually place the paper and weights in a bowl next to my pie crust). Put the pie crust back in the oven and bake for another 5 minutes or until the bottom of the crust starts to look a little dry. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare the filling.
4. In the meanwhile, peel, core and slice the apples. Toss with the cup of sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cornstarch, cardamom, and five spice.
4. Add the blackberries and gentle toss. It’s okay if some of the berries break apart, but you want at least some of the berries to be whole.
5. Pour into the pie filling into the pie crust. Reduce the oven temperature to 350˚F Place on a cookie sheet and then bake for 35 minutes (if the top of the apples start to look a little dry and roasted, cover the entire pie with aluminum foil).
6. While the pie is baking, make the crumb topping by tossing the AP flour, brown sugar, salt, almond flour and melted coconut oil together until they lump together. Once the 35 minutes are up, take the pie out of the oven, and dump the crumb topping in the center of the pie. Carefully spread the crumb topping out over the pie, being careful that you don’t burn yourself. Once evenly spread out, gently [ress down to compact the crumb topping onto the pie. Then take the remaining 1/3 cup of turbinado sugar and sprinkle it over the crumb topping.
7. Put the pie back into the oven and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes or until the juices are bubbling in the edges of the pie.
8. Cool for at least an hour and serve warm or at room temperature, with or without ice cream.
Note 1. You can use frozen blackberries if blackberries aren’t in season. Just thaw some of them out first (I just run about a cup of them gently under warm water) so that they fall apart while mixing with the apples, coating them with black berry juice. The rest you can just throw into the filling frozen. Be sure to add a little more cornstarch though to account for the wetness.
Note 2. Make sure to use unrefined coconut oil. If you use refined coconut oil, it won’t taste like coconut at all. If you happen to have coconut flour (a wonderful gluten free flour) you can substitute that for the almond flour in the crumb topping and get even more coconut flavor. Coconut oil, by the way, makes a wonderful vegan substitute for butter. Just don’t refrigerate it. It nearly impossible to work with cold.
Note 3. You can find five spice in Asian stores or increasingly at upscale white people stores. Or you can make your own, which is totally awesome and way more tasty. But since I just buy mine, I won’t judge you if you just buy it.