Monday, October 4, 2010

Humble Pie: A Cautionary Tale

I like to blog about culinary successes–a great dinner party or interesting dessert are fun to write about. If I've taken the time to take some passable pictures, I like sharing them. Writing about food that I enjoy and the process of creating and enjoying it is what keeps me at this infernal endeavor, even if I'm not posting as regularly as I used to (or as much as I'd like). If I'm going to share cooking success, I suppose it's only right that I give you my failures as well. I've never claimed to be a professional, but I like to at least pretend I have some idea what I'm doing. Many of you have disagreed with me on that, so I suppose this one's for you.

We went apple picking recently and ended up with two great big bags of Cortland and Macintosh apples. I've been happily munching away at them for a while, but we'd also planned to do some baking with them, specifically an apple pie. How hard could it be, really? I mean, it's an apple pie. Well, it turns out if you try to use a monstrous 16-inch pie plate that your crazy father gave you, pretty damn hard.

"That's no moon..."

To start, making enough crust for a pie this big is quite a feat. Liv makes the crust in our family, and hers is a delicate dough that requires assembly in pieces almost. Made of nothing more than flour, Crisco, salt, and water, the dough is just barely moist enough to hold together. While this makes for a challenging dough to work with, it also makes for a perfectly flaky crust when baked. That's all well and good when you're working with a 9 or 10-inch pie. But 16 inches makes for a huge amount of crust, especially if you want to attempt to put a lattice on top. Which we tried.

So there's a crust problem. I actually think the bottom of the crust looked great. Liv did a good job of making enough do and assembling it into a nice layer in the pie plate. There wasn't a whole lot left for the top, but we weren't worried about that yet.

Each apple piece is about an inch across, for scale

While the crust is important, I maintain that the most important part of the pie is the filling. How many apples does it take to fill a 16-inch pie plate? Turns out it's somewhere around 30. I lost count after 20 or so. Of course, we took a bit of a shortcut and didn't actually peel all these apples, thinking there shouldn't be anything wrong with a skin-on apple pie. That may have also been a mistake.

Once you've cut up 30 or so apples, you need to season them all for the pie. We thought that the apples were so sweet and juicy that it would be best to cut back on the sugar (probably ok) and water (may have been a mistake). We also added cinnamon and nutmeg, though the exact amounts elude me. Since we ere out of gigantic bowls by this point, the apples and spices were mixed in a garbage bag. This was actually not a mistake, as the tactic worked well.

We tried

We piled the spiced apples into the pie place and then tried mostly in vain to create a lattice-work of dough on top. We didn't have enough dough. We did our best.

The thing about a pie this size is that you actually have to be really careful where in the oven you put it. I initially stuck it on the top rack, thinking, "Well, it fits." Yes, you dimwit, it fits, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea. See how it's all..dark and almost burnt in places? That was after 10 minutes in the oven. Thankfully, I notices and moved it down to a lower rack, but we have a feeling a lot of the damage was done during this crucial early baking phase. Lots of the moisture both in the crust and apples was likely sucked away, never to be seen again. Alas.

Now, what actually came out of the oven turned out pretty good–we ate a bunch of it and will certainly enjoy the rest. But to liken it to an apple pie would be disingenuous, I think. One doesn't really take a "slice" of this dessert. It's more a pile. "Would you like a pile of pie?" one might ask. "Yes, please hand me a mound, with a dollop of iced cream, would you?"

So, not a rousing success. Thankfully, we have another seven or eight pounds of it left.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have actually found that the easiest way to make apple pie is to slice the apples really really thin and then layer them 'unseasoned' in the crust, then lay your lattice on top. Then in a pot melt a stick of butter- stir in a table spoon of flour, then brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutgmeg... whatever you want. Then slowly pour this deliciousness over the pie and let it sink to the bottom. What you will get is a quick cooking (the apples are thin so they cook very fast), caramelly, gooey, crispy on the outside, fool proof pie!