What a revelation, that sunchokes could be used like fruit in desserts! I’m now wondering wondering what other possibilities are out there, like coffee cake or pudding. Yes, yes I know, I’m the one always complaining about the prevalence of sweets with foraged fruit recipes, so I’m the last person you’d expect to get excited about using sunchokes this way. Maybe I’m just excited because it’s unexpected. Sure, wild blackberries can be made into a pie, but sunchokes? Plus this gives me so many new options to feed sunchokes to unsuspecting victims … wait, did I just type that with my outside fingers?
In all seriousness though, I have been experimenting with techniques to reduce the “fragrant” nature of sunchokes. This recipe uses two methods, an acid soak and thorough cooking to cut down on the noise you can expect the next day! Soaking the chopped sunchokes in apple-cider-vinegar-water helps reduce the amount of inulin. Boiling the tubers reduces it further. The vinegar flavor cooks away, and you would never even know it was used. And neither my husband nor I experienced the usual degree of sunchoke “turbulence” after servings of this pie!
This recipe is a great use for small or odd-shaped bits of sunchoke tuber. You don’t even need to peel them ahead of time, because the peels can be removed easily after cooking. I opted for a hand-cranked food mill to process the tubers after cooking, because it produced evenly sized pieces and removed the largest and toughest peels. You could also use a conical food mill, or remove the peels by hand and crush the sunchokes with a food masher.
Note when the recipe says to chill the gelatin-sunchoke mixture – do not just abandon it in the refrigerator for half a day! If partially chilled is good, completely chilled is better, right? Wrong! The gelatin will completely set, making the mixture lumpy. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to gently fold in the stiffened egg whites for a smooth pie filling, and it will lose much of the fluffy airiness one expects in a chiffon pie.
I opted for a grain-free / gluten-free crust. I chose hazelnut flour as a locally-available alternative, and someday I hope to harvest and process my own hazelnuts to use as flour. Other seasonally appropriate and local options for central Maryland include flour or meal made from acorns or hickory nuts. (I believe Euell himself would have especially approved of the nut crust if it had been hickory.) Obviously this recipe isn’t “paleo” due to the sugar and milk, nor keto for that matter. But it was very tasty, and mostly worth the sugary consequences. At least let me say, it wasn’t the most damaging thing I ate during the holiday season. The amount of sugar is relatively low, and the pie is not overwhelmingly sweet. Unfortunately, I learned later that my husband doesn’t appreciate hazelnuts to the same degree I do, so I used a LOT of hazelnut flour to make this crust which no one enjoyed but me. I will probably opt for a crustless approach next time.
In the future I hope to find a better local sweetener for the pie itself, but since this is my first chiffon pie I didn’t want to go too crazy with substitutions. Particularly with the stiffened egg whites, white sugar is structural to the recipe. Honey, maple syrup and sorghum are all possibilities, but since they are wetter than brown sugar I didn’t know how the pie would hold up.
Speaking of local options, I would have loved to use spicebush to season the pie, instead of pumpkin pie spice blend. Unfortunately, my kids already refused to even try the pie because of the sunchokes. And my husband finds the aftertaste of spicebush unpleasant, so I faced the possibility of having to eat the whole pie myself if I’d made that substitution. I plan to experiment further with spicebush to find a way to make it more palatable to my family; perhaps by only using the flesh and omitting the rather large seed, or by making an extract to use instead of powdered spice.
One final note about the recipe: if you are worried about uncooked egg whites, you can substitute pasteurized egg whites from the store, or try these instructions.
- 2 c hazelnut flour (can substitute other nut flours if desired)
- 2 Tbs maple syrup
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup grass-fed butter, in 2 Tbs pieces, softened
Lightly toast the nut flour in a dry skillet or pan over medium heat, until golden and fragrant. Stir frequently and perform a “sniff check” often because nut flours can go from “toasted” to “burnt” very quickly.
Transfer nut flour to a bowl and stir together with syrup and salt. 2 tablespoons at a time, mix in butter until the dough sticks to itself – this may take the entire half cup of butter, depending on how dry the nut flour is. Press in to the pie dish and refrigerate while preparing the filling. If you are concerned about the crust sticking, grease the pie dish with more butter, or line with parchment paper.
Sunchoke pie Filling
- 1 lb sunchokes
- 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 envelope (2 1/2 tsp) of unflavored gelatin
- 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/3 cup white sugar
Roughly chop the sunchokes and soak in enough water to cover, plus 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar, while waiting for a pot of water to come to a roiling boil. Drain the vinegar rinse from the sunchokes, and then add them to boiling water. Boil until soft, which may take 15 – 20 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. Mash the sunchokes with a hand masher or food mill, removing the largest and toughest pieces of peel. Use 1 1/4 cups processed sunchoke for this recipe; freeze any leftover sunchoke for future inclusion in other dishes such as soup.
Whisk together brown sugar, gelatin, egg yolks and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, as the mixture comes to a boil. This helps prevent the yolks from cooking on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, and stir in the mashed sunchokes. Chill the gelatin-sunchoke mixture for approximately an hour, until it is slightly gelled. You do not want it to become completely solid!
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually add 1/3 cup of white sugar. Continue to beat egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold the gelatin-sunchoke mixture into the egg whites and gently spoon into the hazelnut crust.
Chill in the fridge until set. Serve with whipped cream and chopped toasted hazelnuts.