mini mulled wine apple spelt pies

mini spelt pies with mulled wine

Christmas involves a lot of baking at our home and I find myself trying out old and new techniques each year and developing new flavors that will make my holiday menu extra special. This year however, I am not hosting a dinner since we are traveling and the cooking requirements are significantly reduced. A week from now, we will be celebrating the holidays in California, it's a welcome change that we both need and a nice break from the cold and gloomy days here in D.C.  Plus, I get to meet up with my family and friends and eating a whole lot of food on this trip!

apples

However, what would Christmas be without baking a few holiday desserts and cookies! Apple pies are something I make every holiday season but this year, I've been working on a special type of crust, one that is wholegrain yet flaky and delicious but without the shortening. You will love this spelt crust, it is easy to prepare and work with and when it comes out of the oven you will want to grab a hot pie straight off the baking sheet. There's something comforting in eating a soft flaky pie crust, especially in cold weather. 
I've used coconut oil as a substitute for the shortening which works wonderfully in the dough. I used one of the tricks from Cook's Illustrated America's Test Kitchen to inhibit gluten formation in the dough by using a splash of vodka. 

ready to bake spelt apple pies

This apple pie filling represents some of my favorite holiday flavors that are absolutely wonderful! It has a mix of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples that are cooked with red wine and sweet ginger bits. And best of all you can add whatever mix of mulling spices that you love to flavor the wine. You probably won't end up using all the liquid to fill the pies so do what I did, save it as a sauce to pour over your breakfast pancakes or serve it as a sauce with some fresh fruit like pears for desserts! 

mulled wine apple pies with spelt

mini mulled wine apple spelt pies

mulled wine apple pie filling  

yields: about 2 - 21/2 cups 

ingredients

1 1/2 cups red wine (I used a Burgundy)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark honey
2 tablespoons mulling spice mix (of your choice)
1 lb yellow delicious apples, peeled and diced
1 lb granny smith apples, peeled and diced
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) crystallized ginger bits

1. Pour the wine into a thick bottomed saucepan. Place the mulling spices into a muslin cloth bag or a piece of cheese cloth and tie it at the open end with a piece of kitchen string. Add the bag to the wine and bring the wine to a boil on a medium high flame, reduce to a gentle simmer and allow the wine to cook for 20 minutes or until it has reduced to 1/2 of its original volume.
2. Add the sugar, honey, apples, and ginger bits to the wine. Cook for another 30 minutes on a medium low flame until the apples are tender. The apples will release their liquid. Remove the muslin bag with the spices and discard. 
3. Remove the mulled wine apple pie filling and allow it to cool to room temperature before using it to fill the pies.

spelt pie pastry crust

yields: 8 X 4" pies

ingredients

1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) spelt flour
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all purpose flour + a little extra flour to roll out the pastry
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped and chilled
8 tablespoons coconut oil, chilled and cut into bits
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
3 tablespoons water, chilled
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

1. Pulse the flours, sugar and salt in a food processor for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients. Randomly distribute the chopped butter and coconut oil over the dry ingredients. Pulse the ingredients twice for 30 seconds to mix the fat. Continue to pulse the ingredients and slowly drizzle the vodka and water into the food processor. Continue to pulse until the ingredients come together to form the pie dough. Remove the dough from the food processor, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 4 flat discs. Cover each with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour before use.
2. Remove and unwrap one disc. Place the disc on a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin flatten the disc out to a rough 12 inch circle. Cut 4 inch circles and place the circles on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough. Any extra bits of unused dough can be combined, chilled and reused. You should get a total of 16 circles of pie pastry.
3. Using a small star-shaped cookie cutter (you can use any shape of cookie cutter here) cut out a star in the center of 8 of the 16 circles of pie pastry cut out earlier. Reserve the stars and keep aside these discs aside.
4. Place 1 generous tablespoon of the apple filling in the center of an uncut pie circle. Place and center one of the cut circles over the filling and seal the edges of the two discs by pressing lightly with the prongs of a fork. Repeat and prepare the rest of the pies. You can decorate the pies with the reserved cutout stars as you like. Chill the pies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper for 30 minutes before baking.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Lightly whisk the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Brush the surface of each pie with the yolk wash. Bake the pies for 25-30 minutes until the crusts are golden brown. Allow the pies to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes and serve warm.

