Apple Pastila – 2 Recipes of Traditional Russian Confection, Naturally Gluten Free

Apple pastila and zefir are my favourite sweet treats since childhood. Their soft and delicate texture is similar to that of marshmallows. But in pastila this texture is achieved by different gelling ingredient and substantially lower sugar content.

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Marshmallows include gelatine as gelling agent, and have 2 other ingredients – sugar and egg whites. Apple pastila, as it is evident from its name, is a confection made from apple puree as the major ingredient, and agar-agar as the gelling agent. As a result pastila has an intense apple flavour with the proportion of sugar very low compared to any confection or candy. For those, who for health or any other reasons try to avoid any preservatives, additives and colours in relatively healthy versions of sweets for children (and not only for children), apple pastila recipe is a winner. Pastila is also very easy to make. The only problem I see, is to be disciplined and not to consume it instantly, during the first 7-8 hours, which pastila requires to set and dry.

The first recipe of regular apple pastila was adapted from the manufactures commercial recipe. I made it applicable to home quantities and incorporated changes of apple puree to agar-agar ratio, to allow different type of apples available in Australian to be used, which have lower pectin content.

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The second recipe – Kolomna apple and honey pastila, already published in ecookingblog, is a traditional confection with a very long history. It has been made for centuries in Russia from apples and honey. It was a convenient way to preserve apples and to make sweet treats using the abundant apple crop. I can only guess that when the recipe originated, honey was more readily available and it was a cheaper alternative to sugar.

Apple Pastila

Ingredients:

  • 250g apple puree (approximately 500g peeled, cored and diced Granny Smith apples)
  • 240g sugar
  • 10g vanilla sugar
  • 10g egg white
  • icing sugar for surface coating

separately

  • 4g agar-agar
  • 153g sugar
  • 60ml liquid from Morrelo cherries preserve (with 12-14% sugar on the label)

I use Morello cherries liquid to give apple pastila some gentle pink colour and add extra cherry flavour. In the original recipe water and sugar are used to make sugar and agar-agar syrup.

alternatively

  • 4g agar-agar (5g agar-agar if using thick plum puree to make plum pastila)
  • 160g sugar
  • 60ml water

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Preparation:

  • peel, core and dice Granny Smith apples, the greener the better
  • place diced apples in glass container and cook in microwave on high for 12min
  • puree cooked apples

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  • transfer apple puree to benchtop mixer bowl
  • add sugar and vanilla sugar

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  • mix and let sugar dissolve and the mixture to cool to room temperature

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  • line baking tray (30cm x 20cm at least 2cm deep) with baking paper, leaving the paper out at least from 2 longer sides, it will help to get set pastila out of the tray

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  • weigh precise amount of egg white and agar-agar, I use jewellery digital scales for that, my regular digital scales are not reliable for amounts less than 10g
  • measure water or Morello cherry liquid
  • when apple puree and sugar mix is room temperature, place the mixture in a bowl of benchtop mixer, add egg white

Now, everything at this stage have to be prepared

  1. agar-agar in liquid placed in saucepan with a spout, easy to use when pouring hot syrup into beaten egg white, apple puree and sugar mixture when mixer is still running

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  1. tray lined with baking paper
  2. pallete knife or spatula to level pastila mix in a tray

If not confident and not used the process, similar to making Italian meringue, beat egg and apple puree mix first, stop mixer and make syrup

  • start beating egg white, sugar and apple puree mixture on high (it will take 8-10min)
  • while the mixer is going, heat slowly water with agar-agar stirring with small whisk or spoon
  • add sugar, after agar-agar is dissolved
  • stir the sugar in, the syrup is ready when it just starts boiling
  • make sure that the syrup is runny and no agar-agar left on the sides of the saucepan. Use wet pastry brush to return it (if any) to the syrup
  • carefully and slowly pour the syrup into the bowl of the still going mixer, make sure nothing of the syrup is left in the saucepan; the syrup thickens quite fast, so you have to be organised
  • let mixer run for another 3-4min
  • pour cooked pastila into prepared tray

