2017 #piegoals

I recently shared a blog post about making individual-size fruit crisps as a diet friendly and quick alternative to making a whole pie.  As part of that post, I mentioned that one of my goals is to up my pie-making game and that to start the process I had purchased the book Art of the Pie by @KateMcDermott.  I had originally intended to make an apple pie as part of my Christmas brunch menu but ran out of prep time — I had to cut and run with my other deserts.  I had already prepared a chocolate pound cake recipe and homemade cinnamon ice cream so those would just have to do.

Once I got past the holiday, I was able to resume work on the apple pie I had originally planned.  This ended up being my second pie recipe from Art of the Pie.  I wanted to share the results of this effort, and talk about some of the actions I plan to take to increase my pie making skills this year.  Note that most of my emphasis will be on the aesthetic aspects rather than how to prepare the dough and filling as I’m already getting good results in those areas.  Any advice or suggestions you may have for me as I begin this journey will be greatly appreciated!

For this pie I decided to use McDermott’s traditional crust which is prepared with a combination of butter and shortening.  The dough recipe recommends that you roll and use it on the same day that you make it.  The directions are written for manual preparation, however I used my normal food processor technique.  I also ended up rolling this pie crust four days after making it.  The crust was nice and flaky once baked, but I did find that the dough softened up very quickly when I took it out of the refrigerator.  This put pressure on me to work quickly which is a bit at odds with my focus on aesthetics.

Brushed with egg wash and ready to bake

I decided to focus my attention on decorating the top of the pie using a small tear drop shaped cutter that I recently purchased as part of a set from Sur La Table. When I looked these up on the website I read that these were intended for cutting aspect, but they were just fine for cutting pie dough.  My idea was to create a design in the middle of the top and to use the cut outs as a replacement for simple knife slashes to permit venting .  To do this I had to roll the top crust out and guesstimate where I thought the center would be and use the cutter to make the cut outs.  I then needed to carefully transport the top by loosely wrapping it around my rolling pin and hope to place the top in the correct position.  I think I got pretty close on that.  Although I managed to place the top, I didn’t have enough crust around the edges of the top and bottom to create a nice fluted edge all the way around so I tucked the edges into the side of the pan as neatly as I could.  I also developed a tear in the crust that I had to struggle to repair.  I’ll need to practice this stuff a bit more in my future attempts.  The final step relative to the crust was to place my tear drops around the top of the crust and apply an egg wash.

For the apple filling I used McDermott’s recipe for The Quintessential Apple Pie.  I had it in my head that I would need to peel the apples before baking, and I was thrilled to skip this step per the recipe directions.  One of the recommendations is to use two  apple varieties for depth of flavor.  I am not a great apple connoisseur but I used a combination of organic Jonagold and Opal apples.  As I tasted the apples before baking, I found that I really liked the flavor of the Opal apples.  I did a bit of research as I wasn’t familiar with this cultivar — I discovered the likely reason for the lack of familiarity.  According to the website, this is an apple which is available during a limited season, from December to March.  In the U.S. they are grown exclusively at Broetje Orchards in Prescott, WA.  This cultivar is relatively new having been discovered in Europe in 1999, and they are a cross between a Golden Delicous and a Topaz.  These apples were introduced to the U.S. market in 2010, and what really has me sold on these is that they do not brown when cut.  Another unique characteristic is that they are organic, Non-GMO Project verified.  I purchased these at my local Whole Foods Market, and look forward to experimenting further with them.  If you would like to try them, take a peek at the website for a grocer near you.

While drafting this post, I mentioned these non-GMO apples to a friend who innocently asked what GMO really meant.  I explained to her my understanding which was basically correct, but I found a lot of additional info on the topic.  I will provide links to a couple of interesting articles here, but the important point to remember is that with GMO or genetically modified organisms (AKA genetically engineered) we do not fully understand the potential negative impact of these foods hence the risk of the unknown.  What is a GMO, and how are GMOs different from hybridized foods, for example pluots which are a cross between a plum and an apricot?  According to the GMO Awareness website,

“Genetic modification is the process of forcing genes from one species into another entirely unrelated species. Unlike cross breeding or hybridization—both of which involve two related species and have been done without ill effects for centuries—genetic engineering forcefully breaches the naturally-occuring barriers between species.”