masala chai apple cake

Masala Chai Apple Cake

As far back as I can remember, I've always drunk more tea than coffee though this eventually changed with grad school (many hours of test preps necessitated caffeine). Tea or chai is served at almost every meal in Indian cuisine and in some instances even after a meal. Chai can be drunk plain with or without milk, sweetened or unsweetened but my favorite way to drink tea is when the liquid is infused with a concoction of spices giving it a delicious aromatic fragrance and warm flavor. Masala chai or spiced tea can be made in so many different ways, my mother likes hers with a little freshly grated ginger root ,  sometimes she might add in a few crushed cardamom pods and if she is feeling extra adventurous, then she'll toss in both. My favorite version of chai involves a few more spices to her mix, I like to throw in a little cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and star anise, to give it a bit of a spicier taste. When it comes to selecting tea leaves for preparing the brew, I personally prefer to use whole loose black tea leaves from Assam, the flavor and color are much more richer and darker, Darjeeling black tea is another good option.

apples

I can hardly keep up with what most days or months represent, so this is truly a complete coincidence, that I have an apple cake recipe for you during September, the national month of apples. There are so many different kinds of delicious and colorful varieties of apples available today that can be used specifically for different things. My favorite are the Red delicious and Granny Smith apples, though I will probably sink my teeth into any apple that is crispy. Yeah, I guess I am a crispiness snob when it comes to apples, the joy of biting into a crispy apple while the sweet juice trickles off your fingers is simple and pure perfection! 

spices

This is a great everyday rustic cake made rich with tea, spices and apples, one you can certainly eat at anytime of the day, just like tea (you can even eat this with a cup of coffee). Instead of adding the spices to the tea (which is what one would do to make masala chai traditionally), I added freshly ground spices directly to the cake batter and prepared a reduction of the tea to concentrate the each of the flavors of the ingredients. Granny Smith apples are tart and they hold their shape during the baking process and you can taste the apples in every slice of cake that you bite into. Tea and apples are a wonderful combination in this cake and I am sure you will enjoy it.

As an option, you can also fold in 1/2 cup of raisins or walnuts to the cake batter towards the end when you add the apples. 

tealeaves

Do check out some of my favorite apple recipes,


Savory Apple Samosas, that can be served with this Sweet Tamarind Chutney.

Chai apple cake

masala chai apple cake

yields: 6-8 servings/ one 9 inch cake

ingredients

1 cup water
4 tablespoons black tea leaves ( I used Darjeeling)
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) plain all-purpose flour + 1 tablespoon (for coating the grated  apples)
1 cup ( 4 1/4 ounces) whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon green cardamom seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, freshly ground
2 cloves, freshly ground
1/2 inch cinnamon stick, freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon star anise, freshly ground
1 teaspoon butter for greasing the pan
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature + extra butter to grease baking pan
1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup plain non-fat greek yogurt
2 large granny smith apples, peeled and grated (you should get approximately 1-1 1/2 cups of squeeze grated fruit pulp)
1-2 teaspoons of confectioner's sugar,  for dusting the cake

1. Center a wire rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325F.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the tea leaves to the water and continue to boil for one minute. Remove the saucepan from the stove and allow the tea leaves to steep in the water for 5 minutes. Strain the liquid through a tea strainer into a clean cup and discard the leaves. Rinse the saucepan clean (to make sure there are no residual tea leaves left behind). Transfer the tea back into the saucepan and bring it back to a boil on a high flame. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and reduce the liquid volume to approximately 1/4 cup. At this stage remove the tea and leave to cool to room temperature. 
3. Whisk and blend all the ingredients from the flour to the star anise and keep aside.
4. Line a round 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper and grease evenly with the butter.
5. Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar for 7 minutes on medium speed. Beat in one egg at a time to get a smooth and creamy cake batter. Add the cooled concentrated tea prepared earlier to the batter and mix completely.
6. Add half of the whisked dry ingredients to the cake batter. Combine completely into the batter until no more flecks of flour can be seen. Stop the mixer and add the yogurt to the batter and beat gently on low speed until combined completely. Beat in the remaining flour until no more flecks of flour can be seen.
7. Gently squeeze the liquid out of the grated apples between the palms of your hands and reserve two tablespoons of the juice. Toss the apples in the extra flour and fold in the grated apples and the reserved juice into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Smooth the surface with an offset spatula and bake for 50-60 minutes in the oven. Half-way through the baking process, open the oven and rotate the cake pan to ensure even baking. The cake is completely baked when the center is firm to touch or when a skewer comes out clean from the center. Remove the baked cake and allow it cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Run a knife between the edges of the cake and the pan and transfer the cake to a wire rack. Cool the cake completely to room temperature for at least 1-2 hours. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving. 

