Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Food Desert Project - Pie R Squared

A Food Desert Project exclusive! Today, March 14 is pi day - one of my favorite of all days, one that sends me into a flurry of baking and writing that's if possible more energetic than the one that posesses me at Thanksgiving and Christmas! This year, I had the opportunity to make several π day pies, but this one's just for you - a few steps, but fairly simple, really. Nusstarte is a specialty of the Engadin region of Switzerland, an area known for its beautiful lakes and delectable pastries.

Note: While these foods should be available in your average food desert, this is NOT a healthy recipe. It's extremely rich - basically, it's walnut caramel candy inside a shortbread cookie -make sure you cut the pieces very very thin; I have the nutritional information set for 1/12 of a pie. The good news is that walnuts have all kinds of vitamins and minerals, so at least the calories aren't entirely empty! Nutritional information.

Engadiner Nusstorte

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks cold unsalted butter , cut into pieces
2 eggs
1 yolk

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon water
2/3 cup coconut milk, well blended
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

The crust can be made the night before; I keep butter for pastry in my freezer so that it can be easily grated into piecrust. Blend the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Grate the frozen butter on the large side of a vegetable grater, add to the flour mixture, and stir to distribute evenly. Beat the eggs and egg yolk together and add to the mixture, folding until you have a dough. Divide the dough into 2/3 and 1/3, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Now comes the tricky part - remember, sugar is cheap, if it starts to smell burned or bubble viciously, let it cool and throw it away; start over. Combine sugar and water (NO MORE than a teaspoon) in a large, heavy saucepan. Whisk thoroughly. Cook over medium heat, watching constantly and stirring occasionally until the sugar melts completely and turns to a deep amber caramel.

(For reference this is a batch that I cooked on too high heat, burned and tossed. Note the edges - don't go that dark.)

Remove the pan from the heat and add the coconut milk (it will hiss, sizzle and bubble.) When it calms down a bit, return to heat and return to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil 1 minute until you have a smooth sauce and remove from the heat again to stir in the walnuts. Pour into a buttered bowl to cool slightly.

While your nuts are cooling, roll out your pastry dough into 2 circles: one large enough to line the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan, and one circle just big enough to cover the top. Pour the cooled nuts into the lined pan, spread them evenly, and cover with the circular pastry. Roll the remaining edge of pastry in on itself until it touches the top cover. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before serving (you may want to refrigerate it for a while.) Serve cold with some good coffee.

We decorated our nusstorte with a special graphic in honor of π day (An excuse to eat pie at 1:59 in the afternoon. Try that with your kids once and see how long it takes them to learn the first few digits of pi.)

I cut a circle out of the extra dough, and measured the radius. I then cut two squares whose sides measured the same as the radius and laid them point to point on the circle, with a scrap underneath each square. Thus, the top of my pie expresses the formula for the area of a circle: pie r squared.


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