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About 10 years ago I tasted a new apple pie from a place here at the Jersey shore that’s famous for its pies (and deservedly so, for the most part, which is why I’m not going to reveal its name). The idea was a sound one: Bake apples and a sugary walnut topping into a bottom crust, but leave the top crust off. The pie’s got face appeal—an ooh-ah dessert. My family dug it, but I always thought it was lacking. Too dry, walnuts tasted meh, etc. So a couple of years ago, feeling ambitious, I decided I was going to keep the idea but doctor it up.

Because plain cut apples dry out in the heat of an oven without a top crust to shield them, I gave them a leg up by poaching them in really good-quality apple cider first. I toasted the walnuts, which gives depth and nuance to any nut on earth. And I made my own crust, which left out partially-hydrogenated animal shortening (as appealing as that sounds).

Relying only on my memory, I literally winged the spices and measurements. But I think I nailed it. This is a pie that tastes as good as it looks. Why else eat anything? Make it for a fall treat or for Thanksgiving or for Arbor Day and tell me what you think.

Peel and cut 7-8 apples into eighths. Don’t use Macintosh or they’ll fall apart as they cook. Any other kind will do, but a variety is fun. Put 2 c apple cider into a large saucepan. (Unfiltered, no-water-added cider will be more intensely flavored. And it’s thick. If you can lose sight of a spoon in it, it’s the kind I mean.) Add your apples and poach over medium-high heat for about 5-8 minutes. Stir them gently and occasionally. Then take them out and spread onto a platter to cool a bit.

Take out a shallow, heavy little pan, put in three or so handfuls of shelled walnuts, and set it over medium-low heat. Do not leave to check Facebook or they’ll burn.* Shake the pan a few times as they toast. When you can smell them, turn them out onto a cutting board and let them cool for a couple of minutes. Then give them a quick chop and add them to a small bowl. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cinnamon (Saigon cinnamon for the win here…and everywhere actually. It will change your life), and 1/8 tsp nutmeg. If you can get the nutmeg in its whole form and grate it, all the better. Stir in 3/4 c packed brown sugar. I like dark, but use any kind you like.

Right, now for the crust. It’s easy, honest.** Take out your food processor and put in 2 c flour, 4 tsp (or less) sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pulse it a few times. Add 3/4 c very cold butter and pulse again a few more times until bits of the dough come together in marble-sized balls. Add about 6 tbsp of ice water, just a little splash at a time, and pulse as you go, until the dough comes together as sort of a loose mass. Don’t over-pulse or the crust will be as chewy as the soles of your New Balances.

Next, what they call blind baking. Again, not a big deal. You do this partially, in this case, and the goal is to dry up the crust a bit before the filling goes in. Otherwise, it can go soggy on you.

Turn your oven to 400 degrees. Scoop out the dough and form it into a disk. Then put it into your pie pan, spreading it out to the edges and up the sides with your knuckles. Take a fork and prick the bottom of the crust a bunch of times. (This is called docking, for you curious types. The crust wants to bubble as it heats, but this lets the air escape, keeping the crust fairly flat).

Next, set some aluminum foil on top of the dough and pour in some cheap dried beans. (This is a back-up system to keep the crust flat.)

Bake the crust for about 15 minutes. Check to see how it’s doing by lifting up your foil a bit. If it sticks, leave it in the oven a little longer, for 5 or so more minutes, then take the beany foil out carefully. Lower your heat to 375 and leave the crust in for another 5 minutes or until lightly golden.

If you’re feeling brave, you can load up your crust with apples while the pan is still hot, but be careful, okay? Start at the edges and go in circles. I have four or so circles in this pie.

Last, add 1/4 cup of cold butter to your little bowl of topping and mix it in with your fingers until it’s well dispersed. Then sprinkle the whole thing on top of your apples. Nummy.

Bake on a lined cookie sheet for 50 minutes. You might need to check it from time to time to make sure the nuts aren’t burning. If they’re getting dark too quickly, loosely cover the top with a little piece of aluminum foil.

This pie is great hot after dinner and even better cold for breakfast. Juicy, rich, sweet and totally addictive.

*If you’ve toasted nuts on a stove top before, you can be cocky and set it on medium or medium-high heat. But still don’t check Facebook.

**If you really can’t deal, at least get a frozen crust that’s made with natural ingredients.  It makes a huge difference, in flavor and in texture.

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