Friday, November 21, 2008

Apple Pie

I made this recipe with the vodka pie crust last weekend, and thought it was the best apple pie I've ever made. I think that's party due to the variety of apples I used, which were all picked at my grandma's house. They are mainly old-fashioned varieties, and I couldn't name any of them for you. America's Test Kitchen suggests using a mix of Granny Smith and Macintosh. Macintosh are my favorite apples, but they can be very hard to find in most grocery stores (I think they must not travel well, as they are very thin-skinned); use whatever good baking apples you can find in your neck of the woods.

The allspice in this recipe is an unusual touch. I liked it a lot, but if you don't care for it or want a more traditional flavor, you can omit or reduce. Mary actually ground the allspice in our mortar and pestle, which made it stronger than the average stuff in a jar. (I know! We are like the freakin' Ingalls here!). It is correct that the recipe contains no thickener or gluten, which adds to the fresh flavor. It holds together well, as long as you are together enough and patient enough to bake it early in the day and wait at least four hours to slice it.

Apple Pie

(America's Test Kitchen, from the original The Best Recipe book, no longer in print)

*4 lbs apples (preferably half each Granny Smith and Macintosh, about 8 medium total. As I mentioned above, I used a mix, and a couple more than 8)
*3/4 cup sugar
*1 1/2 tbs juice and 1 tsp zest from one lemon
*1/4 tsp salt
*1/4 tsp nutmeg
*1/4 tsp cinnamon
*1/4 tsp allspice

-Prepare your dough (obviously!)and refrigerate
-Remove one piece of dough from refrigerator. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425.
-Roll out one disc of dough on floured surface into a 12" circlish shape (I can never manage a perfect circle). Fold dough into quarters, place dough point in center of your deep dish or regular pie plate (Pyrex is best) and unfold. Ease gently into sides of pan, leaving overhang. Put back into fridge.
-Peel and core apples and slice into 1/2" or so slices, larger than you might normally do. Toss with remaining ingredients. Turn into the pie shell, making sure all the juices make it in, mounding in center.
-Roll out second dough disc and place on top. Trim edges to 1/2" overhang, tuck under themselves, and crimp. Slice an "A" into the top crust with a sharp knife.
-Bake until top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375, and bake until juices bubble through slits in crust and crust is deep golden brown, about 30-35 minutes longer.
-Cool on rack, at least 4 hours.

Vodka Pie Crust

The folks at America's Test Kitchen recently said this was their most ground-breaking recipe, or something to that effect. After trying it, I might agree with them.

Don't get too excited, though, if what you are hoping for is some sort of drunken pie (at a core level, I know that is what we are all searching for). The vodka in this recipe brings nothing boozy at all to the finished product. Instead, it magically creates a product that is very workable and forgiving in the dough stage, and incredibly flaky once baked. I made this, in an apple pie, last weekend for a University of Oregon football party at Jeff's Sports Bar (Nan and Jeff's garage, that is) and it was a hit. I think I'll try it again at Thanksgiving.

This is a generous amount for a double-crust pie. I had quite a bit left, probably enough for a third crust (so you could, for instance, do a pumpkin pie and an apple pie with one recipe). Stash the extra in your freezer in a flattened, well-wrapped disc.

The ATK folks say "vodka is essential to this not substitute. The dough will be more supple and flexible than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out, up to 1/4 cup".

And here's how these things go in my house: Get invited to a football party, with a theme of Thanksgiving Dinner. Promise to make pie, knowing I was almost out of vodka but had an emergency bottle stashed in the freezer. Get the dry ingredients mixed, then pull said bottle out of freezer and realize it's wasabi vodka. Search liquor cabinet. Find a tiny remaining bit of Absolut Citron. Shrug, and use it, though add an extra tablespoon of water as don't have quite enough. The lemon taste was undetectable, and the crust was perfect, so there you go. My lack of planning and procrastination is once again reinforced.

Vodka Pie Crust

*2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
*1 tsp salt
*2 TBS sugar
*12 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" slices
*1/2 cup solid cold shortening, cut into big pieces
*1/4 cup cold vodka
*1/4 cup cold water

-Process 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, and the salt in the food processor just until combined. Add butter and shortening and process until dough starts to collect in lumps, resemble cottage cheese, and all flour is coated (about 15 seconds). Scrape processor bowl with spatula and redistribute dough around blade. Add remaining flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed and the mass has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into bowl.
-Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. Use rubber spatula to fold and mix, pressing down on dough until it is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide into two balls, wrapping each in plastic wrap and pressing into 4"discs. Refrigerate at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 days. You can also freeze for a shorter amount of time, if you were in a hurry. Theoretically.

Use plenty of flour when rolling out; don't worry as much as you would with typical dough that using too much flour will make it tough. It will be fine. Don't worry if it's really moist.