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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rustic Apple Pie for Dwayne

There was not Random Food Friday last week because I was a little busy. (I've got something good for tomorrow.) Last Friday I had what we hoped would be a small surgery, which turned out to be a medium surgery, with a few bumps in the immediate recovery. I'm feeling a lot better now. I should feel even better in the weeks and months ahead.

So far my recovery has consisted almost entirely of watching Food Network, Cooking Network and cruising all the favorite blogs of my favorite bloggers. What a rich world of communication these interwebs offer us! So many thoughtful and talented people who are willing to share their knowledge and ideas. I'm so encouraged by what I have seen and read. I commented, when I started this blog, that I'm not any kind of purist and I probably never will be. But, I appreciate learning from thoughtful people who've spent time researching the facts so they can make considered decisions about food. I also started reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I like his plan - Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple enough, right. A few years ago, I figured that my idea of good food meant eating something that had been alive recently. There's a lot of room in that definition. There's plenty of room for treats that can bring some real joy and a celebration of the wonderful generosity of our natural world. Here's a perfect celebratory treat for fall - apple pie.

Dwayne and I went to Apple Hill a couple of weeks ago and we came back with two big bags of Romes. I had thought about making this Apple Slab, but the more I talked with Dwayne, the more I realized that he didn't want the fancy additions, he just wanted the fruit to crust ratio to be in favor of the crust. Ok!

Last Thursday, on the day before my surgery, I took a vacation day and did a frenzy of nesting. I cleaned the whole house, caught up on the laundry and watering and cooked a gigantic mountain of food. I had also received my CSA box earlier in the week and I was determined to cook all that food and have it standing by for my recovery. Our dinner that night started to take on the magnitude of a sort of last meal. I made turkey meatloaf, cream cheese mashed potatoes, crispy crumb kale, green bean salad and this delicious apple pie.

In the first photo, above, you will see some of the tools I've inherited that make pie making easy. These are things I would not have thought to purchase, but were given to me by my wise, pie-making elders. The Foley Pastry Frame was my great grandmother's. I'm surprised these aren't in common use anymore. The frame stretches a sheet of canvas tight. The canvas is printed with the diameter needed for different sizes of pie tins. It also came with the little cotton sleeve you see on Great Grandmother's rolling pin. With these tools and flour, nothing sticks. It's amazing. Then, you just throw it in the wash and put away for another day. The flat whisk is a tool I received from my mother-in-law Pat. She was quite the pie maker in her day. That flat whisk is the perfect tool for cutting in the solid white fat component of your pie dough. The wire grater you see in the bowl was also my great grandmother's. It is perfect for grating chunks of very cold butter into the flour and shortning mix. Leaving the butter in small chunks is what causes flakes to form in the crust. If you want to get down with pie making, I can highly recommend all of these old-fashioned tools.

Here is the finished product. I used what would have been crust for two double crust pies and baked it all on a cookie sheet with 8 cups of sliced apples. The crust came out crisp and flaky and the apples were delicious. There are different schools of thought about pie crust. My hubby's side of the family prefers a very short (high fat) crust that is tender and crumbles almost like a cookie dough. To this end, they use a higher proportion of fat, omit butter and handle the dough as little as possible. I prefer and crust that has more bite and forms crisp and flaky layers. Also, for flavor, butter can't be beat. My experience is that combining a solid white fat, that is well incorporated into the flour, with chunks of suspended butter is the winning combination. When I say, solid white fat, I mean a fat that is solid at room temperature and does not include water and other solids, as butter does. The reason butter works to make those magical layers is that the water in the butter becomes steam as it bakes and causes the layers of flour to separate. I've had good success with shortening (non-hydrogenated please) and extra virgin coconut oil. I imagine lard would be pretty darn good too (our grandmas knew what they were doing). But with such good results already, why go out of my why to buy and use lard?

Rustic Apple Pie
For Crust:
4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
10 tbsp. ice water
cream, sugar and cinnamon for topping

For Filling:
8 cups peeled and sliced apples
3/4 cup sugar
dash of salt
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter

Place flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Add shortening and cut it into the flour until is resembles course crumbs. Take very cold better and either grate it into the flour mixture, or cut it into pea sized cubes on a cutting board and then add to the flour. Toss the butter pieces so that the flour coats them and they be come well distributed. Add ice water by sprinkling over the flour and tossing the flour mixture until is starts to hold together. The amount of water you use will depend upon humidity and the dryness of your flour. This day I ended up using 10 tablespoons of ice water. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of ice water first then add the rest one tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to stick together. Begin to press the dough together by hand. It may still appear dry, but as long as the dough sticks to itself, that is enough water. It is OK to do a few folding and kneeing motions, maybe 4 to 6 times. Do not over work. You are just trying to get the layers to form and the dough to form a ball. The butter will remain visible. Once a ball is formed, wrap in plastic wrap and keep cold until the apples are ready.

Peel and slice the apples. I don't think it pays to be too careful here. As long as they are all around the same size they will all be done at the same time. In a large bowl, mix the apples, a dash of salt, 2 tablespoons of flour, the sugar and cinnamon and toss to coat. My apples were quite tart and firm. If yours lack tartness, add a little lemon juice.

Divide dough. Flour the dough and surfaces and roll half of the dough into a rough rectangle that is a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Gently lift the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a cookie sheet. Pile the apples into a mound in the center of the dough. Dot the apples with the butter. Leave a good inch uncovered by the apples. Brush the uncovered edge of the dough with cold water. Roll out remaining dough and gently lift it and cover the apples and bottom dough. Press the edges together and roll edges then crimp the dough. Brush the crust with cream, half and half or whole milk. Sprinkle generously with sugar and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cut a few slits in the center to allow steam to escape.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 50 minutes. Allow to stand for a couple of hours before serving so the filling can have a chance to set.

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