Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Like warm apple pie

It's fall. There is no denying it, the leaves are turning bright reds and yellows. The air is crisp. The weather feels cold and damp at six am when I'm heading off to bootcamp with Best Friend. Nothing beats the feeling of lying down in the muddy grass doing whatever crazy torture exercise our trainer Mike has come up with that morning. Superman bananas maybe... But as I recall from last year, I shouldn't complain about a bit of humidity and chill. It's getting down in the snow to do press ups that is the real bitch. Ice cold and soaking wet.  And dark. All you can do is hope you won't place your hands down in a place where a dog has gone to meet a call of nature... Hopefully it will be a while before we are in that situation.

Looking at Pinterest, when it comes to recipes, and particularly American recipes (as most pinners seem to be American) fall means two things. Apples and pumpkin. As I don't think pureed pumpkin is available in the UK (I might be wrong, but I haven't seen it anywhere) that excludes more than half of the baking recipes on Pinterest right now. And that's good actually. I have to admit I don't know what pumpkin pie tastes like, I have never had it. In theory I don't think it sounds very appetising, but I might very well be wrong. Anyways, the point is that a huge amount of recipes are totally unusable for me. Which is a good thing really, as I'm suffering from recipe overload. But how about them apples? Oh mine... Apples and fall, yes please! When I was growing up, we had several apple trees in our garden. And the apples were so lovely. In fact, many people I knew back home used to have lots of apple trees in their garden which produce more apples than anyone could use, and people would just try to give away the apples to anyone who would take them off their hands. Oh how I would kill for those apples now that I'm stuck with the store bought ones. 

So right now is the season for apple recipes. Cider apple pie, apple crumble, apple cheese cake, apple breadapple pie bars, caramel apple pizza... You name it, I'm craving it. Check out this link for a bunch of amazing looking apple desserts.

Above everything else, I'm craving hot apple pie. But being on a diet (well, in theory I'm trying to, but currently failing miserably), baking a whole apple pie makes me feel really guilty. And the other day, there I was, once again browsing the kitchenware section in Tk Maxx, eyeing up all the silicon moulds and cake stands I would buy if I had the money and the storage space. And I saw these darling little tart pans. So I thought a few tiny little apple pies could not hurt anyone. Teeny tiny little packets of yummyness. Flaky crust and warm spicy apple filling. Talk about self deception. After watching the episode of Great British Bakeoff where the contestants had to do a lattice crust, I wanted to try that. I found a good tutorial online for doing the lattice here. Although obviously with the tiny pies, there is not much of a lattice to work out. If you like your pie to have some other decorative details, have a look at this link for further inspiration. To make my ultimate apple pie, I used several recipes for inspiration and ended up with...

'So teeny tiny that they are almost not there' apple pies (makes four single serving pies):

Butter crust with almonds from SimplyRecipes:
1 cup all purpose flour 
1/4 cup almond flour
113g butter cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt (if using unsalted butter)
1 tsp brown sugar
3-4 tbsp ice water

Confession: I definitely didn't prepare the pastry according to the instructions. If you are less lazy than me, please see the original recipe for a nice and detailed description on the method. What I did was the following: Mix flours, salt, sugar and butter in food processor and pulse. At this point my dough already stuck together in one big lump, and I didn't need to add any water at all. Also, one thing that keeps confusing me is the amount of flour. The recipe I used, says 1 cup flour. Which according to various websites is between 110 and 130 g, probably depending on the flour. However, when I measured the specific cup of flour I used for this dough it was actually 150g. So my dough might have more flour than what was intended. Still, my dough turned out very soft, probably because I used spreadable butter instead of regular butter. I then left my pastry in the fridge over night.

Buttermilk pie crust from Completely Delicious:
1 1/4 cups (157 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp sugar 
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/4 cup (60 ml) buttermilk, cold
1-2 tablespoons vodka or water, cold

Please see the link to the original recipe for really good instructions on how to properly prepare the flaky pie crust. This involves using a rolling pin to roll the butter into the dough. I was lazy and just added flour, sugar, salt and butter in the food processor, pulsed a few times, added buttermilk and pulsed a few more times. I didn't need to add any other liquid. Chill in the fridge wrapped in cling film.

2 apples
2 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp chopped pistachios
2 tbsp light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp cornstarch
milk for brushing the crust
caster sugar for sprinkling

Prepare the dough for the crust in good time ahead of baking. I left mine in the fridge over night. Prepare the filling. Peel apples, cut into quarters and remove seeds (I used my fancy apple wedge cutter, it's genius). Cut into cubes or slices. Mix the sugars, spices and cornstarch and toss with the apples, raisins and pistachios.

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Roll out half of the crust and transfer to the tins, with overhang over the edges. Add filling to the pies. Roll out the other half of the crust to make the top or cut into strips for the lattice. Weave the lattice over each pie, and then fold the excess dough over the ends of the lattice to form a pretty edge for the pies. Brush with milk and sprinkle caster sugar on top. Bake for 20 minutes or until pies are golden. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

The verdict:
The truth is, as much as I love baking, my technical skills are absolutely rubbish. I'm pretty sure my pie crusts would get a really bad bashing from Mary and Paul. But to be completely honest it's not like I wouldn't know how to do it, it's just that I'm way too lazy to  do most of the things correctly. If I can prevent having to work a dough with my hands and on the table, I will. Too much mess to clean up. I prefer to mix everything in my food processor. You have probably picked up my love for simple, all-in-one-mixing-bowl recipes. And I know that my shortcuts won't produce perfect pastry as the butter is not incorporated in the proper way to give the pastry the flakiness it's supposed to have. But I'm also not a very fussy pie eater, I'm happy with any crust as long as it tastes nice and doesn't get hard as rock. And both crusts turned out pretty damn good in my book.

