Nov 15, 2011

Classic Apple Pie

Apple pie is one of my all time favs. Well, favorite to EAT that is. Growing up, I didn't quite care for the task of peeling and coring all those apples. (still don't, but I still LOVE apple pie, so I do it) I can remember my Granny just piling everything into the homemade crust, sprinkling (dumping, really) everything on top, slapping on the top crust all quick like.... just carefree as can be. Like it was no big deal. Like it was easy. Then it would bake and the smell would waft throughout the house and I just couldn't hardly WAIT until suppertime dessert. 

Well Granny is no longer with us so I had to set out on my own to try to come as close to her version as I possibly could. I've tried several recipes over the years and this (tweaked-to-my-liking) version of one came really close. Not only that, but my husband requested THIS one again. (oooh, I may have done it now, more apples to peel)

Now I'm not quite as talented, nor as quick, as Granny was, so I don't just "dump" everything in there all at once. Unlike her, I have steps. First step being, learn to make a good pie crust. This is key. THIS part of the pie I've been practicing for years, so trust me, I got this. If you need some help, I've poured my heart out and here's a link to my favorite Buttery Flaky Pie Crust recipe. You'll need to double it for this pie though. 

Printable Version for Classic Apple Pie (filling)

Classic Apple Pie (the filling)
Yield: 1 -9" pie

8 C sliced apples (about 8-10 granny smith apples)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 C white sugar (or use ¾ C white sugar + ¼ C brown sugar)
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
small pinch of ground cloves (optional)
2 Tbsp butter (not margarine), cut into small pieces

Follow the directions for making a double crust for a 9” pie. After rolling out the dough for the bottom crust, and while it is chilling in the pie plate as directed, preheat the oven to 425°F while you make the apple filling.

You can choose any type of baking apples that you prefer, I happen to like Granny Smith because of the tartness and they stay a bit firm after baking. Wash, peel, core and slice the apples. You'll want to slice them thin, about 1/4" slices, in order for them to bake evenly. Sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to coat all of the slices. This will keep the apples from browning.

In a separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, cornstarch and spices. So at this point, if you've made apple pie before (or maybe not and are still wondering) why do I use flour and cornstarch for the thickening agents? Well, I've tried using all flour and my pie didn't get quite thick enough. Then I tried a recipe using all cornstarch and well, it tasted to "starchy". Go figure. So I tried using half and half and the end result was the most satisfactory. (for me anyway)
Next, sprinkle the sugar mixture over apples and toss to coat well. Set aside while you make the top crust.

Next, roll out the 2nd disc of pie crust dough for the top crust. Make it just a bit bigger than the pie plate. Put the pie filling into the bottom crust. Dot the top with the small bits of butter, scattering them about. HAHAHA I laugh, because I forget this step every time. I mean EVERY TIME. So I say to you, if you skip it, don't worry 'bout it.

Next, gently lay the top crust over the apples and trim so that it has a 1” overhang.
Now fold the top crust over and under the edges of the bottom crust to seal the sides. This will help keep all the juices in while the pie is baking. Finally, flute the edges with your forefinger and thumb all the way around the pie. (You can see pics of this process on the pie crust page). You will also want to cut slits in the top. This allows the excess steam to escape so that the pie filling can thicken properly. If the top crust feels as if it has softened up while you were shaping the edges, then pop the pie into the fridge to re-chill the crust before baking.

Gently place the pie on a baking sheet. For a deeper color in the crust, brush top of crust and sides with EITHER plain milk, or, 1 egg white (or whole egg) that has been beaten with 1 tbsp water. Milk will give it a crispy-flaky texture and egg will give it a tender-flaky texture. Now sprinkle the top with coarse sugar if desired. (or you can sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon)

Place the pie on the middle rack of the oven. If you have a baking stone, place the baking sheet directly on the baking stone. Bake pie for 20 minutes at 425°F. Without opening the oven door, reduce the temperature to 375°F and continue baking for 20 more minutes. At this time, check the pie crust, if the edges are turning brown to soon, cover them with aluminum foil to protect them, or, use a pie crust ring.

Continue to bake the pie for at least 10-20 more minutes until done. The crust should be golden brown, the apple filling should be bubbling up through the pie crust slits, and the apples should be tender. (yeah, go ahead and sneak one through the slit, no one's looking) Total baking time should be about 50-60 minutes.

When done, remove the pie from the oven and set on a rack. Now, here's the hard part, allow pie to cool completely (several hours, seriously) at room temperature  before cutting. And no NOT try to cool it in the fridge. Believe me, I've tried LOL  It makes the crust soggy and chewy. The cooling process is essential because the pie filling will not thicken until after the pie has completely cooled. If you cut it too soon, your filling will run out everywhere and possibly cause a soggy bottomed pie. If you want to have warm apple pie, just heat slices in the microwave just before serving.
Store the pie, covered, at room temperature.

