Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bring this pie to a dinner party and the hostess will love you forever

 Some stories were meant to be told, and some pies were meant to come to "fruition" (ha).

A few weeks ago, I noticed  that my apple bowl was starting to overflow (because I had not been good and wasn't eating my apple a day) and some of the apples only had a few more days of goodness left in them before the summer heat took hold of them. Looking around the kitchen, I realized that there was no way I was going to eat 6 apples in two days, and so I decided to make a pie.

As is often the case with the best things in life, this pie was totally unplanned. Once I had finished slicing the apples, I realized that I was either going to create a pie that rivaled the leaning tower of Piza, or have to make several pies. At this point, what had begun as a simple waste-prevention method of mine had turned into an epic, pie-baking marathon.

6 apples, thinly sliced with skins still on  (any type of apples will do, I like to use a combination of Fuji, Granny smith, and Gala)
1/4 cup Brandy
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 teaspoons Cinnamon
2 teaspoons Cloves
2 teaspoons Allspice
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons flour
 5 tbsp brown sugar
1-2 pinches kosher salt

The beauty of this recipe is its simplicity. After the apples are all sliced-n-diced, toss them in a large mixing bowl, then start pouring in the ingredients: Brandy, vanilla, spices (be as generous as you wish with these), lemon juice, flour, sugar, and salt. Then just let them sit for about 45 minutes, so the apples soak up as much of the different flavors as possible.

Quick tip: soaking fruit
Have you ever had a pie that tasted delicious but was so runny you needed to eat it in a bowl? Odds are that the creator of this near-perfect confection either a)added too much liquid to the pie, or b) didn't let the fruit soak before putting the pie together. I've found that any time you're adding booze to a pie, increasing the flour by 1-2 tablespoons keeps the pie from becoming too runny. (If you notice in some of my other pies that some pie juice has splashed over, it's from trial and error - so trust me, add a little extra flour). Also, fruit has a lot of liquid in it, so soaking the fruit for 30-45 minutes before adding it to the crust allows some of that excess moisture to leave the fruit, so your pie keeps its flavor and consistency, without bubbling over into your oven or all over your beautiful crust.

After tasting a few of the Brandy/spice/sugar-soaked apples, layer the apples into a pie crust (for a good crust how-to, click here). With apples, I try to avoid dumping them into the crust, but layering them to make sure they're packed as densely as possible. This helps even cooking, and also keeps the apple mound from shrinking down too much in the oven. Instead of my signature lattice crust, I opted for an open-faced pie for one of these bad boys, and simply drizzled the rest of the sugar-spice,brandy mixture over the top of the apples. For the other pie, I opted for a crumble topping, mixing 1 stick of butter with 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup brown sugar, and crumbling over the top. The crumble topping is essentially a shortbread mix, but to keep it fairly light, separate any clumps with your hands while crumbling over the top of the pie. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, until the pie is slightly bubbly (if open-faced) and the crust is golden brown. 

(And yes, I did end up bringing these to a dinner party!)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Adventures in Crust, Part 2

In honor of my mom's blog-warming presents of a pastry blender and an Emile Henry pie dish, I'm trying this pie crust thing once more. You might remember my more-biscuit-than-crust pie crust from the Fourth of July Cherry Pie (with Rye)….delicious, but not a crust. So let's do this, pie crust. It's just you and me. (and the beautiful red dish).

2 1/2 cups flour
2 sticks frozen butter
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1-2 dashes salt
1/4 cup ice cold water
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon Rye whiskey

A note on preparation: in order to obtain maximum tenderness and flakiness, chill everything (mixing bowl, pastry cutter, rolling pin, butter, water as much as possible before you start. The coldness will help the butter from melting, and keep the dough from becoming too glue-like.)

First, I cut up the butter into sugar cube-sized pieces and stuck them back in the freezer for a few minutes. While those dudes were chillin, I mixed the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. After dropping the butter inside the dry mix, I gave the pastry blender its inagural press….and accidentally pushed half of the flour mixture out of the bowl. Oops. Maybe I need to work on my technique.

Once Christian had given me some lessons on properly cutting the  butter into the flour, I added the 1/4 cup of cooooooold water. The dough finally began to come together, like a slightly drier shortbread (and smells like it, too!), and I took off my rings, rolled up the sleeves (to…er…my tank top? Moving on...) and got my hands dirty, combining the last stray clumps of flour to the pie dough. Once it was just together enough, I formed two patties, set them inside the bowl, and put them back in the fridge to chill some more.

After the dough had chilled for about an hour, I took out one of the dough patties, patted it down with flour on all sides to keep it from sticking to anything, and placed it in between a 12x24 sheet of parchment paper, folded on top of the dough, making a delicious parchment paper-pie crust sammich. This is a fantastic trick I learned from Alton Brown, and makes my life easy because there's no dough to stick to anything but the disposable paper. Once the dough is sufficiently rolled out (and if there are any tears while rolling, patch together with excess dough from other parts of the crust and a dab of water), place in the bottom of the pie dish, making sure there are no air pockets. I always poke a few holes in the bottom crust to allow any stray team to escape.

I made strawberry-rhubarb filling for the pie, as it is my favorite, and brings back memories of a certain mid-western vacation when I was 10. For this, I chopped up about 8 or 9 stalks of rhubarb into 1/2 inch bits, and halved 2 grocery-sized cartons of strawberries. Then I added a 1 second pour of Grand Marnier, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup of flour, and a dash of salt and stirred until the fruit was evenly coated. 

