Pie is Where the Heart Is...

This post provides the first slice of what will come, over the next month of trials and taste tests in my apple pie education. I decided to begin by attempting a traditional butter crust apple pie, bubbling with cinnamon and tart apples. Doesn't look too shabby, right? Think again.

Despite ample warning, I convinced myself that it's best to begin with the hardest and work from there...I struggled a bit with the actual making of the butter pie crust, the first crust of this kind I've attempted. Exercising too much restraint can be a bad thing- especially when it's witholding the last few drizzles of water that help along the 'pea sized' crumbles become a workable dough. But darn it, I had my dough and I wasn't going to waste it. There were flour and dough bits on my hands, face, floor and counter tops but somehow, not enough to assemble a truly spectacular, crimp-able dough.

After picking up the non-ball of dough like dog poo in my saran wrap and launching it into the fridge, I found that refrigeration, and the warmth of a baker's hand can't work miracles. Or my work surface would look less like a doughy flour hurricane hit it.

LESSON #1: Don't underestimate the dough making process, or the temperature and quantity of each ingredient therein. Note to self: exert deftness in working with cold dough, and patience in the transportation process from counter to pan, as evidenced here.
I'm already eagerly anticipating the shortening dough trial!

The apples, referenced in my previous post, were a delicious surprise. Two mildly tart options- Mutsu and Jonathan- proved a perfect foil for the flour-sugar-cinnamon-spices coating. I will definitely continue with this mixture, perhaps adding more apples to the sauce next time and experimenting a bit more beyond just lemon juice. Behold the final product:

I could have taken more pleasure in the fact that the pie at least came out with a golden glow (thanks Ben for the milk tip!), and that we did manage to clean our plates.
For me, though, I found the truest pleasure in baking something complicated from scratch, from the smell of a butter crust cooling on the counter and adding a certain coziness to the air of a football-filled Sunday. And of course, the best part of cooking from scratch is having that 'resident taste tester' there to provide plenty of hunger-fueled support...and if I'm lucky, mop up that flour-coated floor, too.

F&W's Grace Parisi's 'Perfecting Apple Pie' Recipe:

2 1/2 cups flour, plus 1/4 cup flour for filling
1/2 salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, plus 1 tbs butter for filling
1/2 cup ice water
6 large apples (Food and Wine recommends Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious), peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tbs lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Combine flour, salt and unsalted butter. Pulse in food processor until small 'pea size' balls form, drizzle in water until evenly moistened crumbs form. Shape into a ball, divide in half and refrigerate until firm.
Toss peeled and cored apple pieces with lemon juice, the remaining 1/4 cup flour and sugar, plus cinnamon and spices (I would recommend more than the recipe calls for here).
Roll out dough and fill pie pan with the first half of the dough, the apple mixture, then cover with second half of dough. Be careful to seal and crimp the edges of the pie, and poke holes in the crust to allow the steam to vent during the cooking process.
Bake pie 1 hour 10 minutes at 375 degrees or until crust is golden brown. Let stand up to four hours before serving.



So Many Apples, So Little Time

Last weekend, I embarked on my first apple reconnaissance mission at my favorite local market, the Green City Market. I often feel like I can't have a Chicago food conversation without a reference to this marketplace slipped in- and judging by some esteemed restaurant menus, it appears the market is the lifeblood of truly spectacular cuisine. 

What better way to embark on my apple pie education than with the apple itself, which shines each fall at the market. Seedling Farms is without a doubt, my go-to fruit vendor, not only for their passion and knowledge of orchard fruits, but the sheer scope of options. You haven't experienced apples until you approach their tent and find there are subtleties in variety as widespread as wine grapes.
The goal for a good apple pie, or really any fruit dessert, is balance. A good crust is always a treat but the fruit should shine all on its own. Not too sweet, not too tart. I fell in love with the green apples pictured above, called Mutsu. After enjoying one with my lunch, I would describe it as a Granny Smith hybrid that has a thinner skin and a milder bite. The tartness is cut but a pleasant sweet flesh and mild juiciness. 

I also bought some red Jonathans to sample as well.  Seedling recommends the following (pie apples hold shape while apple sauce apples are very juicy and break down more easily in texture):

I have a feeling that for a contest that demands apple-only fruit pies, the choice will still be a tough one!



Paging Martha!

First, for purposes of full disclosure: this is NOT a picture of my pie. Let's call it the goal. But first, from the beginning....

It's our fall ritual. Far be it for us to build a ritual around JUST leaf collecting, pumpkin hunting or something festive without also including a little taste of the season. After three years (and one intended, but failed after a sudden and tragic brush with food poisoning) of making the trip to Holstein Park for the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, we know how to handle the festivities. We camp out, we line up and strategize ('one lap around the tables, then we split up, you get the lattice work, I'll look for the crumb'), and in a methodical and swift maneuver, we emerge from the gymnasium with no less than four slices of traditional, all-American apple pie. The next few minutes are filled with satisfied groans, a few offhand comparisons and our own winner among the group.

At this annual neighborhood fundraiser, as many as 200 pies are featured and judged by a panel of celebrity chefs, local bakers and volunteers gathered on an early fall Sunday morning. The top five are celebrated with blue ribbons and of course, one is crowned winner. Prizes are awarded, but wouldn't a nod from local pastry queen Gale Gand be enough?! The crowds come later, purchase tickets and sample the leftovers (while they last!), as bluegrass music pumps into the gym.

Last year, as we arrived a bit TOO early to claim our samples, I looked around at the registrants, turned to my resident taste tester and fiance, and shrugged. I inherited my mother's knack for over-producing legions of Christmas cookies, I insist on not one but two kinds of coffee cake for hosting my brunches and consider baking my forte. I could do this.

And so, gulp, I did. Yesterday, I registered to join the group of 120 amateur and accomplished bakers all putting forth their best pie pans and offering up traditional apple pie. The only catch is, I have never, ever made a pie. I haven't even produced a turnover.

Call it trial by fire- and for my readers, perhaps a bit of what the Germans call schadenfreude. I'll be posting updates along the way toward my apple pie eduction. I welcome suggestions and favorite recipes. And come October 18th, we'll see how the pie crust crumbles.