Smoked brown sugar is a mystery to me. That old adage is a saying for a reason: where one finds smoke, one usually does find fire. Fire emits heat, and sugar melts when its heated. How, then, does one get smokey flavor into brown sugar without melting the sugar? Until a few months ago, I’d never even heard of smoked brown sugar. I discovered it last Christmas, while perusing the Net for interesting ideas for meat rubs. The menfolk in my family are difficult people for whom to buy presents. They are pretty content where they are and with what they have; they have few, and simple, desires. One can only give so many running shirts and socks for birthday and Christmas presents. I was bereft of ideas for Christmas presents. Since all the men I love happen to love grilling and smoking meat, I decided to make meat rubs for them as Christmas presents. I searched for rubs for beef, chicken, and pork that require interesting ingredients. One recipe I found called for smoked brown sugar. I was intrigued by the thought of smoked brown sugar, so I ordered some. It’s pricey stuff (about $16 for 8 oz). Just my luck, I LOVE using smoked brown sugar in all kinds of dishes. The smokey flavor adds a pleasant, interesting depth to all foods in which the sugar is used. I thought I was in trouble; I knew I’d be buying this expensive ingredient often.
As the winter progressed past Christmas, however, something happened to ease my smoked brown sugar pain. One Sunday I decided to get caught up on some magazine reading, and opened right to an article about cold smoking in my July issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. I confess that until I read that article, I’d never heard of cold smoking. I guess I’ve lived a sheltered life. As soon as I read the article, I realized that cold-smoking must be the answer to the smoked brown sugar mystery. By using a smoker in which the smoke and heat are kept separated, sugar can be infused with smoke but without being affected by heat. With great excitement, I called Phillip’s attention to the article, and his creative juices began flowing at the thought of fashioning some sort of cold smoker, using items we have laying around.
On our patio, we have a wooden cooler that just sort of takes up space. We no longer use it. I don’t know why we’ve kept it – perhaps we subconsciously realized that it might become useful some day as part of a cold smoker . . . . At any rate, Phillip decided that the neglected cooler would make a perfect cold smoker. He just needed to figure out a way to get the smoke from his smoker to the cooler. His solution to that problem came in the form of our grandsons, whom he saw playing one day with the part of a gutter he removed when he attached a rain barrel to the end of one of our gutters in the back yard. As the boys used the hose to play make-believe, Phillip realized that the hose’s flexibility and length would work perfectly to connect his smoker with the cooler, to make a cold smoker. I don’t know the details of his method for connecting the altered cooler to his simple smoker, but he managed to get the device to work. When he fired up his smoker for a brisket on weekend, he used the opportunity to use his cold smoker, too.
We became so exited about the prospect of smoking various foods and ingredients that the first thing we wanted to smoke is something we’d not already tried smoked. Natural raw cacao came right to my mind, so cacao is the first food we cold smoked. Since we have no guidelines for cold smoking, much less cold smoking cacao, Phillip decided to be conservative with the amount of time he exposed the cacao to the smoke. He left it in the cold smoker for about twenty minutes. That amount of time seems about right; the cacao tastes pleasantly smokey, but not bitterly smokey. Someone reading this blog post may, at this point (and despite the post’s title), think I’m going to offer a recipe for something baked or cooked with smoked raw cacao. That post will definitely be written, but in the future! I’ve not had time to bake or cook with my delicious smoked cacao. I’ve only tasted it straight, and the smokey flavor definitely asserts itself – but in a nice way!
This particular post is about the smokey peach pie I baked with the remainder of the smoked brown sugar that I purchased online. I bought two kinds of smoked brown sugar last winter: smoked brown sugar and whiskey smoked brown sugar. I’ve yet to figure out how the whiskey is added but I suspect it’s smoked in some way with actual wood from whiskey barrels – and that type of wood is available in many places. The whiskey smoked sugar adds a pleasing smokey flavor to the peaches in the pie, without adding an overly amount of sweetness. I believe this smoked brown sugar peach pie will be our favorite recipe from now on.
