Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Apple pie

Ok, so I've figured out how to post pictures. That's a personal victory for me.

So I documented my apple pie-making process this weekend. I used a recipe from Sherry Yard's "Secrets of Baking" book, which was a generous gift from two good pals in Montreal, Jim and Ryan. Thanks again to them for this awesome book. While I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in baking, I have to say that I was pretty disappointed in her "mile-high apple pie" recipe. I followed it almost exactly (which is unlike me), and it failed.

To start, it's a very labor intensive recipe. She seems to really get off on making and using caramel in sauces, glazes, etc. "Ok," I thought, "I've never made anything with caramel and I've never made caramel from scratch. Seems easy enough." And it was. First you make her "master caramel" recipe (I actually burned the first batch due to a faulty thermometer), then from that you can make a number of other confections. The pie recipe called for "caramel sauce" and "spiced apple glaze," both starting with a base of "master caramel." Since I was making this stuff in my kitchen at night after work and the light was putrid, I didn't photograph anything during this stage. It was pretty boring to see, anyway, unless you get off on seeing brown liquid, and if you do, then ya nasty.

On Sunday, the day of the apple pie bake-off at Enids in Greenpoint, I woke up with only a slight hangover. The weather was beautiful - 63 degrees, sunny, clear; a perfect fall day. After a Sunday drive and a filling breakfast at Hope and Anchor in Red Hook with my pal Charlie, I returned home to start.

I was very well-prepared (for me), and had everything mise-en-place. I had already chilled everything for my pastry - cold flour, partially frozen butter, chilled mixing bowl. I had my apples ready, lemons juiced, spices mixed, sugar measured out, etc.

I started by choosing some fall baking music. I picked "Night Falls Over Kortedala" by Jens Lekman. This album has been the soundtrack to my life recently, and it goes very well with baking. It's really great, and you should get it. His voice and his songs make me melt a little.

Ok, getting started, I sifted the cold flour for the pastry into a cold mixing bowl.

Partially frozen butter, ready for cutting in.

(By the way, isn't my orange mixer the hottest shit you've ever seen in a kitchen? I love love love it.)

After a two minute, slow-speed mix with the paddle to break the butter up, I threw in all the cold water/vinegar mixture at once. I learned why vinegar is used, by the way. Sherry Yard explains a lot of the science of baking in her book, which is a big reason I love her book. The acidity in vinegar retards the gluten in the flour from developing, helping to make the crust more flaky and less tough(like bread). Fascinating.

After another 20 seconds on low-speed, I got this, which looked perfect to me.

(I love the shape of the paddle...)

At this point, I quickly threw all the pastry into a ziploc bag and tossed it into the fridge for an hour to rest. I didn't shape it into discs as usual. I wanted to handle the dough as little as possible. In the meantime, I got to work on peeling the apples and working on the filling. I used a variety of apples instead of all Granny Smiths as I usually do.

If you ever need to peel apples at all (or even if you don't), you should get a machine like this. They're only like $15, but the satisfaction you get from using it is immeasurable! It's satisfying like peeling giant strips of wallpaper off the wall is satisfying.

I love the "crrcrrcrrcrrcrrcrr!" sound the apple makes as it gets peeled, and the little spray of juice that gets on your hands. I usually unscrew the slicer/corer feature, though it is really cool. I prefer larger chunks of apple than the slicer makes.

After peeling 12 apples, you get all this peeled apple skin. I figure you could candy the peels if you wanted to. I haven't tried it, but I bet it'd be pretty tasty.

A bowl of peeled apples, ready to be sliced.

Peeled, cored, sliced, covered in lemon juice, and ready to cook!

This is where all that pre-made caramel sauce and glaze comes in. I've never pre-cooked a pie filling before, and I was wary of doing it this time. I do NOT like mushy apples in a pie. There needs to still be some crunch and texture in there, don't you think?

So I melted some butter and sugar together, and I added several dashes of cinnamon, which was actually not called for in the recipe. There was a hint of cinnamon in the spiced apple glaze (as well as whole anise and fresh ginger), but I wanted more, so I threw it in. Once all the butter and sugar had melted down, I added one batch of the spiced apple glaze and one batch of the caramel sauce I had made - about a cup each. It all came to a boil and I threw the apples in to cook and caramelize for a bit. I did this in two batches.

I think I may have cooked the apples a bit too long. I wanted them to caramelize, as the recipe called for, but it seemed more like they were just simmering in the syrup. I ignored my instinct to take them off the heat when they started to look "too cooked," but it was maybe a little too late. Oh, and I did that twice. Lame of me. Lesson learned: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.

Here's one batch cooling.

I then cooked the remaining liquid down until it was thicker, and set it aside in a bowl to cool. At this point, it became almost too sticky to work with. It was a huge mess, and I couldn't hold my camera due to all the caramel on me.

Everything finally cooled, and I filled the pie shell with the apples, and topped it with the caramel.

I was afraid the thick caramel wouldn't melt down in the oven as the pie baked, and that it would make for a tough, sticky layer to have to cut though, but since I (very, very stupidly) did not do a test run with this recipe, I had no way of knowing what would happen. Lesson learned: TEST YOUR RECIPES. Geez, this seems so common sense in hindsight...

After fitting the top crust on, decorating the edge, and doing an eggwash, I chilled the pie for a bit longer and slid it in the oven. By the way, this was supposed to be a "mile-high" apple pie. There are a dozen apples in this flat little pie!
Pie 087

I believe this was the point I started to panic a bit. Kicking myself for not trying this recipe out. Doubting my ability. Doubting the recipe. Did I mention that I was kicking myself for not testing a new recipe?! For a COMPETITION?! WTF?

My anxiety increased the longer it took the pie to cook. It seemed like forever - over an hour for the crust to brown. The edge lost the fluted look I gave it. I got really mad at the pie, and at myself, so I had a beer to calm down. It worked a bit. Until I pulled this beastly, shapeless slab of pie out of the oven. The sun had gone down outside, and I was a little buzzed, so this photo sucks. Sorry.

I was not at all happy with the shape, but the crust looked REALLY flaky, which was good. How do you get a pie to maintain it's decorative edge in the oven?? Maybe I need to chill it longer? Cook it at a higher temperature?

To wrap up, the filling was very tasty - I was surprised that I was able to taste the cinnamon, anise, and ginger since they were such small, subtle additions. The pie wasn't too sweet, either, which I didn't expect. The biggest problem was with the filling. It was far, far too soupy. You couldn't even take a slice out. I mean, it was basically a liquid. The granny smith apples held together best, so I'll only use those next time. I'll also add a very generous amount of thickener (flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot) to the filling next time. Maybe even pectin. Does that work? Something DEFINITELY needs to be added to thicken that slop up.

I guess there's a reason the picture of Sherry's pie in her book wasn't sliced up. Maybe it came out really soupy, like mine. Needless to say, I wasn't winning any contests with an apple soup pie, despite how tasty it was. Though it looked like cacadoodoo, it all got eaten, thanks in large part to my awesome band of cheerleaders that came to support me. European lesbians are the best!

Thanks, ya'll!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I enjoy reading the process of your magic baking time, seems like a nice way to get to know you more.
Since i am better at washing dishes than cooking i will marvel at your skills with mouth watering delight.
That apple peeling machine deeply excites me as a sculptural object.
Look forward to tasting the fruits of your labour one day. Keep cooking up a storm and i will keep my eyes peeled. I could learn a thing or two.
I love the image in my head of you getting angry with a pie.