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Friday, September 20, 2013

An apple a day....


These (carefully placed and photographed) pumpkins can mean one thing and one thing only.....FALL IS OFFICIALLY HERE!!  Ok, technically Saturday, but still....

For those of you who don't know me, here's a tip.  I love fall.  Love it!  Currently, my lima beans have been replaced with my kale patch, my spinach is thriving, my fall peas are peeking out of the soil, lettuces have been planted in my window boxes.  Everything is new again and it's exactly the pick-me-up that I needed.    Now, don't get me wrong, I will miss the long days of summer, playing in my garden, trips to the orchard, the hot sun shining, night time thunderstorms, long evenings sitting on my deck with the grill going and drinking a beer with my hubby.  These are the things I live for!  But a change of season is always exciting for me, and part of the reason I love the region I live in. (I mean, why ELSE would you willingly live in PA?  Seriously?  Nothing happens here!  Unless you're in Philly or Pittsburgh.)  Just when you are getting a little bored with the season you're in....POOF!  New season!    I'd say the only time of year I can do without is from about mid-January until mid-March.  But, being a "glass half full" kind of gal, that's only two months out of twelve. Not too shabby in my opinion. Plus, those two very cold, very brown, very rainy/icy/snowy, very gloomy months makes that first day of spring time weather even better.  And then, before you know it, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and it's time to start working the soil to get the first crops of the year going, and suddenly all is right in the world again.  But, it seems I've gotten off track.....

Back to fall!  One of the things I always associate with this time of years is apples.  They're everywhere!  It's the time of year that brings you some of my favorite things:  caramel apples, apple cider, and, of course, apple pie.  Now, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I was only allowed, say, five foods to eat for the rest of my life, apple pie would definitely make the cut.  (And peanut butter.  I could eat ANYTHING with peanut butter on it!).  There is nothing more comforting and wonderful than sitting down to a slice of homemade apple pie, fresh out of the oven and still slightly warm.  Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have perfection.  Now, I started out today hoping to bring you a super impressive recipe of my own design, but sadly I had a kitchen fail.  Yes, it happens!  And it happens to everyone.  DO NOT EVER LET THIS DISCOURAGE YOU!  These things help you to learn and grow as a cook.  I started out with the idea of a Caramel Apple Crumb Pie.  The fail?  I BURNT THE CARAMEL!  And not super burnt, just enough that it had that bitter after taste.  It started off tasting delicious, then the aftertaste hit.  If I would have taken it off the heat thirty seconds sooner, I would be posting pictures and a recipe.  But, alas, it was not meant to be, and I learned something for my next attempt so I refuse to be upset.  (OK, maybe a LITTLE upset.  I don't take failure well.....).

This failure got me to thinking, though.  Why be fancy?  Sure, it's fun, and I love seeing the look on my hubby's face when I pull something like that off.  But so many people want to get right to that "how in the world did you do that" dessert, and forget to master a basic apple pie.  Or any pie, for that matter.  So, consider this post a recipe and tutorial all in one.  We are going to learn pie making.  Home made crust and all.
And, Really.  How can you have a pie plate
this pretty and not want to put a pie
in it? 

First and foremost, let's talk crust.  Nothing infuriates me more than store bought pie crust (Ok, that might be an overstatement, but still...).  I have actually turned down free pie on the sole premise that the crust was made in a factory and not someone's kitchen.  I just don't like it!  I blame my mother and grandmother.  Never did a pre-made pie crust pass my lips until I was old enough to procure my own pie.  And it was disappointing.  My father has the theory that mediocre pie is better than no pie at all, but I have to differ with that one.  With my insatiable sweet tooth, I cannot in good consciousness waste my time on a dessert that is merely OK. Which means in my world, homemade pie crust is crucial.  And easy!  It only takes a few simple ingredients and a little patience.  I will not lie - the first couple times I did this on my own, it was frustrating.  I'd either get the crust too "short" (dry) or too wet and I ended spending more time patching it than actually making the pie.  Because I am stubborn and refuse to be beaten by flour and shortening, I finally got it right.  Once you get that first perfect one, you remember it.  You can FEEL when it's right.  That's the funny thing about pie crust - you can have the best recipe in the world, but it will never ever ever take exactly the same amount of water each time.  Temperature and humidity actually do play a part in how much you add.  But once you "feel" that first perfect one, you know.  Trust me.  And once you get the crust in place, the rest is smooth sailing.  So, let's get on with this recipe!  (Are you excited?  I'm excited!)