Notes about the pie crust: Refrigerating the crust before its rolled, and after it’s rolled, will prevent the butter getting too warm and absorbing into the flour. Pockets of fat create that desirable flaky texture of delicious pie crusts. Let the pie crust rest in the refrigerator at least an hour before rolling it out; this step allows the moisture to penetrate the dough evenly.
For my local (Austin-area) blog readers, if you’re interested in learning more about baking gluten-free pies,
join the gluten-free baking class I’m offering with a community of cooks through Kitchen Underground. The idea behind the inception of Underground Kitchen: A Community of Cooks is to bring together in small groups people who are interested in learning to cook or bake new things, in the personalized spaces of real cooks in real home kitchens. I have a couple of spaces left in my October 28th class on gluten-free pastry. I hope you’ll join us to enjoy a glass of wine while we explore making spectacular pastry without gluten, in an intimate setting!
Gluten-Free Peach Pie With Smoked Whiskey Brown Sugar
Pie Crust (for a two-crust pie)
(2 1/2 cups or 300 g of all purpose gluten-free flour mix can be substituted for the flours I list below)
100 grams superfine brown rice flour
50 grams superfine sorghum flour
50 grams tapioca flour
50 grams arrowroot flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs, separated and beaten
1 teaspoon milk, as needed
-Place a steel blade in a food processor.
-Add dry ingredients and the small pieces of butter. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture the butter is dispersed evenly throughout the mixture, leaving some pieces of butter larger than others. This aids the flakiness of the crust as the larger pieces of better melt during baking, creating layers of air in the pastry.
-Add one beaten egg. Mix into the dough. Add the second beaten eggs. The dough should begin to form into a ball as you work in the second egg. If the dough is still dry and crumbly after the second egg is mixed in, add milk, one teaspoon at a time, until the dough is the desired consistency.
-When the dough has rested, cut off two thirds of the dough disk and wrap the last third in plastic wrap to keep it moist. Sprinkle both sides of larger piece of dough with tapioca flour, form it into a disk, and place it between two pieces of waxed paper on a non-slide surface (such as a silicon pastry mat). Using a rolling pin, extrude, rather than roll, the dough into a circle. Add more tapioca flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking by removing the wax paper, sprinkling additional tapioca flour on each side of the dough, and replacing the wax paper to continue extruding the dough to the desired size.
-Roll out the dough 1/2 inch or so larger in circumference than a 9 inch pie plate, so that you have some dough to work with to crimp and flute the pie’s edges. Place the dough in the pie plate by removing the top piece of wax paper, center the dough over the pie plate, lower it into the plate and slowly pull the bottom layer of wax paper (which will now be on top) off the dough, using your fingers to ease fit the pie crust into the pie plate.
Repeat the extrusion process with the second portion of dough.Carefully peeling off the wax paper, place the second pie crust on top of the filling (I used a decorative pie cut out at this point, before I placed the top crust over the filling).
-Press the edge of the top pie crust against the edge of the bottom crust, to seal.Roll the sealed edges under, to form a high edge that can be easily fluted.Using a spoon, go around the edge of the crust, using your fingers to press the dough edge around the bowl of the spoon.
-Add a little milk to the beaten egg you used to brush the bottom of the pie crust before you filled it. Brush over the top crust and edge of the pie. Cut a slit in the center of the top pie crust to allow steam to escape, unless you use a lattice or other decorative-type crust. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven, until evenly browned. Check the pie often; cover the edges with a pie shield to prevent over-browning.
Peach Pie Filling With Whiskey Smoked Brown Sugar
5 Cups of peeled, diced peaches (or diced frozen peaches, thawed)
1/4 Cup whiskey smoked brown sugar
1 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
1 tbls tapioca starch
2 tbls Kerrygold butter, cut into small pieces
-Mix the peaches, brown sugar, cinnamon, and tapioca starch together in a
-Pour peach filling into the prepared pie crust.
-Dot the filling evenly with the small pieces of butter.