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  • level the surface using palette knife (I had 3cm deep tray)

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  • let the mixture set 2-3 hours
  • apply generously icing sugar on the top of set pastila
  • brush the excess off
  • turn over pastila on the surface lined with baking paper

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  • peel carefully baking paper from the top

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  • apply and gently rub icing sugar on pastila surface and sides

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  • brush the excess of icing sugar off

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  • allow to rest for 1 hour
  • cut the slab with rolling pizza cutter into individual pastila pieces (I first off cut 1 cm edges;  cut in 2cm vertical strips and later in 6 cm horizontally), feel free to cut into your own sizes
  • carefully rug icing sugar on the newly exposed surfaces, place all individual pieces on a wire rack to dry of for 7-8 hours, preferably overnight, I like to have harder crust and  leave pastila to dry for 2-3 days. Avoid humid environment!

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  • store in container, not necessarily ait tight, at room temperature, each layer on a sheet of baking paper for longer storage.

Warning! The smell in the house will tempt you enormously, be strong and wait until all surfaces of the piece are dry to touch. From the description it seems that the process is difficult, it is not. In an essence the whole process is – make apple puree, beat it with egg white and sugar, cook the syrup, mix, pour, let set, cut, dry and enjoy!!!

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The second recipe can be characterised as totally and absolutely good for you confection.

Authentic Kolomna Pastila

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Ingredients:

  • 500g apple puree made from 1000g Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
  • 1 tea spoon lemon juice
  • 170g raw organic honey
  • 1 egg white
  • icing sugar to treat pastila surface

Preparation:

The process of Kolomna pastila preparation is described in detail and presented with step by step photos here. The whole piece was divided in two. The surface of the first piece was treated with the mixture of hazelnut meal and cinnamon to have completely sugar free product. The remaining piece was treated with icing sugar.

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  • rub icing sugar into the top and sides of pastila piece, turn it over and rub more icing sugar into the bottom surface

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  • cut pastila into individual strips and store them in the fridge indefinitely (up to a year easily) in air-tight container, for better results keep uncut pastila for 3-5 days in the fridge to mature, and to develop even more intense taste. After 3-5 days cut pastila into individual pieces.

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Authentic apple and honey pastila has a unique fresh apple taste and spongy soft texture. By comparing the list of ingredients it is obvious how little honey goes into this product. To preserve 1kg of apples in most natural way you need only 170g of natural sweetener, honey, and one egg white. I never tried this recipe with sugar instead of honey, I plan to do it and I do not see any problems for this change. The only negative in this amazing recipe is the long baking/drying process. I was lucky that my electric fan-forced oven was able to keep 100C temperature, not all ovens can do that. I hope that long baking at low temperatures will not result in enormous electricity bill. I did not want to run the oven only with one tray baking, so I figured out that I will try another, even more easy, recipe of apple pastila based on commercial apple sauce.

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I used a jar of commercial apple sauce (400g), added 100g granulated sugar and 4g of French pure egg white powder (equivalent to one egg white), did all the same steps and got another product, more dense and compact, with even more intense flavour, if you can believe it.

It was more chewy and so flavoursome, that my original intent to keep it for 6 months in the fridge to see how it matures, went out of the window. We finished half in one siting and another half 5 days later. In our defence I have to say, that it was not as big piece compared to the authentic recipe.

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I will definitely continue to make both versions with apple puree and with apple sauce. I will try to use apple sauce recipe with fresh egg white and see that kind of texture I would get. I will report all new developments on this subject.

I will leave you with a thought, that our predecessors knew how to enjoy life in a good and healthy way. The current trend of healthy eating might use more of the old and forgotten dishes not only of our mothers and grandmothers, but our long forgotten ancestors and their techniques to preserve nutrients.

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Another apple confection – Zefir recipe, with proportionately higher amount of sugar in it, with more firm texture, allowing to shape it differently, will follow soon.

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