Gula Melaka Pecan Pie
Happy Pi Day!
I might be reinforcing a certain geeky Asian stereotype here, but posting a pie recipe on Pi Day was just too good of an opportunity to miss. And though I’ve long traded my pi-ridden add-maths notes in favour of actual pie, I still have so much love for maths and the sciences, and it's helped me in lotsa little ways in cooking. So in celebration of my favourite irrational constant in maths (tbh I only know of two; sorry e), I made a pie with the irreplaceable constant of Malaysian desserts – gula melaka.
For the uniniated, gula melaka (apparently anglicised as Malacca sugar?) is a type of unrefined brown sugar ubiquitous in Malaysian desserts. They’re most commonly sold in solid, cylindrical blocks, which is often dissolved in a bit of water to make a syrup. But unlike similar looking unrefined sugars like jaggery and Mexican piloncillo, which are extracted from sugar cane, gula melaka is made from the sap collected from the flower stalks of coconut palm trees. This sap is boiled until thick and caramel-like, then poured into traditional bamboo moulds to cool and harden. Which is why they’re often shaped like a bamboo joint!
In terms of flavour, it’s evocative of a deep, dark caramel, but with none of the cloy. It’s often described as smoky, butterscotch-y, and spice-tinted too. It's essentially the Malaysian equivalent of PB&J, only 10 times better, and nowhere near as divisive.
Here’s a well-known formula for making great Malaysian desserts - gula melaka + coconut milk + pandan. And I'm serious when I say it's the flavour profile of Malaysian desserts. Just look up 'Malaysian dessert' on Google Images, and I kid you not, 4 in 5 images will have something green in it (that's the pandan), something white that's made of coconut milk, and something brown (gula melaka), though the latter is often hidden within the dessert itself (think ondeh-ondeh & kuih koci). And before you think of Malaysian desserts as uninventive or just lazy, I'm here to tell you that it's more the case that this flavour combination is just so utterly good that it's hard to find anything else that comes close in the world of desserts.
Anyway, being Malaysian, it was clearly expected of me to want to add gula melaka into my Pi Day pie!
I started off with a base pecan pie recipe, an amalgamation of the dozen of pecan pie recipes I scoured on the internet. And to add a bit more character, I added a shot of espresso to the filling for a bit more depth, but more importantly, I replaced the bulk of the caster/brown sugar with the sweet nectar of the Malaysian dessert gods. I also shaved some extra gula melaka on top just to be extra (that culinary degree didn't go to waste). So have it on its own, or serve it with some damn good ice cream and you're all set. (OOH, try it with coconut/pandan ice cream maybe!)
Go make one. Or two. Or 3.1415926535897…
Gula Melaka Pecan Pie
makes one 12-inch, or two 8-inch pies
100g butter, cubed and chilled
½ tsp (approximately π grams) of salt
1 tbsp (15g) sugar
300g gula melaka syrup, if using raw, melt 150g gula Melaka in 150g water
100g caster or granulated sugar
½ tsp (~πg) salt
1 shot espresso (~30g), optional (substitute with 30g water)
1 tsp vanilla extract
- Pie dough: Place the flour in a mixer with the paddle attachment. Add in the cubes of butter and mix on medium-low until the flour-butter mixture turns sandy. Alternative, you can do this by hand. (But work quick before the butter melts!) Then, mix the egg, sugar, and salt together, and add it into the mixer and mix on low for about 10 seconds, until a dough forms. If the dough doesn’t come together, add one or two tablespoons of water and mix on low until dough forms. Wrap it in plastic and keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
- Filling: Melt the butter. To this, add the gula melaka syrup, caster sugar, salt, espresso, and vanilla extract. Finally, whisk in the eggs, making sure all the ingredients are well combined.
- Now onto rolling out the dough. Flour your work surface well. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, and fold it onto itself 2-3 times to equilibrate the temperature all around the dough. Then, roll out the dough to a circle slightly larger (~1-2 inches more) than your tart pan. Transfer the rolled out dough into the tart pan, making sure it covers the bottom and fits snugly into the sides. (Use your fingers to gently lift the dough up, then place it into the sides. Roll the rolling pin over the rim of the tart pan to trim the excess dough. Then, gently indent the bottom of the dough with a fork. (This prevent bubbles forming within the dough during baking.)
- Place the pecans into the dough, arranging them as you like. Then pour the filling mixture into the tart up to 4/5 up the sides.
- Bake in an oven preheated to 180°C for 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is a musky-brown.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Remove from the tart pan, slice into 6-12 pieces (4 pieces if you're feeling extra gluttonous; or π pieces if you're up for a challenge).