Mmmmmm, now wasn't that worth the wait?

One more thing I'd like to mention. As the apples cool and the filling thickens, the inside of the pie (the apples and filling) will shrink. This leaves a gap between the top crust and the filling. This is normal and expected. Surprisingly, this doesn't bother me...anymore. I just gently push the crust down when I slice it.  Just like I did with my Granny's apple pie ;)

If the gap DOES bother you, and you would rather have the "sky high closer to Jesus" pie, then you may want to pre-cook your apple filling first. Just be careful that you don't cook the apples all the way. Cook them just until they start to turn tender. (al dente? can you even use that term with apples?) Otherwise, you'll have mush or applesauce pie. Remember they still have to bake some more when the crust does, and the crust will take some time. Even still, the pie will cook faster, cutting the baking time just about in half. 

Pre-cooking does have another advantage, your pie filling will thicken when you cook the apples in the sauce pan, then thicken some more while you bake it. So the final waiting time is less for the pie to cool down, which means, less time to wait before you dive in  ;)

So there you have it, Classic Apple Pie. I think Granny would be proud. (ain't she just the cutest thang?) Gosh I miss her. Now all I have to do is practice her fried apple pies. Oh....and she made a killer deep dish cherry pie. Not to mention her fried chicken, turnip greens, and I can't forget about those green beans with jowl.  

This one's for you Granny!

If you want to check out other pie recipes from some blogger friends of mine, 

Nov 14, 2011

Buttery Flaky Pie Crust

Pies. Homemade pies to be exact. One of those things you (like I) probably took for granted growing up. (I do miss my Granny's pies) Usually, the filling gets all the credit, it gets to be the "star" of the show. All the while, true pie connoisseurs know that it's that buttery-flaky crust, or tender crust if that's how you roll (pun intended), that makes for a scrumptious perfect pie.

Most crust recipes start out the same. They usually contain flour, salt, fat (butter, shortening, lard, or even sometimes oil), and water (or other liquid). Recently, I've been doing some experimenting with different recipes. What I've been noticing is, although the ingredient lists and amounts may vary, the directions are similar.

I thought I'd share my own basic go-to pie crust recipe that can be used for either a sweet or savory pie. More importantly, I wanted to include all of the detailed steps along with some pointers and tips for the execution that might help in making a successful pie crust.

First, let's go over the list of the ingredients which seem simple, and yet each one plays a particular role in your crust. (ok, enough with the puns hehe) All Purpose flour is most commonly used but Pastry Flour is probably the best because it has less protein/gluten, which makes for a more tender crust. (I almost always use A.P flour, no biggie)

To me, the type of fat that you use has more bearing on the outcome of the crust texture than the flour. Choosing which fat you use is totally a personal preference. Using all lard or shortening will give you the flakiest crust, however, will lack that rich buttery flavor. When you use all butter in a crust, you get a wonderful flavor and mouth feel, but it is considered to be more of a "tender" crust that is a more crumbly, rather than a flaky, crust. I want the best of both worlds, so I use butter and shortening.

The remaining two ingredients are water (or other liquid) and salt. Water is used as a binder for the fat and flour. Sometimes a juice or other liquid will be substituted. Finally, salt is added merely for flavor. This amount can be adjusted to your liking.

Ok, so here's my favorite pie crust recipe. One that is similar to what my dear ol' Granny used. She never measured anything (of course), but I can sure remember how it tasted and this is as close as I can get.

Printable version (opens in a new window)

Buttery Flaky Pie Crust
Makes 1 (generous) 9” pie crust
You can double recipe for a double crust pie, but be careful not to over mix the dough.

1 ½ C All purpose flour
½ tsp Salt
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) Unsalted butter (real butter NOT margarine)
4 Tbsp Shortening, chilled, cut into pieces
3-4 Tbsp (maybe more) Ice water

Making the Dough:
First, and foremost, throughout this whole process it is important to keep all of the ingredients (and later the actual dough) chilled, right up to the baking point. If your fats become too soft at any point, you will not have a "flaky" crust in the end result. (this is also why you use REAL butter) So, you'll have to get your butter/shortening chilling before you even begin. (don't skip this step) Cut the butter into tablespoon sized chunks and place along with the tablespoon-measured shortening onto a plate and chill in the freezer while you assemble and measure out other ingredients. 

