Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pi Day (Pineapple mango macadamia nut pie)

March 14, or 3.14, is now celebrated by nerds like Aaron and myself as Pi Day, in recognition of the mathematical constant pi (π). Without pi, we wouldn't be able to formulate geometry or trigonometry. Without pie, I would be sad. At Aaron's office, there's even a pi bake-off, and professional pride dictated that we simply had to enter. As we brain-stormed, Aaron rattled off ideas, including pineapple and mango. I scoffed at both as preposterous, only to eat humble pie as Google Image Search returned a gorgeous photo of this State Fair winner: pineapple and mango with a macadamia nut-studded lattice crust.

While some consider it just the delivery vehicle, an amazing pie requires an amazing crust. I won't throw shade at store-bought pie crusts, but investing a little extra time can also make a world of difference. After reading a New York Times article on "fool-proof vodka pie crust," I've been making boozy pie crusts for years. The use of alcohol gives a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps it's because oil and alcohol are more soluble than oil and water, or perhaps it's because of the way alcohol cooks off and evaporates in the oven, but the result is so ridiculously, perfectly rich and crumbly it just can't be beat. The original recipe uses vodka, but I often vary the choice of liquor for the flavor profiles each imparts, using things like Calvados (apple brandy) for apple pie or Mezcal for key lime. With the tropical flair of mango, pineapple, and macadamia nuts, a generous allotment of dark rum was the obvious choice.

Expanding possibilities
I had never thought of putting mango or pineapple into a pie. It seemed impossible, but that was the result of my narrow thinking. A splash of rum, a handful of light brown sugar, a dash of cornstarch, and a tablespoon of vanilla paste make a thick glaze that helps bind the filling together and a little pre-cooking makes the fruit soft, but not mushy. Ripe mangoes are crucially important for the proper flavor and texture. Check for this by giving each a rather gentle squeeze at the market. Ripe mangoes are tender-firm, and will give to your touch without being squishy, much the same way a good avocado does. If your mangoes haven't ripened, yet, you can keep them in a brown paper bag with a banana to speed things up. Pineapples, on the other hand, do not continue to ripen after harvesting, so you're actually checking for spoilage. Look for leaves that seem healthy and fresh and a firm shell.

Coming out of its shell
There's a lot going on in this pie, and it takes a fair amount of effort. One of my #lazy recipes, this is not. That extra work pays off, in the end, with a show-stopper pie that doesn't look or taste like anything most people expect when they hear "pie." The lush, buttery, tropical fruit flavors get a deeper note from the molasses in the brown sugar and woodsy vanilla, and the rum adds just a bit of sharpness to cut through the background. I was concerned that the finished product wasn't very culturally authentic, but both Hawaiians and Colombians commended it on having a taste evocative of home. Serve by heaping slices with generous swirls of whipped cream and imagine you're somewhere in the tropics.

Tropically inclined

"Tro-π-cal" Pie (Pineapple Mango Macadamia Nut Pie)

The alcohol will cook off, but the flavor and texture it imparts to the crust cannot be replaced. Serves 6-8.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon sea salt 
3 tablespoons sugar 
12 tablespoons butter, chilled and cubed
1/2 cup shortening, chilled and roughly cut
1/2 cup dark rum, chilled

3/4 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

2 cups fresh mango, cored, peeled and chopped
2 cups fresh pineapple, cored, peeled, and chopped (drain away as much juice as you can)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1 tablespoon vanilla paste (or extract)
4 tablespoons cornstarch 
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter

In a large food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and sugar, to combine. 

Scatter the butter and shortening on the top and pulse about 15 seconds, until pea-sized clumps form and little visible dry mix remains.

Turn the butter-flour mixture out into a large glass bowl and sprinkle with rum, then use a rubber spatula to fold together, pressing down gently, until a sticky, elastic dough forms.

Observe: crumbs
Divide the dough into two spheres, then flatten into discs, wrap in cellophane, and chill for at least 45 minutes or up two 2 days.

Preheat an oven to 350 F. 

Roll out the first disc of pie dough on a sheet of floured parchment until it drapes into an ungreased 9-inch pie tin. 

Draped with dignity
Roll out the second disc of pie dough on lightly floured piece of parchment paper. 

Sprinkle chopped macadamia nuts on top and use a rolling pin to gently press nuts into crust. Cut into strips and set aside.

In a large saucepan, mix mango, pineapple, light brown sugar, rum, and vanilla. Stir the cornstarch and salt together in a small bowl, then stir into fruit mixture. 

Cook the fruit over medium-low heat until thickened, then stir in butter

Scrape the filling into the prepared pie shell, then arrange the macadamia nut strips across the top, sealing and fluting the edges with your fingers. Resist the urge to weave the lattice. The nuts make this a task of Sisyphean misery.

Taking the easy way out

Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.


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