TThis month I want to talk about apple pie. Yeah, yeah, I know it didn’t originate in Texas. But I won the first ever Kendall County Apple Pie cookoff, so that’s kind of the same.
Ok, it’s not even remotely the same. But there are some really good apples out right now, so let’s take advantage of that fact.
It’s funny when I hear yankee friends talk about times it’s too hot to fire up the oven and do some baking. In Texas, it is either cold outside, or our air-conditioning is on. Frequently both events occur in the same day, so it is literally NEVER too hot to fire up the oven. Woohoo. Apple pie all year.
But first, one must learn to bake.
It is often said that cooking is art and baking is science. Cooking was so natural to a right-brained, artistic type like myself. I viewed a recipe as the canvas on which I would create my masterpiece. A blank space to which I would add my own color with a pinch of this, or a dash of that. If a recipe called for paprika, I could substitute white pepper, or cumin, of whatever I wanted. The resulting dish may not have resembled the original, but was capable of standing on its own merits.
So when I decided to try my hand at baking, I began with the same sort of “devil-may-care” attitude, playing fast and loose with the recipes. Here’s the deal folks: when it comes to baking, recipes are not mere guidelines. They are more like scientific formulas, where each ingredient plays a crucial role in the final outcome. Oh, you CAN substitute margarine for butter in a chocolate chip cookie, but you don’t get a whole new cookie creation. You simply get a weaker chocolate chip cookie. One lacking the full flavor and texture of its buttery counterpart. In baking, your ingredients must be fresh, the steps must be followed, and the ratios of dry to wet ingredients, or fats and leavening need to be respected. This holds especially true in bread and pastry. Stray from those ratios, or use poor quality ingredients and your souffle will fall. In fact, it may never even rise.
After I had earned sufficient lumps in basic pastry and bread making, I figured I was perfectly equipped to take over the baking of the Holiday apple pie. My Grandma was not an especially notable cook, but had always made a fantastic apple pie. When her age and declining health made it impossible for her to continue to do so, and since it just isn’t possible to have Thanksgiving or Christmas without homemade apple pie, I decided to take up her rolling pin and forge ahead. I figured it would be a piece of cake. Oh, that it were that easy…
My first apple pie was a huge embarrassment of failure. My pastry was good, as I had whupped the pastry making years ago. And it looked beautiful. I guess it would have been lovely if we hadn’t actually had to cut it or try to eat it. The golden brown, flaky crust on the top gave way to a great runny mess underneath. Basically, half-raw apples swimming in spiced cider. I poured off juice a few times, and more would appear in its place. This not only made all of the flavors run down the drain with the juice, but made the bottom crust a rather gooey, glue-like mess.
I have always taken a scholarly approach to problems, and this was no different. I bought several books on the topic, and read voraciously. The biggest problem with apple pie, is apples. You see, they are all so different. This may seem elementary to you, but growing up I really only knew of three kinds. Red delicious, granny smith, and golden delicious. I had heard talk of McIntosh and Winesap, but never actually ate them. My youth and inexperience told me that apples were apples. They could be used interchangeably. The books told me something else. Apples, you see, are full of juice. Some have a lot more than others. Some apples hold their shape while baking, while others turn to mush. And here’s another little gem…Different varieties of apple taste different. Yep. Who knew? I honestly don’t know why I had to read that somewhere, but bless my wee Oirish heart, I did.
I began buying every new apple variety that came out, and trying it. I go online and research it. Is it best eaten out of hand, or baked? Does it hold its shape? So whereas I only ate red and gold delicious apples twenty years ago, I don’t eat either now. Among my favorites for eating out of hand are Honey Crisp, Pink Lady and Fuji. For baking, I love Jona-Gold.
But my all time favorite, for any application, is the Tentation. Don’t go word-smithing me on that. That is how it is spelled. It is a bright gold variety from New Zealand, with a beautiful orange pink blush to it. The flesh is crisp, almost yellow, with a very strong, almost spicy sweet-tart flavor. It holds its shape well, and has a moderate amount of moisture. Bad news–it is only available for like 12 minutes in June, and doesn’t seem to be widely available. When they are available, I buy bushels full, peel them, slice them, and freeze them in ziplock bags so that I can make pies out of them during the holidays.
Anyway, that same year I decided to tackle apple pie, my annual county fair was holding its first ever apple pie bake off. I challenged myself to enter a winning pie. I spent three weeks baking pies, and entered a beautiful lattice topped pie in the event, which won a blue ribbon. I use Jona-Gold or Fuji most of the time, but use Tentation when I can. If you can’t find either, then use a mixture of Granny Smith and Gold Delicious. But seriously, if you can’t find Jona-Gold or Fuji, find another grocer.
Over the years I continued to tweak and improve the blue ribbon recipe, to bring you this. The certified by God best apple pie you’ll ever eat. Don’t tell your grandma I said that.
Actually, I’m only showing the filling technique here. I could show you how to make a perfect crust, but Ben would have to give me 2 full pages just for that.
And come hungry. There are 12 apples in every pie.
Apple Pie That Jesus Eats
12 large baking apples
1/3 C lemon juice
1 C water
2 to 3 cups sugar
1/2 t salt
2 t cinnamon
1 t grated nutmeg
1 cup flour
2 cups water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
6 T cold butter, cut into 1/4” cubes
pastry for double crust pie
1 egg, beaten with 1 T water
2 Tablespoons sanding sugar (coarse sugar)
Peel and core the apples, and slice 1/4 thick. Place in large dutch oven or stock pot with the lemon juice, 1 C water, 2 C sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the apples are just getting tender. While that’s happening, mix the water into the flour until a smooth paste is formed. Add the gelatin into 1/4 cup boiling water and stir well. Set aside.
When the apples are tender, taste them. If needed, add the remaining sugar (this will depend on the sugar content of the apples you chose, and your personal taste)… pour the flour slurry in 1/2 C increments into the cooked apples, stirring well after each addition. When the apples thicken substantially (think about the viscosity of canned chili), remove from heat. Stir in the gelatin mixture. Spread the apples into a large baking pan, and allow to cool completely, You can pace in the fridge for 30 minutes to expedite matters.
Preheat oven to 375*, and place the oven rack in the lowest position. An oven liner is always nice. IJS.
Place one of your pie crust rounds into a ten inch deep dish pie plate. Spoon the apples into it. You will have to use your (clean ) hands to press them in tightly, forming a dome shape. Sprinkle the cubed butter over the filling. Brush a little water around the edge of the crust, then place your top crust over the apples. Crimp your crusts together however you like. A simple fork pressing them together is rudimentary, but works. Brush the top with the beaten egg and water (this makes the crust shiny), and sprinkle if desired with coarse sugar.
Bake for 45 minutes to one hour until the crust is nicely golden. Remove and allow to cool for a few hours before serving.