Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple Pie

Grocery shopping at a commissary on a military post can be interesting sometimes.  There are the unique international products and ingredients that families get hooked on when they are stationed overseas in Germany or Korea.  There are the people who apparently only shop every 3 months or so, dragging a convoy of 2 or 3 heaping cartloads of food.  There are products that appear out of the blue one day and are gone, never to be seen again, the next time you go in.  And there is often an extreme "hit or miss" quality to many things.  My current commissary will occasionally just not have any chicken for days on end.  Like, not one piece, anywhere.  When it finally gets restocked, or is rumored to be restocked soon, someone usually posts about it on the spouse's Facebook page; a chicken forecast, as it were.  Right before we moved here, our commissary had just finished a very extensive remodeling of the deli, and then all of a sudden it closed completely for several months because of some kind of issue with a vendor contract.

The produce is probably the biggest hit or miss item, though.  Some days it's gorgeous and plentiful.  Other days it looks like someone left it in the sun for a few days before putting it on display.  So while I always prepare a weekly menu and a list, I try to be flexible when I go there, because you never know what's waiting for you.  A few days ago I walked in to one of the pleasant produce surprises: beautiful Jonagold apples for 99 cents a pound.  I took just a few home, and my daughter, Violet, and I devoured them.  So crisp and juicy.  Sweet like candy.  All those adjectives that describe the best fall apples.  In January.  In the middle of winter, when really good fresh fruit seems like a distant memory.  A few days later I sent Marc back to the store with instructions to get 4 or 5 big bags to make apple sauce and stewed apples for canning, and I think he brought back about 35 lb.  Seeing all of those lovely, shiny apples reminded me--my last apple pie was really disappointing.  It was time to set that right.

I think every family has certain foods that they associate with specific relatives, whether that's for good reasons or bad.  For instance, Marc associates jello dishes with his grandma, and that doesn't always mean a fond food memory, if I can be diplomatic about it.  Well, in my family, apple pie means my Aunt Linda.  And luckily, it's a really good food memory.

Aunt Lin's advice for addressing my tragic pie situation was that it was all about the apples; you have to have good apples, she said.  Jonathan is the only variety she ever uses.  I already knew I had great apples, and Jonagold are part Jonathan, and good for cooking, so I figured that was a pretty good place to start.  From there, Aunt Lin told me that she just wings it, layering apples with flour, sugar and cinnamon.  That was pretty much the extent of her counseling, so I took it from there, but this recipe is, in fact, more of a method than a real recipe.

I may have mentioned before, I don't really like pie crust.  I don't like eating it, which is, I assume, why I don't really like making it either.  But it's also one of those things that I keep trying to master, because I feel like a good home cook should be able to make a decent pie from scratch.  I'm happy to report that I made a damn good pie crust this time.  Even *I* thought it was great.  And maybe what I'm most proud of is that the pie as a whole turned out awesome, even with my 2 year old "helping" me.  Which is to say that, in some ways, she really did help by doing things like throwing the sliced apples into a bowl, but more often she was creating extra challenges by, say, attempting to throw half chewed apple slices into the bowl when she decided she was done with them, sprinkling WAY too much sugar in one spot, or sticking her finger through the pie dough as I was rolling it out.

Two year olds aside, I find that a good pie is really not that easy of a thing to make, but I feel like I took a huge step forward with this beauty.  Maybe someday I can take over my family's Apple Pie Queen crown when my aunt is ready to relinquish it.

Pastry for 2-Crust Pie

Make sure your butter, shortening and water are all very cold.  I usually cut up the shortening and butter into little cubes, spread it on a plate and then throw it in the freezer for 10 minutes or so.  Also, you can use a manual method for cutting in the shortening and butter, like a pastry blender, or 2 knives, but I'm way too lazy for that nonsense.

2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 cup shortening, cut into cubes
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into cubes
5 or 6 Tbs. ice water

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Sprinkle the pieces of shortening across the flour mixture and pulse several times until well distributed.  Add the butter and pulse it in the same manner as the shortening.  Dump the flour mixture into a bowl and sprinkle in 5 Tbs. of ice water.  Stir the flour mixture until the dough just comes together.  Add another Tbs. of ice water if it is still too dry and crumbly.  Divide the dough into 2 portions, shape in a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until it's very cold and solid, at least 30 minutes.

Apple Pie

I used a big, deep 9 1/2" pie plate.  It took about 8 cups of apples (7 medium apples) to fill it.  Those smaller, thin Pyrex plates that are sometimes sold 3 to a package would probably require 2 or 3 less apples.  That's a guess on my part.  Basically, you want to fill the plate up entirely with apples and have it mounded slightly in the middle.  Jonathan or Golden Delicious--the 2 apples that you cross to get a Jonagold--both make a good pie, too.  With a lot of apple recipes, I've also done a mixture of half Granny Smith, for tartness, and half a sweet variety.  You don't need much nutmeg, but the freshly ground stuff is infinitely better than pre-ground, if you have the gumption to seek it out.

6 or 7 medium apples, peeled and sliced  (See above note)
dash of fresh ground nutmeg
flour, sugar and cinnamon as needed
1 egg white, beaten

Place a sheet pan in the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.  Roll out the bottom pie crust and place it in the pie pan.  I put the bottom crust in the pan and then put it in the fridge to chill while I peeled and sliced the apples.  Spread a layer of apples across the bottom of the crust and sprinkle with nutmeg, flour, sugar and cinnamon.  Only use the nutmeg on this first layer or the flavor will be too strong.  Continue layering apples, flour, sugar and cinnamon until the pan is full and mounded a little.  Roll out the top crust and place it on top, crimping the edges and beautifying them however you choose.  (I did a rope style edge on mine)  Brush the entire top of the pie with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut several steam vents in the crust.

Put the pie in the oven on the preheated sheet pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden.  Lower the heat to 375 degrees F and rotate the pie.  Bake another 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for a few hours before slicing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  With ice cream.  It's the law.

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