Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas Special: Homemade Apple Pie

It is high time that this dessert featured on my blog and let me tell you why!

I was all of fifteen (or maybe sixteen....can't remember) when I developed a love for cooking. It wasn't as if anyone in particular influenced me. My mum never insisted that I help her in the kitchen nor did I volunteer 😛 Back then, I wasn't even what I would describe a foodie. I was a scrawny teen who swore by the philosophy "eat to live" (can't say the same now! 😝). I used to be an exasperatingly fussy eater, enjoying only the limited spectrum food that appealed to my taste buds and not being adventurous at all when it came to trying new dishes. I didn't (still don't) have much of a sweet tooth. My only weaknesses included soda (cola), cheese and fried food and those, I'll admit, still continue to be to this day!

During those years, I started watching various cookery shows which ignited the fire in me to explore the culinary world. My mum had plenty of cookbooks in her pantry so I began flipping through them. I was curious to know if I could make some of my favourite dishes on my own. As good a cook my mum is, baking is something she never did and so that was one area that piqued my interest in particular.

I remember quite clearly, almost like it was yesterday, some of the dishes I used to make all those years ago. Vegetable fried rice, potato rösti, potato kebabs, fried cheese balls, Chinese noodles, mug cake, fruit trifle and apple pie are some that come to mind off the top of my head.



Among all my mum's cookbooks was a Party Cookbook by noted Indian food writer Tarla Dalal. In that book was a simple recipe for homemade apple pie. It was one of the first desserts I ever attempted. Back then, I had no clue about pastry tips and techniques. I had no idea how the variety of apple would influence the final taste and texture of the pie. In my small sleepy hometown of Mysore, only one or maybe two varieties of apples were available in the local market and I'd just go pick up whatever I could get my hands on. We had an medieval gas oven at home that had to be manually ignited (I was too afraid to do it so I'd ask my mum to!). The temperature of our oven wasn't precise so I couldn't trust the settings and I didn't know about the existence of an oven thermometer so I'd just end up taking a gamble on the baking temperature and time. In my naïve mind, as long as the pastry was cooked and the complimentary flavours of apple and cinnamon married together, I had a winning dessert! Looking back, I realize that the apple filling I'd make used to turn out mushy every time and although the pastry was cooked through, it wasn't flaky like how it is supposed to be. But trust me when I say that as a whole, it tasted delicious and elicited requests from family and friends to make often. It went on to become my signature dish and is the only dessert I so distinctly remember from my childhood. Every time I bite into an apple pie, no matter where I am in the world, it takes me on a trip down memory lane and that is the reason, this dessert holds a special place in my heart. 

An old-fashioned apple pie with a flaky buttery pastry crust and juicy apple filling perfumed with cinnamon is the perfect dessert. When apple pie is served warm topped with good quality vanilla bean ice-cream, it is the ultimate indulgence. I know that apple pie is popular during the fall and frequently graces the tables at Christmas but it really is an all-year dessert. Making an apple pie from scratch does take some time but trust me, it is a fun endeavour and time well spent! I would like to make apple pie "my thing" again hoping that it will be something my kids and future grandkids will remember me by 😊

Okay, so let's get down to business. When it comes to apples, to each their own. You will see hundreds of recipes floating around recommending a particular variety or varieties of apple for "the best apple pie" and it can all get very confusing. You may think that choosing the right apple for a pie is all about flavor, but there's another equally important element: pectin. Pectin is the biological glue that holds together plant cells, giving fruits and vegetables their shape and structure. When apples are cooked, this pectin breaks down, and the apples turn mushy. Pectin breakdown is inhibited by low pH levels (that is, it breaks down less when the environment is acidic). Thus, the tarter the apple, the more likely it is to hold its shape upon baking. That is why a lot of apple pie recipes you see out there would mention Granny Smiths or Royal Gala apples. But then again, tart apples hold up well during cooking but don't offer the best "apple-y" flavor. In contrast, sweet apples provide wonderful flavor but often turn to mush. Based on the availability, I'd suggest using a mixture of apples to strike the right balance between flavour, texture and fragrance. Varieties such as McIntosh, Cortland, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Honey Crisp generally seem to be good choices for apple pie.


I stuck to a classic apple pie recipe but modernised it with a lattice crust. I didn't add in a lot of spices because I wanted the apple flavor to shine through. Using a combination of sweet and tart apples made the filling perfectly balanced with the structure of the apples intact as opposed to a gooey mush. The husband likes the apple filling to have a hint of savoury flavour so I've included a little salt in it. This is purely a personal preference. I followed most of the pastry techniques so ended up with a nice and flaky pastry. All in all, it was a delicious dessert and it brought back so many fond memories!