Once the fruit is covered in its sugary, boozy coating, drop it into the bottom crust. Now, to make my favorite part - the lattice crust. I personally think the lattice is easier than a flat top crust, but have yet to find someone to agree with me. Roll out the other half of the dough repeating the steps above, then slice strips (measuring 2/3 inch lengthwise) from top to bottom of the dough. Layer on in a weaving pattern, or place all horizontal pieces 1/2 inch apart on pie, then weave vertical pieces in and out of the horizontal pieces. I've been told this is a somewhat unconventional way to lattice, but it works well for me. 

Once the lattice is finished, bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden-brown and the berries are a-bubblin!
...and after!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fourth of July Cherry Pie (with Rye)

I love pie. It's pretty difficult to mess up. And delicious. And perfect for a July Fourth barbeque - what hostess doesn't love a fresh, homemade pie to compliment her well-prepared meal?

My basic pie consists of fruit, flour, sugar, lemon juice, maybe some spices, and whatever booze strikes my fancy that day. However, I've never made a cherry pie with fresh cherries, and let me tell you - cherry juice stains! Those little suckers are so incredibly fragrant that it's easy to forget that my hands look like I've murdered a hundred cherries. This pie was experimental for me for several reasons - I was trying my hand at making the crust with a few tips from a coworker, I had never pitted cherries in my life, and I wanted to try a fancy top crust pattern, instead of my usual lattice. So without further ado, here is my recipe (and a few tips I picked up) for my Fourth of July Cherry Pie.

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cooooold water
2 sticks frozen butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 dashes rye whiskey (I love Old Overholt)

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut up the butter into sugar-cube-sized cubes and stick back in the freezer for a few minutes.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt, then retrieve the butter, toss it in to the dry mix, and cut it up with a pastry cutter. Once it's sufficiently pieced apart, add the rye, and continue cutting. Then add water, 1/4 cup at a time until flimsily together. If the dough starts to look like book pages (thinly pieced apart but still somewhat together) don't add any more water, just stick it back in the fridge, where it can chill until it's high time for pie time.

A little note on the crust: don't over-water!!!! I committed this venial sin of pie-crusting, and while the crust turned out more like a puff pastry, and still delicious, I had hoped for more tender/flakiness. Also, a wet crust is not as easy to work with when trying to make patterns on top. (And if anyone wants to send a pastry blender my way, I'd be forever indebted to you! It'd save my pie crusts and my forks!)

When somewhat together, roll out the crust. I like using Alton Brown's technique, placing half of the dough in between two pieces of parchment paper and rolling out in between the paper. (Oh yeah - this is a two crust pie, so split the dough in half, and roll out half for the bottom and half for the top.) This saved me, as my dough was stickier than it should have been (consequences of using almost of the double recommended water...this is why recipes are good, kids!) When the piece is sufficiently flat, remove the parchment paper and place on the bottom of the pie pan, making sure there are no gaps or bubbles, and poking a couple of holes in the bottom with a fork to allow steam to be released.

For the top of the crust, I rolled out the other half of the dough, same as above, then cut out stars with a cookie cutter. More on this in a bit...

For the filling:
2 1/2 lbs of fresh cherries, pitted
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 shot of rye
2-3 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Pit the cherries. Having never done this before, I washed the cherries and then split each fruit down the side and popped the pit out with my thumb. Messy, yes, but very satisfying, and not too difficult. Then in a large bowl, combine the lemon juice, rye, sugar, and cherries. Mix well and let sit (this is a good time to cut out the stars for the top). Then add the flour, mix well, and add the entire mix to the bottom crust.

A little note on my choice of booze - rye whiskey is a mash of rye, corn, and malted barley, similar to bourbon, but drier and with less notes of sweetness. I love rye, and it has a wonderfully subtle combination of caramelly, smoky goodness and fruity spiciness that I found to compliment the cherries nicely. The rye in the crust actually evaporated during the baking, leaving me with a more flavorful and flaky crust than I would have had using only water. I was similarly successful with the pairing of rye with cherries, as it provided the filling with a little bit of depth to the flavor without detracting from the cherries.

Once the cherries n' stuff are well-situated in the bottom crust, place the stars across the top so that the points touch and slightly overlap each other and the edges to form a lattice of sorts. I used about 12 stars and a fairly large cutter.

Bake the pie in the preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until the filling begins bubbling and the crust starts to brown. Let cool for at least 2 hours (preferrably overnight) and enjoy with some vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or alone.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Three Sheets to the Treats, take 1

As my facebook statuses have started to move more and more heavily into the realm of food porn, and my friends and co-workers decry my attempts at feeding them as 'diet sabotage,' I now turn to this blog as my outlet to talk about the beautiful marriage of two of my favorite things - booze and baking.

Food has always held a very important place in my life. My mother loves telling a story from my much younger days, when she asked me if I wanted any cheese, and I responded "no, but I'll have a cheese danish." And my boyfriend told me he loved me "because we can talk for hours about great meals we've had." I always seem to connect to food in both a cerebral and visceral way. That said, my waistline has also maintained a very real connection with food. But enough of that - this is a blog of deliciousness, not lamentations about butter. (Yes, Julia Child, you know I love you.)

Now I'm off to keep debating whether to make a blueberry and creme fraiche tart or cherry pie for the Fourth.