2012 has definitely been a life-changing year for me. Yesterday, I underwent the Naturalization Oath Ceremony at the Heritage Theater in Campbell, California, and along with 403 other people from 63 different countries, I became a citizen of the United States of America. As I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as an American citizen, I felt very emotional. It's been a long journey. Vice Mayor of the city of Campbell, Evan Low, greeted us and made a wonderful speech. He's such a passionate and energetic citizen. He's a fourth-generation American and he talked about the wonderful opportunities this country has given his family, including the ability to contribute and engage in the community and to do his part to shape the country.
I was particularly moved by his comments on the diversity of cultures and backgrounds that we share with each other, especially here in California. It meant all the more for me, given that my baby daughter was in attendance, as I am of French-Vietnamese descent and my husband is Indian-American.
If you had asked me before, I would always have said that 2000 was the best year of my life. I was a young engineering student who found an internship in Silicon Valley for the summer and I met the love of my life. But I have to admit that this year is rising up the charts. I've watched my little girl grow up into a very entertaining six month old, I've become a U.S. citizen, and I have one more exciting announcement: I've been given the opportunity to publish my first cookbook at the end of the year! It's been a dream of mine to write a book, and it was kind of surreal when I was approached about it earlier this year.
I just finished the manuscript so I'm beyond excited to be able to share the news with you! I'm truly living my American Dream. I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you to every single one of you, my readers, for sending your lovely messages of encouragement and for being such faithful followers of my daily cooking adventures. I've been sharing my everyday life with you for the past three years, and it's given me the opportunity to cross paths with many wonderful people along the way. It's been an amazing journey. So merci!
Now back to my favorite subject, which is food! Being a freshly minted American, it just felt right to make an apple pie, though of course, with my own twist. The tart crust is made with cream cheese. The pie is covered with diced apples and pecan crumbs and to make the dessert more visually appealing, I topped it with sliced apples and brushed them with apricot preserves at the end.
And finally, since Memorial Day weekend is upon us, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank our soldiers who have fought and continue to fight for our freedoms. God Bless America!
Servings: 8 servings
1 pound pastry dough (recipe follows)
2½ pounds apples (see tips), peeled and cored
1 lemon, zested and freshly squeezed
½ teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar, to taste
2½ tablespoons corn starch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped pecans
⅓ cup light brown sugar
⅓ cup diced unsalted butter, cold
½ teaspoon butter pecan extract (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup apricot preserves , warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
For the tart shell: Make sure the pastry dough is still cold so it's easy to roll out. Roll the dough using a rolling pin into a 12 x 15" rectangle. Place the dough in a non-stick rectangular (8" x 12") tart mold, lined with parchment paper; following the curve of the mold, crimp the dough against the edge. Gently press the dough with your fingers so there are no air bubbles. Leave a little excess above the edge because the dough will settle a bit in the oven. Prick the dough with a fork. Chill in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes. Line the dough with another sheet of parchment paper and top with ceramic pie weights (dried beans work well too). Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 12-14 minutes. Remove the pie weights and discard the pieces of parchment paper. Bake for another 2-3 minutes so the pie crust can dry. Remove from the heat and let the dough cool a little. Set aside.
For the apples: Coarsely chop 3 apples and slice the rest. In a bowl, mix the chopped apples with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and lemon zest. Drizzle the sliced apples with lemon juice.
Making the base of the pie: In a large, non-stick pan, combine the chopped apples, granulated sugar, corn starch, ⅛ teaspoon salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens (you can add up to 3-4 tablespoons water if it becomes too dense). Add 1 teaspoon vanilla.
For the pecan crumbs: Make the pecan crumbs while the apples are cooking. Using a pastry blender or the back of fork, combine the brown sugar, flour, ⅛ teaspoon salt, 5 tablespoons of cold diced butter and the chopped pecans until it forms coarse, sandy crumbs of butter, pecans and flour. Add the remaining ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, butter pecan extract (if used) and more vanilla extract. Store in the refrigerator until chilled.
Sprinkle the tart shell with about ⅓ the amount of pecan crumbs. Fill with the cooked apples. Sprinkle the remaining pecan crumbs over the apples. Top with the apple slices. Place the pie on a baking pan and bake for 10 minutes at 375°F; lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for another 25-30 minutes until the top is golden. At the end, to ensure the apples are browned, if necessary, change the setting to broil for about 2 minutes.
Note: I covered the edges of the pie with aluminum foil so the crust didn't burn and removed it right before brushing the pie with the preserves.
Remove from the oven and finish by brushing the apples with the warm apricot preserves. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
Serve the apple dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce.
Serve warm with a hot cup of tea.
For the cream cheese pastry shell: Lightly oil the bowl of your food processor with a silicone brush. Combine 1¾ cups flour, 4 ounces cold cream cheese, ¼ teaspoon baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt and 4 tablespoons diced cold butter. Add 3 tablespoons cold water and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar and pulse until the dough is formed. Do NOT over-mix. Transfer the dough to a large bowl lined with plastic wrap and encase the dough with it. Roll the dough into a 12"-square. Place a 4-tablespoon piece of butter between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap (or parchment paper). Roll the butter into a 6"-square. Chill the square of butter and pastry dough in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes. If you don't have time, place them in the freezer for 15 minutes. Place the square of butter onto the dough so that the corners of the butter are rotated 45° away from the corners of the dough. In other words, the butter should look like a diamond placed inside the square of dough. Fold the corners of the dough in towards the straight edges of the butter (the butter should be totally enveloped). Roll the dough using a rolling pin into a long 12 x 15" rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds and roll one more time, re-creating a 12 x 15" rectangle. The puff pastry dough is ready.
You could make this fruit-filled pie with other fruits such as nectarines, peaches, plums, berries, pears or figs, depending on the season. Be creative!
I used Golden Delicious apples. 2½ pounds equals about 8 apples.
I found butter pecan extract at my local market but you can also find it online or replace it with vanilla extract or any other flavorings you like, such as cinnamon, maple, amaretto, brandy or even cognac.
I usually get a bag of cinnamon sticks at a more reasonable price at the Indian market, rather than at regular local chain stores. I grate it using a Microplane. You can use ready-made ground cinnamon but I think the flavor is more intense when freshly grated.
Parchment paper is very convenient when you use molds that aren't non-stick. If you're extra cautious, grease the molds with butter before lining them with parchment paper. You could also serve this apple cake as individual portions baked in a muffin tin.
To make the pecan crumbs, it's important to use cold butter. If you want a crisper topping, you can add paper-thin slices of butter over the top prior to baking.