Friday, 30 November 2012

Kicking Off the Season: Old Fashioned Apple Pie

This is the season of eating. Yes, Thanksgiving is America's big day-to-get-together-with-people-you-love-and-stuff-your-faces, but really the whole Autumn-Winter season is all about cuddling up and munching on something tasty and comforting. Or at least it should be.

This is the season of fragrant spices and toasty firesides; twinkling lights to combat the early darkness and cozy sweaters to ward of the cold. It's about comfort. And what's more comforting than delicious food?

As the days get ever colder and shorter, I find myself very glad to be home, snuggled up with familiar things and free range to mess around in the kitchen. I got back home just in time for Thanksgiving after a couple months of travel. I ate delicious food in new places, I worked on a farm, feeding pigs (my absolute favorite farm animal!), I absorbed the various cultures of about half a dozen cities, and I got to spend two months with my boyfriend who lives very far away. But, despite all the fun and excitement of these adventures, there's something supremely comforting about being home for the cold weather, the cinnamon-laced cooking, and the holidays.

I actually did a surprising amount of cooking during my travels, even experienced some culinary firsts (first time baking crusty bread, first time cooking with lard) but that only made me more eager to get home and fine-tune these experiments in my home kitchen.

So, here's my kicking-off-the-holiday-season-in-my-blog-world recipe. Something delicious and comforting and spiced with the flavors of fall. Apples, cinnamon, and butter. Obviously.

It's another pie. Something fairly simple and traditional but which I'm still working on perfecting. Word on the street is that the best fat for pie dough is a 2/3 butter, 1/3 lard combo, so I've been giving it a go. Honestly, though the crust does get a little flakier with the addition of lard, what I notice most is a taste difference. Although I love the creamy taste of butter as much as the next person, the savory element introduced by the lard is much more subtle and interesting, a more delicate kind of delicious.

Pie Crust:
(this makes a double crust, halve the ingredients for a single crust)

3 cups all-purpose/plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter (1 1/3 sticks, 150 grams)
1/3 cup lard (50 grams)
8-10 tablespoons cold water

Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter and lard and mix into the flour mixture with a knife, pastry cutter, or your finger tips. When the mixture has the consistency of very course sand with a few larger, pea-sized lumps of butter, start adding the water, a couple tablespoons at a time. Gently mix the water in with a fork until the dough will hold together when lightly squeezed into a ball. It should still be fairly crumbly but will come together more when you let it rest in the fridge.

Divide the dough in half and gently shape each half into a disk (trying not to handle them too much, as over-working the dough results in a tough crust) and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate the disks for at least an hour before rolling them out. This lets them re-harden after being handled and allowed the moisture to draw the dough together a little more.

Preheat your oven to 375º F (191º C).

When you are ready to construct the pie, take one dough disk out of the fridge and roll it out on a floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin and add more flour as needed while rolling so that the dough doesn't stick to the work surface or your rolling pin. When the dough is rolled out to about 1/4" thickness, gently fold it in half, lift it into your pie pan, and unfold it.

2 lbs apples (cored and thinly sliced)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, salt until thoroughly blended. Begin layering the apple slices in the bottom crust. Lay down one layer and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture and repeat until all the apple is piled in the crust. Dome the apple filling in the center slightly (this should sink somewhat during the baking).

Now roll out the second dough disk and lift that on top of your filled bottom crust. Trim the overhang of the two crusts and press them lightly together. If you want, you can crimp the crust using your forefingers and thumbs (I always think that adds a nice finishing touch!)

Before baking, make sure you cut some slits into the top crust so that steam can escape. You can also brush the top with a little milk or an egg wash or use the extra dough to make some decorations. I sprinkled mine with some Demerara sugar for extra prettiness!

Cover the pie with foil and bake at 375º F (191º C) for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and reduce the heat to 350º F (177º C) and bake for an additional 40-50 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned. Once it is done baking, remove the pie to a cooling rack until it's no longer dangerously hot and then tuck in!

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