Abandoning the rules for apple pie

Applepie112314-2

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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Strawberry Bavarian Pie

Strawberry pie

I grew up in Watsonville, Calif., the land of strawberries. Around this time of year, the summer scent of strawberries fills the air on San Andreas Road between Manresa Beach and Beach Road. Taking that drive on a summer night is one of my favorite things.

Having recently moved from the area, I’ve been missing that drive quite a bit. I miss seeing the setting sun over the ocean in one direction and the rolling strawberry fields in the other. I miss being able to pull over at a farm stand and buy beautiful, fragrant strawberries directly from the grower, often at a lower price than many stores offer.

The last time I was at the store, strawberries were on sale. Though not as fragrant as the ones I’m used to, I figured they were the best I could get. I decided to use them to make one of my favorite summer treats: a strawberry Bavarian pie.

The pie doesn’t have the heft of most fruit pies. Instead, it combines crushed fresh fruit with gelatin and cream. I got the recipe from “The Joy of Cooking,” one of my go-to reference books for kitchen projects. For now, it will have to satisfy my longing for those sweet summer drives.

Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter or shortening + 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
6 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon ice water

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Combine the flour and salt in medium bowl. Cut half of the butter into the mixture, working it in with the tips of your fingers until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Cut the rest of the butter into the dough and work in until the dough turns into pea-sized balls. Sprinkle the dough with 6 tablespoons of ice water.

Using a fork, blend the water into the dough. If needed to hold the ingredients together, add the remaining water.

Either roll the dough out and fit it into a pie dish or pat it into the dish. Prick the crust with a fork.

Put a piece of foil in the crust and fill with pie weights. The pie weights will keep the crust from slipping into the dish and keep the bottom from bubbling.

Bake in an oven preheated to 425 F for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool.

Filling
1 quart (about 4 cups) strawberries, hulled
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 cup cold heavy cream

Crush the strawberries in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup sugar and let stand for 30 minutes.

Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the boiling water and stir to dissolve the gelatin. Stir mixture into the berries. Add the lemon juice. Chill the gelatin until it is the thickness of unbeaten egg whites.

Whip the heavy cream until firm peaks form. Fold the cream into the berry mixture and pour into the cooled pie crust.