Abandoning the rules for apple pie

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I’ve always been a by-the-book, play-by-the rules kind of girl. I think with my head instead of my heart and always approach things from the most logical angle I can find. That’s why I always cook according to recipes, too. Except for pie.

Things are different for me when it comes to pie. I’ve made dozens and feel confident that I know what good dough feels like between my fingers, and can trust my senses to guide me to the perfect combination of spices for the filling. This is a rare departure from my normal approach to things. It makes me feel confident in my abilities, enough so that I let go a little and try new things on a whim, instead of following every single instruction in the book from beginning to end. Pie is one of the more forgiving things you can make because you don’t have to rely on leaveners and eggs for consistency. Without those things involved, there’s more of a chance to play without fretting that it will fail entirely.

I went to a friend’s place for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner last night. I volunteered to bring my pumpkin scalloped potatoes and an apple pie, both of which I’ve made a few times before. I based my apple pie on the one from The Joy of Cooking, but improvised on the filling by adding a vanilla bean, honey, and a bit of brown sugar. It turned out really well.

If you ever watched Lee Pace as the charming piemaker in “Pushing Daisies,” you might remember when he said “pie is home. People always come home.” For me, apple pie is something I’ll likely make throughout my life, and I can take comfort in knowing it will turn out, and there’s room to try new things.

Applepie112314So here’s my latest version of apple pie for you to share with your families and friends during Thanksgiving. I hope every bite reminds you of home.

Crust
2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 sticks of butter
6 tablespoons cold water

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into mixture and mix with hands until mixture resembles pea-size pieces. Sprinkle water over mixture and mix in using your hands. When water is combined, divide dough in half. Put each half between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out to about a 12-inch circle. Put dough—still between papers—in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes have passed, line the bottom of an ungreased pie dish with one layer of dough, using your fingers to press it to the sides. Refrigerate. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. While oven is preheating, make filling.

Applepie112314-3Filling
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot or corn starch
2 tablespoons honey
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and insides scraped
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Pour mixture into bottom pie crust, letting apples heap in the bottom crust. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter over the top of the filling. Take the top pie crust out and cut holes so the filling can vent during baking. Place crust on top of filled pie and use a knife to cut any crust hanging over the pan. Press crusts together with fingertips to seal. Place pie on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, or until filling is soft when a knife is inserted.

Let cool for at least an hour before serving.

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Apple-based soup is a refreshing change

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This soup isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill soup. It isn’t loaded with cheese, it’s not mellow like the butternut squash soup recipe I posted a few weeks ago, and it’s definitely more tart than the white bean-and-rosemary soup I made earlier this year.

While I usually tend to favor more mellow flavors for soups, the tartness in this Hungarian Apple Soup was a refreshing surprise. When I was preparing it, I thought the potato would cancel out the apple flavor, but that flavor was first and foremost in the end. It was a pleasant surprise.

I doubled the recipe because I had two apples I needed to use, but you can visit the original recipe if you only want to make three cups of soup.

If you’re looking for a soup that will awaken your tastebuds as we head into winter, this is it.

Next week I’ll begin my cookie countdown to Christmas. Get ready for some new favorites with great flavor.

Ingredients
1 1/3 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups diced peeled Yukon Gold potato
2/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery, plus leaves for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
Pinch of paprika, preferably hot Hungarian
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 14-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add apple, potato, onion and celery; cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, sage, paprika and pepper; cook for 30 seconds. Pour in broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and gently simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a large blender or food processor, add sour cream and process until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Garnish with celery leaves, if desired.

Who knew applesauce could be so good?

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Until recently, I had never made applesauce. My only experience with it was the kind spooned from the Mott’s jar with a yellow lid. I never found it impressive. It was something I might eat with pork chops, but not much else. That is, until I made my own.

While figuring out what to make next, I remembered I had bookmarked Ina Garten’s recipe for applesauce. Then I saw that it was baked in a Dutch oven, which is perfect since I’ve been using mine nonstop since I received it.

The recipe is straightforward, which is what I’ve come to expect from the Barefoot Contessa. That she keeps things simple is what I most like about her attitude toward cooking. Her recipe for applesauce is no exception. I had no idea applesauce could be so good until I made her flavor-packed version. applesauce2After baking the ingredients, her recipe calls for whisking them together. I left small chunks of apple in mine instead of making it the same consistency as the store-bought stuff.

Over the course of a week, I devoured the pot. It’s great for breakfast, a snack or as a dessert — and healthier than many alternatives. This applesauce may become a regular item in my refrigerator. I doubt I’ll ever purchase a jar of applesauce from the store again.

Ingredients
Zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 pounds Granny Smith apples (6-8 apples)
3 pounds sweet red apples, such as Macoun, McIntosh or Winesap (6-8 apples)applesauce3
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 pound unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples and toss them in the juice. Pour the apples and juice into a nonreactive Dutch oven or enameled iron pot. Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and allspice and cover the pot. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until all the apples are soft. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Serve warm or at room temperature.