Year of the Crust

Happy Chinese New Year! We’ve now entered the year of the horse, which is a year for decisiveness and adventure: a year where hard work yields success.  On this 40 degree January day, I set out for the Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown, feeling, finally, like jolting out of my post-holiday hibernation.  It was a good day for dim sum, and the right temperature to begin the victorious year of the horse.

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While I don’t pay too much attention to what the zodiac has in store for me, I do attempt to make sacred my new year resolutions.  At least ones that have a culinary bent:  two years ago was Year of the Vegan, last year was Year of the Sauce.

This year, I enter Year of the Crust.

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I’m drawn to crust for the challenge; it’s one of those “make it or break it” elements of a dish that you end up feeling really bad about when you fail. It can be a nutty, crunchy companion to the creamy cheesecake or a sodden flavorless layer that you wish wasn’t there.  It can be a light outer crunch of sourdough, or a burnt one.  To really wow, crust requires attention and flavor.

For my first attempt, my flirtations with gluten-free baking and soul food led me to a place where sweet potato pies have crusts of cornmeal, slightly sweet and and just a little gritty.  That’s the kind of wow I was going for.  I want to get you to that place, too.

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The cornmeal delights the silky, sweet filling with some southern grit.  The crust, defying all notions of the dreaded, soggy pie crust, holds its form against the whipped density of sweet potato puree.  You can even hold it like a slice of pizza (try it!).  And so my triumphant year of the horse begins.

Sweet Potato Pie with Cornmeal Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Pie Dough)

Pie Filling:

3 whole sweet potatoes (yielding 1.5 cups sweet potato puree)
2 eggs
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup milk or almond milk
1/4 tsp cardamom, ground
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp coriander, ground
1/4 tsp ginger, ground
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Cornmeal Crust:

1 1/2 cups flour (or gluten-free flour – try Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground or coarse
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp salt
8 T unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2 large egg yolks
3 T chilled water

Directions:

1. Make the crust: In a large bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt.  With your fingers, mix in butter until crumbs form.  In a small bowl, combine egg yolks and chilled water.  Add egg yolk mixture into flour mixture.  Using a fork, mix quickly and lightly.  Knead dough in a floured bowl until dough holds together and can be packed into a disk.  You can add up to 1 T of water if dry.  Press into a disk, and wrap in plastic.  Chill in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes.

2. While the dough chills, make the filling: Poke holes in sweet potatoes and roast for 45-50 minutes at 400 degrees.  When cool enough to handle, remove skin, place into a large bowl, and mash with a fork.  When smooth, add the rest of the ingredients and stir until well blended.

3. Assemble the pie: Preheat the oven to 425.  Line a ceramic or glass pie pan with the dough, and fill with sweet potato filling.  Crimp the edges of the dough around the pie; there will likely be extra.  Bake pie at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake until the filling has set, about 25-30 minutes.

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