I'm usually very generous with the desserts I make, reserving only a minuscule portion for myself and dividing the rest among my family, domestic helper, friends and sometimes even boss and colleagues. But this time, I kept a lion's share of the pie polishing off the whole thing in a record two days 😄 If only the adage 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' could be extended to include apple pie as well *sigh*

So that is why I said at the beginning of this post that it is high time to feature this recipe on the blog. And although I was aware of it at a subconscious level, I must thank one of my sister-in-laws for pointing out the lack of pie recipes on my blog and motivating me to change that! So, Ramya, this post is dedicated to you 😊 Hoping for more pie exploits in the new year!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays you guys! XOXO

Homemade Apple Pie

Preparation time: 60 min
Baking time: 35-40 min
Cooling time: Several hours to overnight
Serves: 8
Recipe category: Dessert/Western
Recipe level: Intermediate
Recipe source: Adapted from here

Ingredients:

For the crust,

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1/3 cup (75ml) ice cold water
1 tsp cider or white vinegar or apple cider vinegar

For the apple filling,

1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
12 medium-sized apples (~12 cups), a mix of sweet & tart varieties , peeled, cored and cut into slices 
I used, 4 Royal Gala, 6 Honey Crisp & 2 Granny Smith apples
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg, Optional

Other ingredients, Optional
1 tbsp plus more cornstarch or tapioca starch, use if required
Egg white or milk, for brushing on top of the pie
Coarse grain sugar, for sprinkling over the pie
Vanilla bean ice-cream, to serve

Method:

Making the crust,

1. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, salt and butter until the butter is the size of small peas.


2. Add the water and vinegar. Pulse again in the food processor until a dough begins to form or else use a rubber spatula to combine the wet ingredients with the dry. The dough should just be moistened enough to come together. Don't be afraid if the dough feels a little shaggy; it's better to have a loose dough than to add too much water, which will lead to a dense and heavy crust. Absolutely do NOT knead the dough!


3. Divide the dough into two discs. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.


Making the apple filling,

1. In a large non-stick skillet, melt the butter. Add the sugar, mix thoroughly and cook for 1 minute.


2. Add the sliced apples, salt, cinnamon powder and nutmeg (if using). Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or more until the apples have softened (but still retain their shape) and the syrup is almost dry. Refer notes section if the filling is still liquidy. Pour the apple filling into a bowl and let cool completely.



Assembling the pie:

1. With the rack in the lowest position, preheat the oven to 220 °C (425 °F).

2. On a floured work surface, roll out one portion of the dough into a round sheet. Line the sheet in a 23 cm (9-inch) round and 2.5 cm (1-inch) deep pie plate. Instead of lifting the dough sheet and risk it tearing, fold it as shown and then transfer it. It makes the task much easier! I used a glass pie plate but metal will work fine too. Using kitchen scissors, trim the excess  dough around the edges leaving a 1-inch overhang. The overhang is important to create a nice crimped pie crust edge. Freeze for 5-10 minutes.




3. Roll out the second portion of dough in a similar fashion to the first. If you want to be very precise use a ruler and mark equal sized strips using a sharp pizza cutter. I just randomly ran the pizza cutter to make strips (as you can see, the size is unequal).



4. Take the pie out of the fridge You can sprinkle a little cornstarch over the bottom of the dough if desired. Spoon the apple mixture, uniformly across the dough lined pan.


5. Place the strips of dough over the surface in the manner shown to form a lattice design. Trim the extra dough and gently tuck the ends of the strips under the bottom dough layer.





6. Seal the pie by crimping the edges. You can use your thumb and index fingers on both hands to pinch together a ruffled pattern or just crimp using a fork. Brush the lattice with egg white or milk. Sprinkle with coarse-grain sugar (if desired) to give the pie that glittery sparkle. Freeze the assembled pie for 5-10 minutes.



7. Bake in the lowest rack of the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes and then turn the temperature down the oven to 175-180°C (~350 °F) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let the pie cool completely. I let the baked pie sit in the fridge overnight before slicing into wedges.


8. Serve warm or room temperature topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream.



Notes:
  • If the liquid content in your apple filling isn't reducing even after the apples have stewed, drain the apples and collect the juice. Heat the juice incrementally on high power in the microwave until it is reduced by half, about 4 minutes (alternatively, you can boil the juice in a small pan on the stove.) The syrup should be just slightly thickened. Add the syrup back to the apples, along with 1 tbsp cornstarch or tapioca starch and toss to combine
  • You can add other flavour enhancers into your apple filling such as ginger powder, powdered cloves, toasted walnuts and golden raisins but I like to keep things simple
  • If you feel your apple filling is too sweet, you can add in some lemon juice
  • Make sure that your butter stays in the fridge until you are ready to use it. 
  • Keep your water ice cold
  • Chill your flour if your kitchen is particularly warm
  • If you feel the lattice top is too fiddly, just roll out the second pastry sheet, cut a few holes/vents around the middle of it, cover the pie with the sheet, trim the excess (leave a 1-inch overhang) and proceed to crimp the edges
  • If is a good idea to place everything in the freezer in between steps to chill them down.
  • If you slice the pie when it is still hot then you will end up with a runny and wet mess so waiting several hours or better, overnight is recommended
  • The pie will keep for 3 days at room temperature


Cheers,
Megha

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing Apple Pie. I will try to make at home. Because it is my favorite Apple pie.
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    ReplyDelete
  2. I couldn't resist commenting. Well written!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I
    truly enjoy reading through your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects?
    Many thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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