A Busy Saturday (Part 1): The Apple of My Eye

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post — life has been a bit hectic lately, and with my first eight-week apprenticeship technical training period starting just a month from now, the craziness is just beginning.

This past Saturday is an example of that. While I was working my day job at Co-op followed by noodle slinging for hungry patrons at Eats of Asia’s stall at that same evening’s Hawkers Market, my handmade pastries were on sale at the Calgary Farmers’ Market. I’ll have more on my night at Hawkers’ Market shortly, but first…the bake sale.

This was the first time I was invited to bake up goodies for the annual Calgary Food Bloggers’ Bake Sale. The sale was started four years ago by local nutritionist and food lover Vincci Tsui, and has grown ever since. While I am only able to see what goodies other bloggers, chefs and other food celebrities created via the power of social media (one of those darned downsides of working!), I can tell you about my own.

I’ll have to admit, I am not the greatest baker in the world — but I do know one thing, and that’s how to bring an Asian twist to classic dishes. Apple desserts, for one, are one of my favourites to bring such twists given the spices that are already being used for them.

Your standard apple pie usually uses cinnamon, but recently I’ve discovered that Chinese-style five spice powder works just as well (if not better) than just cinnamon. The combination of Chinese cinnamon (a.k.a cassia), cloves, fennel, star anise and Szechwan pepper, along with a touch of ginger, adds a new dimension of flavour. Add a little Canadian touch with a bit of maple to go with it all, and I think I’ve got myself a winner.

But of course, I know most of you don’t exactly have five spice powder kicking around in your kitchens — so I thought, maybe there was a way to mimic it. Without access to Szechwan peppercorns, fennel seeds and star anise, I created my own blend of Saigon cinnamon (which has an aroma that I’ve found both Ceylon or Chinese cinnamons don’t have — hence the priciness of it), grated orange zest, nutmeg, cloves. and black pepper. The mix may look a bit more like a citrus rub one would use on meats, but of course that’s a story for another day.

As for slicing the apples, a good knife usually does the trick. But one key to remember, especially if you are looking to create slices instead of cubes, is that slices must be as even as possible for an even cook. And for decorative purposes, a thinner slice (usually under 1/8″) will allow for more flexibility for shaping into, say roses, inside the pastry. This guide will give you a better idea, but if you are truly not confident, a mandoline set to a very thin slice will also do.

You may notice that I didn’t put a traditional egg wash in the recipe, nor did I use milk in the dough. Since I was making it for a crowd, I wanted to have as many people enjoy the pastry. While I did use butter for the crust, most other solid fats can be used if you are sensitive to dairy.

As for the end result, I’d have to say that they ended up looking pretty good. I certainly hope for those of you who picked one up, you enjoyed it because I certainly enjoyed making them for you! Plus you can feel good about that pastry (or any other goodies you picked up at the sale) — all proceeds goes to Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids.

So that was just one part of my busy Saturday last week. Stay tuned, as next we look at Hawkers’ Market!

 

Asian-Spiced Apple Mini Tarts with Maple-Ginger Glaze
Makes 10-15 tarts or 8-10 galettes

Filling Ingredients:
– 2 large firm, tart apples, such as Granny Smith
– 1/2 lemon
– 1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon, ground
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1/2 tsp ground cloves
– 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
– 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
– 2 tablespoons turbinado (golden) sugar

Pastry Ingredients:
– 8 ounces all-purpose flour
– 4 ounces butter, ice cold
– 3 ounces sugar
– Pinch salt
– Ice cold water as needed

Glaze Ingredients:
– 1 cup maple syrup
– 1/4 cup water
– 6 pieces candied ginger, chopped fine

Directions:
1. Start by creating the filling. Slice off the “cheeks” off the apples and slice thinly, using a knife or a mandoline. Season apples with a squeeze of lemon juice, add in spices and sugar, and and let sit.
2. Create pastry. Mix sugar, salt and flour together in a bowl. Cut butter into small cubes, and crumble into the dry ingredients until small gravel consistency. Add ice water to pastry gradually until dough forms. Chill until ready to use.
3. Bring water and maple syrup to a boil, add in candied ginger. Reduce by 1/4 and then remove from heat to let cool.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to approximately 1/8″ thick. For galettes, cut out 5″ circles, for tarts, cut out 2-3″ circles.
5. Lay out apple slices on centre of each galette or tart pastry placed into tins, drizzle any extra juices onto each tart.
6. Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes until apples are cooked and the pastry is golden.
7. Remove from oven, and glaze tarts. Serve warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, or let cool and wrap for sale.

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