Once chilled, cut up the butter pats into fourths and the shortening into smaller bits as well, keeping them all about the same size. This will help make the mixing/pulsing process quicker.

In a glass measuring cup, fill ½ with ice then fill with water and set aside.
In a food processor, quickly pulse together flour and salt, until just combined. 

Add in butter and shortening, pulsing a few times just until fats are a bit larger than pea size. Alternatively, if mixing by hand, you can "cut" in the fat with the flour using a pastry blender or by using two butter knives in a crisscross fashion.

Drizzle in 3 Tbsp of ice water and pulse (or work with a pastry blender if by hand)  just a few times until dough just comes together. It will look a little dry, that's ok, but it should press together and hold its shape. If too dry, add additional water, one tablespoon at a time pulsing after each addition. Alternatively, you could spray it with water in a spray bottle, just to make sure you don't get the dough too wet. Do not over mix. (You will want to see the pea-sized butter and shortening flecks in your crust when you roll it out) Also, if you work the dough too much it will come out tough. In the pic below, it's almost mixed to much, one more pulse and I would have been in trouble ;)

Gently gather and press dough into a ball, and shape into a disc. Once in a disc, wrap well in plastic wrap and place in fridge to rest and cool for about 1 hour. This helps to relax the dough and also insures that your fats don't soften up. Note in the pic you can still see flecks of butter and shortening. Pressing the dough into a disk rather than shaping it into a ball allows it to chill faster. This will also make the dough easier to roll out, and if you choose to freeze it, it will thaw more quickly. (Do ahead tip: pie dough discs may be stored, double wrapped in plastic and frozen, up to 1 month in the freezer, or 2 weeks in the refrigerator.) 

After your dough has rested and chilled out in the fridge, roll out the disk of the dough onto plastic wrap or a pastry board that's been lightly dusted with flour. Roll to about ¼” thick, always working from the center outward. I use my fondant rolling pin with bands to insure that I get the same thickness all the way around. You may need to sprinkle just a bit of flour onto the top to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Or, my personal favorite method, place plastic wrap on the top of the dough while I roll it out and when I get it to just about the size I want, I remove the top plastic and sprinkle with a bit of flour. Rub that in with my hand then roll the rest of the way out.

Choosing your pie plate:
Baked pie crusts need a LOT of heat source, they also do better in certain types of pie plates. Glass, ceramic, or stoneware pie plates work best because they retain the heat in the oven better. Especially if you are baking a fruit or custard pie. Aluminum or shiny pans tend to reflect the heat too much. I usually use glass pie plates so I can see the bottom of the crust. 

Making a one crust pie:
Roll pie crust dough onto itself using a rolling pin, pulling off the (bottom) plastic wrap as you go. 

Then, while it's draped over your rolling pin, transfer to a pie plate. Starting on one side, gently lower crust into pie plate, unrolling off of the pin as you go, being careful not to stretch dough. (note that I am left handed, so I lay it down from left to right. If you're right handed of course, you'll be moving from right to left)
If it does seem like it's stretched over the pie plate too much, don't press it down in there. Instead, carefully lift the overhang of the edges and nudge it down into the pie plate. It should be relaxed, but be touching all sides and bottom of the pie plate.

Time to make a decorative edge: 
Trim edges with a knife or scissors, leaving a 1” overhang. (BTW, Don't throw away those scraps!)

Now tuck the 1" excess overhang under all the way around. (more scraps, add them to your pile)

"Flute" the edges of the pie crust by pinching with the forefinger and thumb. There are, of course, lots of ways to decorate the pie edge, this just happens to be my fav. The crust will puff up during baking so, if you want definition in your pie's edge, be sure to make it a little exaggerated.  

Almost ready to fill....but WAIT! Place back into fridge to chill for a ½ hour before filling or baking. (don't skip this step) The dough must be chilled if a flaky crust is desired. The chilled bits of fats, once introduced to the oven heat, will melt and produce little pockets of steam in between layers of the flour/water while baking. This is what actually produces a flakier crust. After you've done all that rolling and shaping, it's likely that your fats have softened up quite a bit. Also, this step will help prevent the pie crust from shrinking too much when it bakes. So chill your crust and prepare your filling while you wait. 

For a 2 crust pie:
Trim bottom crust even with brim of pie pan (don't leave an overhang). Put into the fridge to chill while you roll out the top crust. Pour the filling into the bottom pie, then top with the top crust and leave a 1” over hang all the way around the brim. Tuck the top crust over-behind and under the bottom crust, sealing the edges. Flute the pie crust by pinching with the forefinger and thumb. Place filled pie back into the fridge to let the crust chill again for at least 15-20 minutes before baking. Once chilled, bake your pie according to the recipe.

