Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Apple Pie

Today, for several reasons, was a good day for pies and the Dresden Dolls. Sometimes it just has to be loud and buttery.

I was baking in my #9 cast iron skillet. Skillet pies are tricky -- they're huge, so the crusts are less structurally sound, and the steep sides also allow crust-slip. Nonetheless, they are a sight worth beholding once or twice, especially if you've left your treasured pie tins back in Virginia, along with your marble rolling pin and a well-used pastry cloth. It's like you just got off the Oregon Trail, but, damn it, you need pie and see if you don't just buckle down and make it in the skillet.

I make the crust with a 3:1 ratio of flour to butter, by volume, plus extra butter proportionate to my mood. A skillet pie takes 3 cups of flour, and today I used two and a half sticks of butter. You tell me how I'm feeling. I froze the butter and grated it like cheese into the flour -- a trick from a fiddler in North Carolina. I also use a lot of salt to heighten the contrast between buttery-savory crust and sweet gooey filling (a tablespoon, today). When the butter's all grated and fluffed into the flour, I drizzle on cold water, tossing the dough lightly with a fork, until it forms a ball when pressed, and there aren't a lot of dry crumbs. This is perhaps more water than most recipes like, but I roll it out with a generous bit of flour, and it comes out lovely.

But rolling's a bitch, especially on a hot summer day when the butter just wants to melt into the flour. First, divide the dough into a large ball and a small ball, refrigerating the small one. Push the dough into a round and pat it down with the rolling pin until it's about half an inch thick. Then roll from the center out, and lift frequently to re-flour the rolling surface (and the top, too). When it's larger than the skillet, accounting for the sides, fold it in half and place it on one side of the pan, then carefully unfold it. I usually have to patch it in places with the scraps. When it's all ready, with a little bit of overhanging dough, stick it in the fridge and make the filling.

Filling: Depending on how thrifty a Mennonite you are, and the ugliness of the apples you salvage, making the filling can take quite a while. Combine 3/4 c. rapadura sugar, 3-4 T. cornstarch, pinch of salt, the juice of half a lemon, and 1-2 tsp. cinnamon. Toss with 6 cups chopped tart miscellaneous baking apples (rot, worms, and worm poop all removed -- but leave the skins if you're not serving Irma Rombauer). Let it all macerate while you make the top crust (the apples will juice up with the sugar on them).

Top Crust: Retrieve the little ball of dough from the fridge, and roll it out just like the bottom crust. Slice it into centimeter-wide strips. Put the filling into the bottom crust, then top with half the strips lined up parallel to each other, with maybe a centimeter between them. Place the first perpendicular strip in the middle of the pie, and weave it under every-other strip. Continue placing perpendicular strips from the center out. Dip your finger in a glass of water, and run it over the rim of the bottom crust (water acts as glue to fuse the lattice). Fold the overhanging bit of bottom crust up over the ends of the lattice strips, press it tightly, and flute it nicely.

Bake it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, then place strips of tinfoil around the rim to keep it from burning, reduce the oven to 350 degrees, and bake until it's done (the filling will make thick bubbles near the middle of the pie). Don't break your wrist trying to carry the pie by the skillet handle; it's going to be a ton of pie and will probably require two hands.

And I only use butter, or lard when I'm in Hungary. I do not believe in hydrogenation. Butter helps you absorb fat-soluble minerals, and causes less heart disease than vegetable shortening. If you're concerned about weight, you should be more worried about the sugar in the pie than the fat. And if you're worried about cholesterol....

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