Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solution: Fresh Apple Pie!
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
One of the guilty pleasures of the fall harvest is a good ol’ fashioned fresh apple pie, preferably à la mode! At this time of the year retailers across the country build aisle-long colorful displays of apple and pear varieties numbering in the double digits! The choices and flavor combinations seem endless for pie making…as well as out of reach for the conscientious carb-counter, with the main components of this American culinary icon being white flour and sugar in a few different forms. Fear not! There are ways to enjoy that universally pleasurable aroma of a hot apple pie baking in the oven even in a glycemicly strict kitchen!
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Firstly, let’s address the need to sprinkle sugar on just about everything in this country, including naturally sweet fresh fruit! Why most recipes involving fruits always add cups of some form of sweetener, including honey, is beyond my culinary comprehension. Logic would have it that the point of a “fruit” pie is to enjoy the flavor of the fruit, not the altogether different taste of sugar-coated fruit! No doubt this compulsion is in part the collateral damage of a Fruit Loops infused childhood in this fast-food culture. Anyway, here’s an apple pie recipe that replaces all those empty calories and blood-sugar raising components by (a) making ingredient choices based on the natural sugar content of a few selected apple & pear varieties and (b) replacing milled flour completely while still delivering the goods in a flakey crust as tradition demands.
Let’s start with the star of the show -- the filling. Every apple variety has its own set of unique flavor characteristics. In fact, in another life [B.B. – before blogging], this writer used to travel up and down the Columbia River Basin, Eastern Washington’s main apple growing region, on behalf of a national retailer writing up quality reports describing the flavors and textures of apple varieties in wine jargon. That is, an apple could be described as being “acidic” “big” “bold” “complex” “creamy” “dense” “earthy” or “crisp” – to name just a few. A variety could have a sweet “front” with a dry “back” or dessert-sweetness counter-balanced with a hint of tart aftertaste. While this is stuff that only a professional apple-head can appreciate, the point is that every apple variety brings a unique flavor profile and degree of sweetness (or tartness) to the palate. All will keep the doctor away and none need the help of added sweeteners, natural or artificial, to “support” their inherent deliciousness! Choose the right varietal combinations and the sugar content will take care of itself!
Specifically, for this pie, the Honeycrisp and a ripe D’Anjou pear contribute plenty of natural sweet flavor; so much so that a tart Granny Smith was added just to dampen down the combined sugars of the other two! Of course, one could reverse the ratio – using more Grannies and less Honeycrisp for an altogether different, more acidic flavor profile. That seasonal aisle-long retail display offers a plethora of varietal combinations to suit any taste preference. I prefer to cook with firm apple varieties that hold their shape during the baking process, like the Braeburn, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith. While many prefer the softer textures of varieties like Golden Delicious or Gala varieties, for my taste these tend to feel a little mushy in texture to my palate…but vive la différence!
O.K, so after reading my tirade against adding sugar to fruit, the inclusion of Melissa’s agave in the ingredient list here would seem contradictory. In my defense, this recipe is a path to being able to enjoy the flavors of a traditional apple pie for the glycemicly-challenged. That wonderful aroma alluded to earlier is this article has a lot to do with the traditional spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and vanilla being heated during the bake. Those spices need a bonding agent to combine both the smell that wafts through the kitchen during the bake and the comfort food goodness that coats the palate with each bite – those spices are the “soul” of the an apple pie filling. While the sweetness of agave cannot be denied, at least the syrup is glycemicly neutral, allowing us carb counters to enjoy the pie that the rest of America takes for granted.
Almond “flour” comes to the rescue again when looking for a way to enjoy a flakey pastry-like dough. It’s really a meal of finely grated almonds that can pretty much be treated like a white flour dough, though it is slightly more delicate to work with, which is why I add in a little oat flour to give the dough more body. I will caution that the construction of a pie using this dough does require one ingredient not listed…at least a cupful of patience! Since it isn’t real flour, almond flour cannot develop the bonding gluten found in milled flour. While it does roll out nicely, just like a flour-dough, it is more difficult to transfer from cutting board to pie pan and tends to crack or break. The good news is that this dough mends easily and any “patches” that have to be made during construct seem to miraculously vanish during the bake! I included “before/after” evidence of this phenomenon in the prep pictures of the top crust of the pie. To be honest, that top crust was supposed to be a “lattice” of strips of dough crisscrossing each other attractively. NOT. But after three or four attempts, re-rolling the dough each time and starting over, this mostly savory cook who shies away from baking by nature realizes my limits and went to a solid crust top (aka Plan “B”). Hey, in the end it tastes just as good!
As for the “a la mode” ingredient for this dish, I will leave that choice to the reader and, maybe, his or her conscience. There are sugar-free ice creams, yogurts, hot cinnamon sauce (agave-based) and/or maybe a fresh berry topping to consider. There are even some dark chocolate glycemic options that should not be over-looked. The point being that no or few carbs can be tasty too, just get creative with the ingredients and leave the sugars in the pantry!
Flourless (Rustic) Apple-Pear Pie
Yield: one 9-inch pie
4 cups almond flour
4 TBS oat Flour
1 tsp baking soda [or 4 tsp baking powder]
¼ tsp salt
½ cup coconut oil, melted
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 TBS coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup agave
2 medium Honeycrisp apples, cored, quartered, thinly sliced
2 medium Granny Smith apples, cored, quartered, thinly sliced
2 medium D’Anjou or Bartlett pears, cored, quartered, and thinly sliced
2 TSP coconut flour
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp apple pie spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Mix all of the dry ingredients together until well incorporated. Add in the wet ingredients and mix by hand, or spoon, and combine until it forms a soft dough ball, which is divided equally into two. Place one dough ball on a cutting board between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough into a circle big enough to fill a 9-inch pie pan. Peel off the top sheet and carefully flip the rolled dough onto the pie pan (the cutting board will help greatly with this procedure). Gently peel off the remaining parchment paper sheet and form the crust by very gently pushing down onto the pie pan. Note: Almond dough is very delicate compared to a flour-base; cracks and holes are easily mended using the excess dough trimmed off the edges of the pie pan.
Roll out the second dough ball into a large enough circle to cover the top of the pie. Place it, along with the dough-filled pie pan, into the refrigerator while working on the filling.
Heat the coconut oil and agave in a large skillet or saucepan, over medium heat, until the oil has melted. Add in the apples, vanilla and spices, mix well, cover and cook for a few minutes before adding in the coconut flour and stir until well incorporated. Turn off the heat and leave the apple filling mixture in the pan, uncovered, to cool.
When cool spoon the filling mixture into the pie crust pan. Then carefully flip the remaining circle of dough over the top. Again, cracks in the dough will happen and should be patched as best you can with the edge trimming and a fingers dipped in water. While these patches will be very apparent “pre-oven” it is amazing how the dough seems to mend itself during the bake and the rough spots disappear. [Patches shown here virtually disappears during the final bake - see next picture]
Finish off by making a few punctures in the tip crust with a fork. Bake @ 350° for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before cutting into it--the smell will test culinary patience here. Enjoy!