Here are real GMO examples from GMO Awareness:

“Other examples of GMOs include strawberries and tomatoes injected with fish genes to protect the fruit from freezing, goats injected with spider genes to produce milk with proteins stronger than kevlar for use in industrial products, salmon that are genetically engineered with a growth hormone that allow them to keep growing larger, dairy cows injected with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH (also known as rBST) to increase milk production, and rice injected with human genes to produce pharmaceuticals.”

According to The World’s Healthiest Foods website:

“GE foods by definition contain novel proteins that were not present in the food prior to its genetic modification.  Since proteins are often the basis for an allergic food reaction (our immune system will sometimes make antibodies to help neutralize proteins that are interpreted as being potentially dangerous to our health), many scientists have speculated that novel proteins in GE foods may cause these foods to trigger allergic reactions more frequently than their non-GE counterparts.”

The net is that while there is no scientific evidence proving these GE foods are bad, there isn’t proof that they are good either.  By the way, my understanding is that organic foods (if truly organic) by definition are non-GMO, but non-GMO foods are not necessarily organic.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming after what my Mom would call a bird walk — the pie filling.  The one other thing I’d like to point out about the filling recipe is that Calvados was an optional ingredient.  That is not something that I had on hand, however I had just received my holiday order from King Arthur Flour.  One of the items I purchased this time was boiled apple cider.  This was a first time purchase for me — I decided to give it a try as my #piegoals were top of mind.  This stuff really helps to enrich the flavor of the apples and it seemed to combine well with my Bragg’s apple cider vinegar.

So, how did the completed pie turn out, and what did I learn from the experience?  The first thing I would mention is that somewhere in the book I read that with a fruit pie you can end up with a gap between the underside of the top crust and the top of the filling.   The solution if you don’t want the gap is to partially pre-cook your filling.  Now you could reasonably deduce that since I was happy to not peel the apples that I didn’t really want to pre-cook the filling.  Your deductive reasoning would be absolutely correct as I was pressed for time.  I didn’t think that the gap would bother me, but not having the gap really would make it easier to have nice looking slices.  The aesthetics of the slices were challenging with the combination of the teardrop cutouts and the gap between the crust and the filling.  My learning here is that there is a good reason for “minding the gap” as they say in London.

Second, while not peeling the apples first is a great time saver, my suspicion is that some skins when cooked will not provide the most pleasing flavor.  There was an occasional bite with a mild aftertaste that I couldn’t place.  My suspicion is that it came from the skins of the Opal apples.  While it wasn’t “bad” I’d rather do without it.  My thought is to bake a whole Opal apple to test my theory.  The lesson here is to know your apple varieties and the taste of the baked skin before making a decision “to peel or not to peel.”  While this lesson is specific to apple pie, the concept may apply to other fruits so it is worth thinking about.

While apple pie is great on its own, I thought it would be even better to serve it up with some home made cinnamon ice cream.  I found a recipe on allrecipes.com which I made as directed with one exception.  Once I prepared and cooled the custard, I put it in the refrigerator to chill overnight with the thought that it would provide additional time for the flavors to mingle.  This ice cream was approved by kids and adults alike, and I would definitely recommend it.

Williams-Sonoma Classic Cajeta Caramel Sauce

To top things off, I splurged on a jar of gourmet caramel sauce from Williams-Sonoma.  The taste of this sauce is absolutely fantastic, however it does not drizzle easily.  I think you need to warm it up somehow (stovetop or microwave) to get the consistency just right.  You can find the sauce here.

Overall the pie was a success from a taste perspective, and I gained more experience with the decorative aspects of pie making.  The apple flavor of the bubbling juices as the pie came out of the oven was definitely enhanced by the boiled cider.  As I think about how to further develop my pie goals and a plan to achieve them, clearly practice will be essential.  One idea is to look for a bake-along similar to Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers.  Other ideas include my own “self-study” program, attending a class at Sur La Table or another local cooking school, and looking for pie specific blogs.  A trip to Kate McDermott’s pie camp would provide an intensive learning opportunity.  Any other ideas?  And for you pie experts, how did you do it?  I want to know!  In the meantime I will update you on my progress via the blog and on Instagram using the hashtag piegoals.