Saturday, September 25, 2010

"How To Bake An Apple Pie" (or, "How To Make What Looks Like A Simple Baked Good Into A Two-Hour Plus Nightmare Project With An End Result That Is... At Least Edible")

This is the Pie that inspired me.
"Hey, you know what would be fun.  I just saw this great looking recipe in a newsletter for an Apple Pie.  It looks pretty easy and since I have a dinner party tomorrow, how cool would it be to bake this pie from scratch!  The newsletter even has the recipe for the dough, which totally looks doable."

I wished someone had been around when I uttered those words so they could tie me up, lock me in my room and keep me there until the dinner party.  Let me start by saying, I love to cook.  Whipping up dinners with stuff in the fridge and the cabinet, tapping into all of the things I've seen on "Iron Chef" and "Top Chef" and "Good Eats" and even "Hell's Kitchen" over the years.  I'm a pretty good cook.

Well let me tell you... 'cooking' and 'baking' are two completely different animals.  It's probably similar to the difference between removing a tooth and removing a drain clog!  In cooking, you add what you want, taste, adjust, add more, taste, adjust... ultimately, enjoy.

In baking, you measure (did they mean this line or that line... do I pack or leave loose... what does 'by weight not volume' mean!  Isn't 8 oz in a measuring cup simply 8 oz?), you pray, you measure more, pray more, mix some (but not don't 'overwork it'), you pray again, you follow the recipe to the nth degree - but if it's so technical, why is every friggin' recipe is sooo different!

OK - let me slow down and begin at the beginning...

Shopping:  I need Apples, a Lemon, and a Pie Tin.  Everything else I have.  The recipe called for Macintosh Apples.  My market doesn't carry these, so I use my iPhone to search for 'Apple Pie Apples' (smart, huh!).  I find that the Braeburns I like are listed as suitable for Pies, so I'm golden.  As for the Lemon, it's needed for some Grated Rind.  I look for some 'packaged' rind thinking maybe it could be a good add-in for other recipes down the line.  I find some Lemon Omani (used in Middle Eastern cooking).  It is the dried rind of the Black Lemon, but nothing seems to indicate it might be good for baking or using as a substitute.  With this idea a no-go, I do waht I should have done 15 minutes ago and grab a Lemon with nice looking peel.  I find a Pie Tin and head home.

Preparation:  I clean (read: scrub and sterilize) my countertop (as I may have to roll the dough out on it later) and arrange my ingredients, including a few additions I might like to add (the Chef in me): Cocoa Powder, Ginger, Nutmeg, Vanilla.

The Dough: I mix my Flour(s) together, but I (of course) want to use Wheat Flour instead of White.  I google some info and decide to use a 50/50 blend.  I use my metal strainer as a makeshift Sifter and after removing the course Wheat Bran bits, I have a nice silky flour.

So far, so good.  I'm having fun.  In addition to some Salt (called for by the recipe), I sneak in 1/2 tsp of Cinnamon, 1/4 tsp Nutmeg, 1 tsp Vanilla and 3/4 tsp Cocoa.  Why?  Because I usually find pie crusts boring and I wanted to add a bit of flavor - I forgo the Ginger, but decide to sprinkle some into the Apples later.  

I grate the Lemon Zest into the flour mixture, cube up the 2 tbs of Butter (by hand), wisk the Egg Yolks with the Ice Water and then incorporate.  I then begin to work the dough into a ball - which never happens... it's crumbly.  I google for help and find similar recipes with as much as 2 sticks of butter!  So to bring my dough together, I begin to add additional tablespoons of butter one at a time... one more... two more... feeling better.

Rolling the Dough: I take my ball of dough, lay it between two sheets of wax paper and begin to roll it out.  The edges are all cracked and crumbly.  This is not working.  OK... more butter (or run out and buy a crust).  NO - more butter.  Two more tablespoons go in (bringing what should have been 2 tbs to a total of 6 tbs).  Now the ball comes together and and I am able to roll it out and get it into the pie tin.  It ain't pretty, but 'feels' alright to me (the oh-so-novice Baker).

I assume the dark coloring is from a combination of the Wheat Flour and the Cocoa Powder.  On to the Filling!

Apples:  This should be easy!  Core and slice up the Apples and lay them in the crust.  Hey, it will be even easier as I have a new Peeler/Corer that I got for Christmas.  I used one at my Sister's for Thanksgiving to peel Apples and it worked pretty good.  I pull mine out and realize I've not used it yet, so wash it, assemble it and try to 'calibrate' it.  The first peels are taking two much apple meat with them, so more adjustments... most apples go halfway through be they stop spinning and the corer just continues through without turning the apples... and they begin 'browning' in the air, so I have to get a bowl of Lemon Juice to lay them in.  Now I have to alternate between Peeler/Corer and Hand Finishing the ones that only half core.  Now my slices are odd looking and not looking pretty... but they'll be IN the pie so no one will see them.  OK - Apples are finally laid out in their crusty tomb... er, their delicious, crusty bed.

Top Shell:  CRAP!  I forgot to save some of the dough for a top shell!  Wait... I think I saw a recipe that used a Crumble on top.  

Crumble Topping:  I find the recipe on Google (natch) and make a Crumble Topping with Flour, Oats, Brown Sugar, Cinnamon and Butter.  This will be fun and different.

Baking:  OK, now that I've gotten this far, the worst should be over.  I set the oven for 400° and prepare to pop it in.  Now how long does it bake for?  Oh, I see... 35 minutes at 400° by one recipe (the one that needed three times the butter!) and 375° for 60 minutes according the recipe with the Crumble topping.  OK, so I'll bake for 35 at 375° then check it... and when I do, it looks the same as when I put it in!  

Let's leave it in for another 15 minutes and google "How Do You Know When An Apple Pie Is Done" - the answer: when the crust is golden brown.  Damn - my crust started out brown due to my Cocoa and Wheat Flour additions.  In either event, this site mentions 45 minutes to an hour for the golden crust so I think I'm still on the right track.

After an hour, the pie still looks no different, but I am nervous to leave it in much longer so out it comes.  I insert a knife and the Crumble topping seems 'toasted' and the Apple insides seem soft-ish.  Apple-y smelling steam rises from my creation, so I'm calling it 'done'.  The test will be at the Dinner Party tomorrow night.  "Movie Crew" (my Dinner Party peeps tomorrow) - I did my best!

So, did I successfully bake a pie from scratch?  Did my additions, changes, quick thinkings and last minute adjustments throughout actually pay off into an edible (do I dare hope for delicious?) dessert?  

[Final Result: OK - so I taste-tested it early.  Twice as many apples as I used are needed, but what's there is tasty.  The Butter in the Crumble topping did a nice job melting down into the apples.  The Crust (with 3x the "called-for" butter) is still a bit dry and bland for me - there has to be a way (other than using graham crackers) to add FLAVOR into a crust.  Maybe adding flavor extracts and some sort of sweetener (other than sugar) that will allow the crust to retain it's flakiness, but in a more palatable manner.]

Moral:  Baking is NOT the same as Cooking.  Baking requires precision and is more of an exact science.  Cooking is relaxing and creative in comparison.  I'll stick to Cooking.