Not That Mrs Smith's Apple Crumb Pie
2 c Flour
2/3 c Shortening
3 T Sugar
Ice water

6-8 apples
3/4 c Sugar
1 T Corn starch
3 T butter

Crumb Topping:
1 stick Butter (room temp)
1 c Flour
1/2 c Brown sugar

9" pie plate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pastry Blender.
Consider this your new best
We're going to start by making the crust.  Get a small glass and plop a couple ice cubes in it.  Fill the glass with water.  Set that aside.  The ice is important!  When you mix your other ingredients into a crumb (spoiler alert!), it cools the shortening while binding everything together.  When you bake the crust, that cooled shortening is essentially going to "pop" making your crust flaky.  Flaky is good!  I promise.

Get a big bowl and dump the flour, shortening and sugar into it.  Blend with a pastry blender or a fork.
Coarse crumb
 Yes, you can do this with a fork, and I did for a long time.  But I got a pastry blender as a bridal shower gift, and honestly, I don't know how I lived without it.  It makes it so much easier.  (Plus, you can use it to chop eggs for egg salad.  True story!)  Blend these ingredients together until they are a coarse crumb.

Ball o' dough
Add ice water, a teaspoon at a time.  Blend with your fingers and add more as needed.  You'll want it to form a dough ball, not too sticky, not too dry.  You don't want it to be crumbly or soggy.  Be careful not to overwork dough, or it will get tough and you will lose that flake.

Once the dough is formed and in a ball, turn out onto a lightly floured pastry cloth.  At this point I give it  good squish with the palm of my hand to flatten it and get it started.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is about 1/8" thick, alternating directions so you get a circular shape.  Doesn't have to be perfect, you can always tear and patch if you have to.  You just don't want to get a long oval. That'll just make your life difficult.

Transfer dough into pie plate.  The easiest way I have found to do this is to fold in half, and then in half again so it's a kind of triangle.  I then put the center of the triangle in the center of the pie plate and unfold.  This is pretty foolproof.

Press into pie plate
Once dough is unfolded, make sure it is molded against the bottom and sides of the pie plate.  Go around the edge and fold the extra that is hanging off the sides under and press.  Go around the entire plate using your thumb to crimp the dough.  Take a sharp knife, and press against the side at a 90 degree angle.  Use the knife to remove excess dough hanging over the edge.  I then go around and touch up my crimps so it looks pretty.
Tuck and roll!

That's the stuff!

Set the dough aside.

Next up - Filling.
Easy apple cutting
Wash and peel apples.  I'm going to pass on the easiest way I know to core and slice an apple.  I actually learned this by watching Master Chef.  I've picked up a lot of helpful things watching that show, and in addition to how to pan sear and cook the perfect steak (baste with hot butter, my friend), I learned this handy trick that really sped up the apple cutting process.  First, sit the apple upright, core perpendicular to your cutting board, and cut one side off of it, getting as close as you can to the core without cutting into it.  Turn your apple a quarter turn, and do it again.  Another quarter turn, another cut.  Do this until you have a little rectangle of core and 4 sides of core-less apple.  Then slice.  Easy!

Once your apples are sliced, placed half of them into the pie plate.  Sprinkle half the sugar and some cinnamon over top of the apples (this is where personal preference comes in to play, put as much as you like!).  Slice the butter and distribute over top of that, then sprinkle corn starch on top of that.
Halfway there
Filling complete!

Top with the remaining apples.  Your pie will be FULL, but you want that.  Apples cook down a lot, so if it's not full, you will end up with a sad, flat pie.  Sprinkle remaining sugar and a little more cinnamon on top.  Set aside.

Course crumbs for topping
Oooooooh, it's crumb topping time!! (My favorite!)
Get your pastry cutter out again.  Put softened butter, flour, and brown sugar into a bowl.  Blend until it makes a coarse crumb.  At the end, I use my fingers to finish the job.

Sprinkle over top of the pie.

Put the pie in the oven for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.  I start frequently checking my pie at about 50 minutes (just in case) and pull it out when the crust is brown and I can see the filling bubbling.

Once done baking, remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

Before oven
Ta da!  So pretty! 
Hopefully, you now have the most beautiful apple pie you ever saw!  You can change things up a bit and put some chopped pecans in with the filling or the crumb, add some almonds on top, drizzle caramel over it when you serve it.....Just because this is basic doesn't mean you can't jazz it up a bit!  This just screams fall, and is the most perfect dessert/breakfast/late night snack ever!

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