Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Apple a Day

Nothing says fall like apples. I go through stages of falling in love with certain foods and it is always a love bordering on obsession. My first true food obsession was with apples. They are endlessly versatile, a quality that is often the spark for my fickle love. It's hard to go wrong with apples. Applesauce, apple butter, apple stuffed pork, caramel apples, baked apples, apple cider, the list goes on.

I think the love of apples is fairly universal. Why else would they feature in so many of our recipes? It's also one of the only fruits that people know by variety. An orange, for the most part, is an orange (yes, I'm going to compare apples and oranges), a banana is a banana, grapes don't go much past red and green. But apples we know. Braeburn, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, MacIntosh, Northern Spy, Royal Gala. These are names people recognize. Because we treat our apples differently than other fruit. We give them a bit more respect.

Apples will always remind me of fall. Their crisp sweetness reminiscent of a fall breeze cutting across the hot summer air. Their flavour grounds us after the heady heat of the previous season and gives us something to look forward to. And what better way to usher in autumn than with apple pie?

I love apple pie almost any time of year, but something about baked apples begs to be paired with trees that are on fire with colour. They caramelize so beautifully in the oven. Their sweet juices reach a deeper level of flavour, one that's not too sweet if properly spiced.

The trick to apple pie is two-fold. The first is the apples. They have to be fresh and crunchy. Soft, overripe apples will turn to mush in the oven. Pick ones with a good balance of sweet and tart. Cortland, Gala, Granny Smith, and MacIntosh all work beautifully for baking. I used a combination of Royal Gala and Granny Smith for this pie. I always like throwing in some Granny Smith apples because their tartness is tempered when baked and it's a sure way of making sure your pie isn't too sweet. The second factor is your pie crust. I'm not going to pretend to be a master of pie crust, but the key to flaky pie crust is to avoid overworking it. Mix it only until it just comes together, don't use too much flour when rolling it out, and don't re-roll it. Try to get it right on the first shot.

The recipe I'm going to give you is one that I got from Williams-Sonoma's Pie and Tart cookbook. One thing I find can destroy a good pie is too much matter how flaky it happens to be. This recipe eliminates that problem by topping it with streusel rather than more pie dough. It's like a cross between a crisp and a pie, bringing the best elements of both together.

Apple Streusel Pie

Basic Pie Dough
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp very cold water

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp cold butter, cut into cubes

Apple Filling
6 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
pinch of salt

For the pie dough, combine the flour, sugar and salt.
Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles cornmeal with no butter pieces larger than a small pea. (You can also use your fingers to blend this, just be sure not to soften the butter too much with your body heat.)
Add the water and mix with a fork just until it comes together.
Form into a disk and tap a few times with a rolling pin to flatten it.
Roll out to at least 12" in diameter and place in 9" pie pan.
Flute the edges and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the streusel, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
Cut in butter as with pie dough.
Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the filling, toss diced apples with the lemon juice (this stops them from going brown).
In a separate bowl combine sugar, cornstarch, spices, and salt.
Sprinkle over apples and toss to combine.

To assemble, pour apples into pie shell and cover evenly with streusel topping.
Bake at 375F for 50-60 minutes until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbling.

This is best eaten the day it's made. If you don't finish it the day of, keep it at room temperature if it's only going to hang around for a couple days. The cold of the fridge will break down the cornstarch causing the filling to go soupy.

As always feel free to play with this recipe. I mostly stuck to it this time, but I didn't have ground cloves so I added a bit more cinnamon and nutmeg (not too much though, these are potent). The variety of apples will change the flavour, so try different kinds until you find the one you like best. Add different spices for variety. Throw in some raisins. Whatever catches your fancy.

Above all, eat apples. After all, they're said to keep the doctor away. Let's dig in to an autumn full of apples.

1 comment:

  1. It looks and sounds delicious! You're making me the autumn weather and food and everything else. I didn't know I could miss a season. :)