Pie Crust Baking Tips:

  • Some recipes suggest that you brush the pie with either milk, cream, or an egg wash (beat one egg white or whole egg with 1 tbsp of water to thin). This aids in getting a deeper golden brown color on the crust. Milk or cream will give your crust a crispier texture on top, while egg wash will brown but keep the crust tender and flakier. It's just a matter of preference.
  • Oven temperatures are usually set to high when baking most pies. (425°F) In some cases, they will start out high and then you turn the oven down after a specific time. (usually after 15-20 minutes) The reason for this is again, going back to the steam thing, you need high temps and cold fats initially to achieve this.
  • Place your pie crust on a baking sheet before placing into the oven. This will be easier to move your pie crust in and out of the oven during various steps. Also, if you're doing a filled pie, it keeps possible bubble-overs from messing up (and burning in the bottom of) your oven.
  • If you have a baking stone, place the baking sheet directly onto the stone. This will help the pie crust to bake more evenly on the bottom and prevent an otherwise soggy crust.
  • Bake your pie in the middle of the oven. This will also help it to bake more evenly. Also, be sure to always preheat your oven at least 1/2 hour before putting your pie in.
  • If the edges of the crust start turning brown too soon, you can use a pie ring to protect the edges, or, take a long strip of aluminum foil and wrap it around the outside edge of the pie. You can do this before or anytime during the baking.
Blind baking:
"Blind baking" is a method used when you need to bake the crust before filling it. This would be used when a "baked pie shell" is called for in a recipe. Like (refrigerated) cream pies where the filling isn't baked at all, or even some pie recipes that the crust would take longer than the filling to bake, like quiche, for example. 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place a round of parchment paper or waxed paper in center of crust and then cover with either pie weights or dry beans. (this helps keep the pie crust from bubbling up while all those steam pockets are being created)
Bake the pie shell for about 20-30 minutes or just until the edges are a very light brown. (hey, darker if you prefer)
Remove from oven and remove parchment and pie weights. If necessary, return to oven and bake for just about 5 more minutes so that the bottom is baked and also lightly browned. Set aside to cool completely at room temperature while you make the filling.

Now, what to do with all of those pie crust scraps???
How about a cinnamon roll? My grandpa use to call this a "baker's snack". Just gather the scraps all up, press them all together, and roll them out in a rectangle. Spread with margarine or softened butter and sprinkle with white or brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll it up into a long log, being sure to pinch and seal the ends. Roll it over, seam side down, onto a baking sheet or piece of heavy duty foil. Brush with egg wash or milk and bake for about 20-25 minutes (I usually do this on the top rack, while my pie is baking)

Ok, so there you have it. My version and technique for a flaky pie crust. I'll be blogging some pies throughout the holidays and I'll list the links here as I go.
Classic Apple Pie

If you have any comments or care to share any tips or techniques of your own, by all means, leave me a comment! I'd love to hear from you.

In the meantime, here are more pie recipes from some friends to munch on:
Click here for more pies and pie crust recipes

Nov 7, 2011

French Baguettes with a Poolish Starter

Lately, I've been branching out and lending more effort towards learning more advanced techniques used by true bread artisans and adding to my own repertoire of bread making. So I wanted to give a hand at making true "French" baguettes. A type of bread that is usually shaped into a long thin loaf and has that chewy-crispy-hardy type crust on the outside with a tender-stretchy inside that was full of holes and crevices. I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour web site and just had to try it. 

It begins with making a poolish (or pouliche in French), which is a yeast starter, that is made a full day in advance. Basically, it's a method of pre-fermentation of part of the bread ingredients. This gives the yeast time to eat, grow and develop flavor for the baguettes. Now, some would call this a "sourdough" starter, but it's not really a true sourdough. Although, you mix the poolish starter ahead of time, and this bread does have more flavor than a traditional yeast dough, it isn't given the amount of time it takes for the flavors to get really strong as in the case of a true sourdough starter. So call it a "poolish", it is what it is. LOL (I'll go more into making sourdough starter and bread in later posts).

You do have to make the poolish a full 12-24 hours beforehand and the timing is a bit tricky, catching it just at the right time for making the dough. Also, on bread baking day, it may need more time than the average traditional yeast dough to rise, a little extra care in the shaping of the loaves, and an extra step or two in the baking process.... so plan accordingly.

