One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Maple Apple Pie

A famous scientist once said that if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. I don't know if I can claim credit for your existence, dear reader, but I can definitely make an apple pie from scratch. It's easy! For the longest time, I used store-bought crusts when making pie, because every pie crust recipe which I read came with a million scary admonishments: The butter had to be cold cold cold, it had to be incorporated into the flour just so, and if God forbid you overworked your dough, some unspecified but obviously grave catastrophe would befall your dessert. Moreover, I did not enjoy cleaning flour and pastry bits from my counter after rolling out the crust. Then, one day, I stumbled upon this recipe from the blog Homesick Texan and almost had a heart attack after seeing that the crust was made with not butter, but oil, with no care for temperature or any of that overworking business. It calls for the dough to be rolled out between two sheets of wax paper, which not only reduces clean-up but also makes the transfer of the dough from the counter to the pie plate much easier. 

My only modification to the recipe was to replace the oil with melted butter, because I felt the oil version was a bit bland. In order to amp up the flavor, I brown the butter, but this is optional. My sweetener of choice in this pie is maple syrup. It has a distinctive taste which complements apples well and is more nuanced than plain sugar. 

Maple Apple Pie
When measuring flour, lightly spoon it into the measuring cup. If you pack it in tightly, you will end up with a lot more than is called for. Brown butter is butter which has been cooked until its milk solids have taken on a golden brown color and a delicious nutty aroma. To get an idea of the color, you can look at this image. The brown butter is optional. You could proceed with plain melted butter. If you don't have a rolling pin, you can use an empty wine bottle like I do. The key to rolling out the crust evenly is to press it into a round disc with your hands, then start in the center with the pin and roll out in one direction, lift the pin and place it back in the center, roll out in the opposite direction, lift again, place in center and roll out in a direction perpendicular to the first, and so on. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Crust ingredients:
1 cup (125 g) flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp (60 g) butter
2 tbsp (30 ml) milk

Filling ingredients:
4-5 apples (Golden Delicious and Macintosh are good choices, as is Granny Smith)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

1. (Optional step) Put 4 tbsp butter in a small, light-colored pan and cook on medium heat. Keep dragging a spoon through the foam at the top so that you can see the bottom. After 5-6 minutes you will see little brown flecks. As soon as these have reached a rich brown color, pour the butter into a bowl to stop it from cooking further. 

2. Mix the liquid crust ingredients in one bowl and the dry ones in another bowl. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir to incorporate. 

3. Lay a large piece of wax paper on your counter. Dump the dough on this, shape the dough into a ball with your hands, then flatten. Lay another piece of wax paper over the top and roll dough out evenly into a circle.

4. Peel off the top paper. Slide your hands under the bottom piece of paper, lift the crust and flip it over into a 9-inch pie plate, then peel off the paper. Press the crust into the plate. Cut off any overhang with a sharp knife.

5. Peel and core the apples. Cut them into quarters, then cut each quarter lengthwise into 3-4 wedges. Immediately toss the apples with the lemon juice to prevent browning. 

6. Mix the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, then mix this well into the apples. 

7. Preheat oven to 375F. Put one layer of apples in concentric circles (or other decorative pattern) in the crust. Drizzle on the maple syrup. Arrange a second layer of apples on top of the first and dot this top layer with the butter. 

8. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until apples are tender and the crust is golden. 

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