apple and carrot soup with cilantro-peanut chutney

carrot and apple soup

I started my holidays a little earlier than anticipated since we decided to finally take on our pending bathroom remodeling project and I'm relieved that it's finished. No more drilling and hammering noises and pesky dust issues!  Since, I've stayed at home for the bathroom project, I decided to finish up wrapping all the gifts that we need to take down with us on our trip this weekend. Honestly, I am not a big fan of wrapping gifts, sometimes I get them right and on other occasions, I simply don't. It would be much easier if there was a standard rectangular shape box for every gift versus all the other random shaped toy cartons that I have come across. 

carrots and apples

With all the hustle and bustle of the calorie loaded holidays parties, I've been opting for very simple, easy, and refreshing meals at home. This is one of my favorite recipes that I have grown to love and appreciate this year. This apple and carrot soup has all the fresh flavors of the season. The soup by itself is very delicious but it gets a pretty bold kick of heat from the Thai chili peppers in the crunchy peanut and cilantro chutney.

cilantro and apples

To give this pureed soup a silky and smooth texture, it is essential to simmer all the vegetables for at least 30 minutes. It does not matter how long you small you dice the apples and carrots because they will get soft and tender during the simmering stage. If you can't find black sea salt or "Kala Namak" (you can find it at most Indian grocery stores) then I would recommend using regular Kosher sea salt. You can thin the soup as much as you want to with water but don't forget to adjust the salt and pepper. While making the chutney, I like to use fresh lemon juice and I also leave the seeds inside the chilies. If you like the chutney less hot, then remove the seeds and only use the skin of the chilies. A little drop of the chutney goes along way in this soup. Another tip with the peanuts, I eliminated the need for using raw peanuts, since pre-salted and roasted peanuts are so easily available. The little crunch bits of peanuts in the chutney against the smooth silky soup makes for a wonderful and delicious texture. As an added bonus, the chutney can also be used as a dipping sauce.

carrots garlic and pot
onion

apple and carrot soup with cilantro-peanut chutney

yields: 4-6 servings

ingredients

for the apple and carrot soup

2 medium sized Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced 
2 lb carrots, peeled and diced 
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
juice of half a lemon
ground black sea salt (or regular sea salt) to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

for the cilantro-peanut chutney

1 cup of fresh cilantro leaves 
2 tablespoons salted roasted peanuts
2 green thai chili peppers
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

for the apple and carrot soup

1. Heat the olive oil in a thick bottomed stock pot with a lid on a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes with constant stirring. The onions will become translucent and light pink in color. Now add the carrots and apples, stir for a minute and cover with a lid. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of water and bring it to boil. Once the water boils, reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and cook for another 30 minutes until all the vegetables are soft. Switch the flame off and let the contents cool for about 15 minutes.
2. Add the contents of the stockpot to a food processor and pulse until completely smooth. Add the pureed vegetables back to the stockpot. Add the rest of the water to the puree along with the cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Heat the soup on a medium flame and bring to a boil with constant stirring. Then reduce to a gentle simmer and keep warm until ready to serve.
Note: If you prefer the soup to be thinner, then add a little more water to it and accordingly adjust the salt and pepper.

for the cilantro-peanut chutney

1. Grind all the ingredients for the chutney to get a coarse paste. The peanuts should be coarsely ground.
2. Season with salt and pepper as per taste.

serving suggestion:
Top each bowl of soup with 1 teaspoon of the cilantro-peanut chutney.

apple brown betty redux


We went apple picking over the long weekend with our friends to the Showwalter's Orchard in Virginia. It probably wasn't the most idyllic weather to be picking fruit or for that matter even walking around in the rain, especially if  you have a long holiday. The weather had suddenly dropped to the lower 50's and it had rained quite a bit the night before. We still had a continuous drizzle of rain but despite all this it was still so much fun. We came back with about a 100lbs of apples of all sorts of colors, shapes, and varieties. I picked some huge pumpkins, large enough to replace the ab's ball at my gym (despite my fortuitous find,  I am still sticking with the lighter ball at the gym for my workouts). 