For the Poolish (yeast starter):
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup cool water (approximately 60°F)
a pinch of instant yeast

Making the poolish: Before you begin, the water that you use needs to be de-chlorinated. This is so the chlorine (found in tap water) doesn't inhibit the yeast and interfere with the fermentation. So either use bottled water, or, set some tap water out at room temperature for about 24 hours before using. Then, in a clean plastic or glass container, combine the flour, water and yeast; mix until well-blended. It will be a bit thick, like biscuit dough.

Set the container somewhere in a warm place and either cover with a clean towel, or cover with a lid but do not seal the lid completely. You do want some air flow that will help to encourage the yeast along. 
Let the poolish rise, covered, at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The time will vary according to your kitchen environment. My kitchen is always warm and it only took about 14 hours.

Poolish (starter) ready!
It should just about double in size, dome slightly on top, and look aerated and bubbly. Try to catch it when it is most active, but before it starts to fall, as it will be at its optimum flavor and vigor when it's at its highest point. If you try to use it too soon, your bread won't have very much flavor plus it won't rise properly because the yeast isn't active enough. If you wait too long, the yeast will have lost it's "umph" and your bread texture will be off. The key here is obviously, to use it when the yeast is still active and bubbly! Now you're ready to make some dough....

For the Bread Dough:
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
all of the poolish
3/4 cup cool water (approximately 60°F)

Place the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of your mixer and combine. Next, pour some of the measured water around the edges of the poolish in its container to loosen it. Pour the poolish and the rest of the water onto the flour. Using the flat beater paddle, mix the dough on low speed for 3 minutes, adding more flour or water if necessary to bring the dough together. The dough should look a little sticky, but should clean the sides of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook, knead for 4 minutes, cleaning the dough from the hook at the 2-minute mark. (By the way, you can by all means mix and knead this by hand.) 

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl or greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel, and let the dough rise for 2 hours, folding it over onto itself in the bowl after the first hour (or more frequently, if the dough is very slack or wet; this folding helps strengthen the gluten)

Shaping the loaves: Divide the dough into three pieces and gently pre-form it into rough logs by first flattening out a piece into a short rectangle. Gently pressing, being careful not to let out the air bubbles. 

Next, fold the top 1/3 down, then down again. Gently press edge with hand and cover all of the logs with a towel. Let it rest for 20 minutes. Resting will help you to be able to shape the baguettes easier. They will continue to rise and bubbles in the dough develop. 

With keeping the other two logs covered, take one log and gently press it out again into a longer, more narrow rectangle. Use the side of your hand to make an indentation and without pressing too much. You don't want to "kill" all of your bubbles. Those bubbles are going to grow up to be the holes and crevices in your bread ;)

Fold the top half over and pinch edge with side of hand. Or your fingers. This "pinching" will help the loaf to stay together and not unfold, or burst out while baking.

Next, pinch the end edges so they stay together. Finally, gently roll the log back and forth to form a long baguette. Notice how I have the seam facing upward? This is so I can check and make sure it is totally sealed, centered and I know how to place it on the baking sheet. 

Now carefully place the baguettes, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet.  
Proof the baguettes, covered, on your baking sheet or baguette pan until they're puffy looking, 30 to 40 minutes. (they may not rise double in size, but close) Alternatively, you can place them on a heavily floured towel or sling to proof. Then when it's time to bake, gently roll them off onto a baking sheet, baguette pan, or baking stone.

Meanwhile, set a large pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven (I use my heavy duty lasagna pan). Now preheat your oven (and your baking stone, if you have one) to 500°F. We start off with a very hot oven because this gives bread a boost, allowing it to rise more quickly. (often referred to as "oven spring")

Speaking of oven spring, just before putting the loaves into the oven, slash the tops several times. Hold a very sharp knife (or razor blade) at a 45° angle to the dough's surface, and slice long diagonal lines quickly and decisively, about 1/2-inch deep. This will help the loaves to keep their shape.

Prep your oven: Spritz the loaves with water (optional), place them in the oven, directly above the pan of steaming hot water, and reduce the oven temperature to 475°F. The steam will help the loaves obtain the crusty outside and chewy inside texture that is indicative of French baguettes. Alternatively, you can spray the inside of your hot oven with water in a spray bottle. I just used the pan with water and found it sufficient. Whatever you do, choose at least one of the steaming methods, it really does make a difference in the texture of the crust.

Baking: Bake the loaves for 18 to 24 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven when they're a deep, golden brown, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Allow air flow completely around the loaves if you want to maintain that crispy texture. Also, you can allow to completely cool, then wrap in aluminum foil wrap and store in the freezer. Makes for a quick and delicious garlic bread, or add some sauce and toppings for pizza bread, or cut into thin slices and toast for crustini. 

If your interested in an easy printable version (and the original recipe without my ramblings LOL) you can find it here: