Saturday, May 08, 2010

Some Thoughts on Mom's Apple Pie

The Altitude Adjustment Section
As American as Apple pie, Mom’s apple pie? Not in my house. But my mom Bernice did actually make a great apple pie. Her secret? BUTTER. She uses it on the bottom of the crust, cooks the apples in it, throws dots of butter inside the crust, and then brushes the top crust with a little more. It works for her!

On a lighter note, I though we would take a few minutes to discuss some of the finer points of baking an apple pie at home. After all is it an altitude-affected item. How can you tell? Have you ever noticed sometimes the crust gets nice and brown and the apples still taste raw? Altitude!

Let's start with the crust If you don't want to make one, they come frozen or refrigerated in the supermarket. Trader Joe's frozen pie crust is pretty good. Look for ones made with butter. If you want to go homemade, I recommend Susan Purdy’s super easy and delicious cream cheese crust recipe from The Perfect Pie:

8 ounces cream cheese (1 package)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese. Add flour and salt and mix just until it blends together. If it’s really sticky add a little extra flour. Form dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour. This will make two 8-to-9-inch pie shells. You can do these ahead of time and keep them in your freezer so you are ready to go at any point.

Choosing apples In New York I would look for really firm baking apples like Winesaps or Granny Smiths. But here that just does not work. Cooking them at altitude takes longer, so by the time they're tender, your crust is burnt. So you have two options: precook your filling or choose softer apples. Susan Purdy suggests Golden Delicious or Macintosh — not my favorites — but they work really well. I add a splash of lemon juice and a pinch or cardamom to make it more interesting.

Precooking the filling is your other option. The volume will reduce considerably, so throw in a few apples extra. I like to sauté the slices in some butter and brown sugar as well as a splash of maple syrup. No need to add liquid, as the apples will make their own. But be careful because with all that sugar, they can burn easily. Preparing the apples this way is also a great way to make an open-face apple tart. You roll out your dough into a tart pan, weigh down the dough and bake till crust is golden brown. Let cool. Line the crust with some raspberry jam, then a layer of cream cheese whipped with vanilla, confectioners sugar and a little brandy, and then carefully lay out the slices in a neat pattern. Give it a light glaze and it's done!

Other things to add to your apple mixture Susan Purdy sprinkles in some graham cracker crumbs to absorb the juice. Always add some flour to the apple mixture to thicken up the juice. Some bakers use Tapioca flour, and some use cornstarch. They all do the same thing.

Baking time and temperature Getting back to baking a traditional apple pie. At this altitude you might need to cover the rim of the pie so it doesn’t get overcooked. You can buy a pie rim cover or simply make a 3-inch strip of foil and carefully wrap it around the edge once it is the desired color. Always bake your pie on a cookie sheet because often the juices overflow. When you see juices coming out the sides or through slits you cut in the top crust and they look thick that is a sign your pie is done. Purdy suggests 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then 350 for 40-45 minutes, yes it takes a while for her basic yummy apple pie. And she covers the whole pie with foil if necessary.

Suppose your pie turns out not so beautiful That's why we have whipped cream and ice cream.