One of the fun parts of this trip was the apple cider tasting. This was my first apple cider tasting and if you are like me and thought this might taste sweet and fruity like apple juice then you are in for a bit of a surprise. Cider based alcohol tastes like a cross between wine and beer. The bottles we tried had a bit of mild effervescence and some interesting notes. One of them particularly stood out with an instantaneous hint of a mild blue cheese. Fascinated and intrigued, I picked up two varieties of the cider. I think I might have a future recipe under my sleeve to infuse with some of these unique and delicious ciders.


Until now, I had never tried an apple brown Betty. It is absolutely delicious and easy to make. I made it right after we got back from our fruit endeavors. There are a few changes that I made to the original recipe, for one I bumped up the amount of nutmeg and also added in a little bit of sweet apple cider to give the Betty a little more flavor and syrup. One of the main reasons why I love this dessert is its rustic simplicity and the lack of an overly sweet backgrounds brings out the fruity flavors of the apple. This dessert tastes delicious at any temperature and you can also start your day with it with some whipped Greek  yogurt on the side. This recipe was adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Dessert  cookbook.


apple brown betty redux

yields: 6 servings

ingredients

1 1/4 pounds firm apples (I used a mix of Fuji and Gala apples)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup apple cider
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. In a small mixing bowl, toss the crushed crackers and sugar together. 
3. Wash, peel, and core the apples. Chop the apples into 1 inch chunks. 
4. Toss the apples, cranberries, lemon juice, and 1/4 cracker mix together into a rectangular baking pan. Place the pan in the oven at bake for 15 minutes.
5. After the apples have baked for 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven. 
6. Pour the melted butter onto the rest of the cracker mixture and mix well. 
7. Drizzle the apple cider over the baked apples. 
8. Sprinkle the rest of the butter and cracker mixture evenly over the fruit. 
9. Turn the oven temperature to 400F. Bake the fruit again  for another 20 minutes. The apple brown betty is done when the juices of the fruit are bubbling and the crust is golden brown.
10. Serve hot, warm, or cold. You can also serve this with chilled Greek yogurt for breakfast.


apple kheer


So far this has been a beautiful weekend. Warm and non-humid conditions are something of a treasure down in D.C. Another beautiful part of this weekend is the extra Monday off! There is nothing like a Monday off, though I have realized that professors plan well ahead in advance of how much work they will assign to you if they lose a class. I hate stretching these things out (though I mostly end up doing just that). We drove around the neighboring Virginia country on the weekend to see if the leaves had started to show signs of fall but alas it is still to early down here. We went down to Harper's Ferry to walk the trails one afternoon which turned out to be quite the walk back up the hill. I think I am going to try and shoot for the Shenandoah Valley soon.


I had a huge bag of red gala apples staring at me saying "use me soon". Several thoughts flipped through my head on what to do with them but I kept going back to one of my favorite desserts as a kid. Okay, so it even passed off for breakfast one several occasions. I love Kheer, an Indian milk custard traditionally made with broken short grain rice. I don't like to describe it as a pudding because to me a pudding should show a firmer texture than a custard. However, adding apples to milk could cause problems in curdling the milk to curds and consequently cheese as the milk would boil. Since I could not figure a way to neutralize the acid without compromising the apple flavors, stabilizing the milk without flour to thicken it would definitely help. I basically ended up combining a traditional kheer recipe with a halva recipe and a few other tricks.


apple kheer

servings: 4-6 

ingredients

2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
8 grated red gala apples (squeezed for any excess juices)
1/3 cup golden raisins or sultanas
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
a pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
chopped pistachios to garnish

1. Bring the milk and sugar to boil in a large thick bottom sauce pot and then let it simmer on a low flame. Add the grated apple, raisins, cardamom and saffron. Stir continuously and cook till the liquid volume reduces to half. Strain the liquid into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Keep the apple mixture aside. 
2. Whisk the flour into the boiling liquid and cook till its consistency thickens and the volume reduces again by half. Pour the hot liquid through a sieve to remove any clumps of flour straight onto the apple mixture. Garnish with pistachios just before serving. This dessert can be served either warm or chilled.