Thursday, September 26, 2013
Get yer pie on!
What do you do after you've picked a half bushel of apples, AND there's a retirement party coming up at work that you've been asked to contribute to? Well, first you admire all the variety you can find in orchard-picked apples, which can be so different from what you'll find in the grocery store. (And if you're trying to figure out what the scale is on these guys - check out those orchard pics to see the Jumbo apple (below right) in someone's hand!)
I had a long stretch of time where I could not bake a pie to save my life. I was always screwing up the crust. YEEEEARS ago I saw a segment on Sara Moulton's show on the Cooking Network where someone showed what I believe was the French method for making crust - you smeeeear the flour and fats together to make little sheets or platelets, and that help guarantees the flakiness of the crust. I think I got that right once, and then somehow lost my crust making mojo and then gave up after many flops.
Then I gave it another go a few years back, got it right, and have found I can love my own homemade crust (and I'm my own worst critic, trust me!). And for the perfect pie filling, I've found I really like the apple pie recipe from Martha Stewart's Cooking School.
First: crust! You've gotta get this made up and chilling for a bit. And you really need to plan a little earlier and make sure your fats are really cold. For two pies I tripled the crust recipe (because, to me, pie is almost more about a good crust than the filling - otherwise I could just eat stewed apples) - and that's gonna call for a lot of fat! Get out your cold butter!
And unlike Martha, I don't use just butter for the fat. I think I remember Grandma Catherine always used Crisco in her crust? Turns out Martha's recipe and the crust recipe over at The World Needs More Pie are the exact same except the fat's different. Martha uses butter, Beth uses Crisco. So I go 50/50. And with a triple recipe, that's a cup and a half of each!
I did not plan ahead as I should've, and the Crisco was in the pantry - so I just tossed it in the freezer for about 10 min while I was prepping other stuff.
Now this is the next to last picture you're going to see of the process until I'm quite a bit further along. It's here where I'm constantly washing my hands, scuzzing them up, washing them again, getting sticky, washing again, etc... See this 3 cups of fat and 7 1/2 cups of flour (plus some salt)? I'm about to go elbow deep!
And then POOF! Crust!
Ok, it wasn't quite that fast and easy. The trick is to work fast so the fats stay cold. And you want to see bits of fat in the dough, and you don't want to overwork the dough. Sometimes I start this part with the food processor, but I feel I get a better "smear" of the fats if I do it all by hand...which is what I did this time.
Oh, and the water called for in the recipe also has a splash of white vinegar in it. That's another trick from Grandma Catherine (and I've seen it in some other sources since) - something about stopping the gluten in the flour from stringing out too much? Otherwise you're at risk of making a tough crust.
My dad loves the Cook's Illustrated / America's Test Kitchen recipe where they use a little vodka in the recipe. You don't taste the alcohol, but it's supposed to keep the dough tender. So many different ways to make pie crust!
Anyhow, once the dough was all divided and patted into rounds and wrapped, it went into the fridge while I worked with the apples. I didn't do a real measurement by weight (recipes at both sites I consider say to use about 3 lbs per pie). I just know I've used about 6-8 apples per pie in the past, depending on size/feel...so I did 15 apples, and then worked in that super mega jumbo apple... To compensate for the extra apple size, I just dumped in some extra spice. And since I was running low on cinnamon (and am flat out of the really good cinnamon I've used in the past), I just tossed in a few extra pinches of some pumpkin pie spice I have. Eh, it's pretty much the same as apple pie seasoning, especially since every recipe varies.
After getting those apple slices all seasoned up with lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, etc, I kept going with the apple slicer/corer/peeler and loaded the dehydrator with apple slices...that also gave the dough extra chilling time in the fridge.
Then it was time to roll out dough (my least favorite part), and load 'em up!
Apple pie: "Hey dude, don't you think you're forgetting something?!?! And no, not the top crust!"
Oh yeah - here ya go...
Right, more butter. I don't know if this helps the goo goo-up a bit more? I've forgotten it in the past...and wonder if maybe that's been the times the goo didn't set as well?
And the fun thing about pie is there should hopefully always be some leftover dough to pat out, give a quick egg wash (you're going to use it on top of the pies anyhow), and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. This batch doesn't look pretty after its oven time, but it tastes great!
Speaking of not looking real pretty but tasting great, lets look at those pies again!
With the mix of VERY different apples, I think each time I stuck a knife in to test I was hitting some of the more firm varieties (probably also the more tart ones?). It just seemed like I couldn't get these guys done. The different recipes I use do have drastically different baking times...I ended out going with the longer Martha recipe. Oh yeah, and before going in the oven, each pie got a serious egg washing followed by a HEAVY dusting of cinnamon sugar. So those crusts aren't actually burnt - they're just loaded up with extra flavor on top! ;-)