Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Altered Apple of my Pie

Back in October I promised a friend of mine I'd bake her an apple pie. I did, actually, bake her a pie but my sister/roommate decided she'd eat some of it without asking (before it was done cooling no less!) and I haven't had the time since to put it together. Marilee's birthday was last week and so I am baking her a pie as a belated birthday present (And 'cause I said I'd bake her a pie, and I am a woman of my word!) I don't often bake pies. Its not that I don't like them, I just find they take a lot of time and I'm a busy lady. Oh, and fresh fruit is really quite expensive in Alberta, Canada, in the dead of winter, especially for a student budget. Sure, I could cut some corners and use pre-prepared canned pie filling... but what's the point of baking if its not from scratch!
Because I am so busy, I like to do my pies in two or three phases. On Monday, I prepared my pastry. I usually make the pastry first - as long as its tightly wrapped in plastic it comes to no harm sitting in the fridge for a couple of days. This is the pastry recipe I used; its a slightly altered version of this recipe.

Pie Pastry
2 cups flour - I normally use pastry flour, but all purpose works just fine as long as you're gentle.
1/2 tsp table salt
2 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup vegetable shortening (can substitute butter, or mix and match)
100ml water (roughly 7 tbsp)

Sift together flour, salt, and sugar. Using a fork or a pastry cutter (or your fingers, if you're feeling ambitious) blend shortening and flour mixture until it forms fine crumbs and no chunks of shortening remain. Add the water a little at a time, tossing mixture with a fork until the dough starts to form balls about the size of a golfball, or larger - depending on humidity you might not need all of the water. You can also replace some or all of the water with the liquor of your choice. I have used spiced rum and Grand Marnier; both yielded fantastic results. Using alcohol also prevents gluten molecules from aligning, which is what causes pastry to become tough, so using alcohol allows you to be rougher with the dough while still giving a tender crumb.

Split dough in half and form each half into a disc (this makes rolling them out later slightly less work). Wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to use, for up to 3 days. Dough can be frozen but it will be softer coming out of the freezer than it was going in, so I'd recommend adding a bit of extra flour, or leaving out a tablespoon of water.

Once you're ready to use the dough, I find it easiest to roll it out on lightly floured waxed paper for easy transfer to pie tin.  I'm working on learning how to roll the dough around my rolling pin and move it that way, but for now, waxed paper works well.  Roll the larger of your two discs until it is several inches larger in diameter than your pie dish.  Place in pie dish, and leave the edges hanging over.  As you can see below, I didn't do a great job of this.  Really, this was  a terrible endevour all around.

Yesterday I started the filling by peeling and slicing 3.5lbs of apples and tossing with 1 tbsp of lemon juice. I added 1/4 cup sugar, tossed to coat and transfered apples to a large collander over a bowl to reserve the liquid that results and refridgerate for 2-24 hours. Tossing the apples with sugar causes them to give up some of their water so that when they are baked they have less water to lose and do not decrease as much in volume. To finish the apple filling, I use an altered version of Alton Brown's recipe from his show Good Eats. I've had to alter it because neither Apple Jack (the liquor) nor apple jelly are readily available in Edmonton. I searched no less than 10 different grocery stores, including two specialty stores and the farmers market and apple jelly was no where to be found so I gave up.

Altered Alton Brown Pie Filling
3-4 lbs apples, peeled, cored and sliced. You can use any variety (or combination) you'd like. I like using Granny Smith mixed with something sweeter - Jonagold, Gala, or Ambrosia. This pie has 2.5lbs of Granny smith, and just over 1 lb of Ambrosia.
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

Toss collapsed apples with the rest of the ingredients:
another 1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbs tapioca starch
(AKA tapioca flour. You can also use minit-tapioca but the pearl shape might affect the texture of your filling).2 tbs apple juice + liquid collected from collapsing the apples

Once apples are well coated, layer them in your pie shell starting at the inside and working your
 way out, making sure the center is piled higher than the outside.  Having a pie bird helps at this point because you can just pile the apples around the bird!  And he's so darn cute.  Pour any remaining liquid into the shell, and put on the lid.  That is, the top pie crust.

Bake at 400F on the lowest rack for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes turn temperature down to 350F and bake for another 20 minutes.  Remove pie from oven and let cool for 8 hours.  The long cooling period allows the filling to set so you don't get a runny mess.

As you can see, after cooling, my pie is ugly as sin.  
Even though I collapse my apples, I just can't get that top crust to look purdy.  My boyfriend suggested it might be my lack of a wash for the top crust.  Maybe he's right, or maybe I'm just not cut out to make pies.  I guess only time/more pies will tell.

Apparently, though ugly, it was extremely delicious,  Marilee ate over half of it in one sitting, AND some of the chocolate stout cupcakes I made!