Another thing I'm not sure about is the correct fat to use. Some people swear in the name of a mix of butter and shortening. I know I have ranted on about this before, I'm not a big fan of shortening. Vegetable fats are naturally oils, not solids. So why should they be chemically modified to be that way? It's completely unnatural... So it's all butter all the way for me, which will mean the pastry will chemically be different from using a mix. But I'm happy to sacrifice some flakiness for having proper natural ingredients. So I tried two different all butter crusts for my apple pies. Although I have to admit I'm not sure if the spreadable butter is somehow chemically modified compared to proper hard butter, that would explain why the crusts turned out texturally so different. Although part of the difference probably comes from the all wheat versus mix of wheat and almond flour as well. 

To be completely honest, the reason I did two different crusts, is only part to be able to compare crusts. The real, honest to god reason for doing two different crusts, is that when I tried the almond flour one, I realised I only have spreadable butter at home. I thought it would have to do, so I went on with it. However, the dough did turn out to be really soft, and I realised there is no way I could do a lattice crust from that dough. So I had a look around for other possible recipes, and remembered that Completely Delicious had a post on flaky crust which was made with buttermilk. And I'm fascinated with buttermilk at the moment. For me, until a while ago, I always thought buttermilk was the same thing as piimä, which is the Finnish word for fermented cow's milk. After a bit of research on the subject, I learned I'm not completely wrong, as piimä in English is called cultured buttermilk. And the Finnish word for buttermilk is kirnupiimä, so you can see my confusion. And I'm pretty sure you can't buy buttermilk (the regular one) in stores back home, whereas cultured buttermilk is really common and available in any small grocery store. Whereas in the UK, I don't think there is any cultured buttermilk to be had. That's ok though, I never used it back home either, so it's one of those things I don't miss from back home. Anyways, the lack of buttermilk in Finnish grocery stores is the explanation for why I wasn't familiar with it until I moved to the UK. After making buttermilk pancakes for breakfast a while ago, I've been keen to use buttermilk in other things as well. So I was excited to try the Completely Delicious pie crust. And I thought, using the same apple filling for both crusts would give me a perfect opportunity to compare pastries. I don't have a favourite recipe for pie crust, so I'm hoping this experiment would help me find a good one. I have to admit, I often cheat and buy ready made pie crust dough. Back home there are have several types of pastry which are sold frozen. One amazing pastry which goes perfect especially with berry pie is rye flour dough. A really good pastry for savoury pies is a potato and rye pastry. I should actually try to make a rye pastry for a berry pie sometime. Anyways, with these two pastry recipes, which are so ridiculously easy to prepare in the food processor, I will never need to buy ready made pastry again.

Ok, so finally to these particular pies. The buttermilk crust was definitely much easier to work with and easy to roll into a thin crust. The almond crust was tearing really easy, and also really hard to work after being out of the fridge for more than a minute or two, so it was impossible to get a thin crust. The tearing was probably due to less gluten because some of the flour was replaced by almond flour, whereas the softening issue was due to using spreadable butter instead of the proper one. But it turned out to be amazingly crumbly and delicious, so it was definitely worth that extra work. The almond flour also gave the crust nice added flavour. 

The pie filling was wonderful with warm spicy tastes going together perfectly with the apple. I admit adding raisins and pistachios made this a bit less of a traditional apple pie and more of a strudel wannabe, and might be a bit of overkill. But you know how crazy I am about raisins. Actually, for a while now I've been contemplating whether I'm a raisin or a sultana type of person. And despite being a huge raisin fan, I think I like sultanas even more. In this recipe, the raisins add wonderful sweetness to the filling, whereas the pistachios bring that nice little extra crunch. Next time maybe I'll soak them in rum first and make an apple and rum and raisin pie... Actually there was a bit of pastry dough left over, maybe just enough to make one more mini pie, maybe I should get some raisins soaking over night and try that tomorrow. Except whoopsie, I think I ate all my left over raisins while baking. So much for that idea then. 

The summary of a crazy long rant is that the apple pies turned out amazing. Not to mention the scent they left in my tiny excuse for an apartment. All my clothes will now smell of apple pie, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I was convinced the buttermilk crust would be clearly superior to the almond flour one, but to be quite honest, it was really hard to compare them. Or to pick a favourite. The almond flour one was crumblier whereas the buttermilk one was flakier. The buttermilk crust gets points for being much easier to work, but I think the almond flour one was my favourite when it comes to flavour and texture. Too bad I didn't have any ice cream with my apple pies, but I have to admit I had no problems eating them just as they were. Now that my craving for apple pie has been satisfied, I can move on to some other apple delicacy. I'll keep you updated!

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