|Ready for pie|
I am a lucky man.
For the first time since my post-graduate-school years in Rhode Island, I go off to work every morning with a bouncing step. I am the bread-mix man - what joy to be making something that gets so many people happy!
Of course, my work - and to some degree my joy - has been interrupted by Hurricane Sandy. As frequent readers know, my home and business are in New Jersey - the storm’s epicenter. But in this arena too I am lucky. Within a block of my home, trees are down, power is out and buildings are damaged, but we’ve fared very well. We lost power for four hours and that was all.
Even a media decision that Leslie and I stuck with despite the derision of friends - to eschew cable in favor of limited (but free!) digital channels - has proved lucky. TV cables are down along with power lines, and we are thus one of the few families here with constant news and entertainment access.
I cannot say I escaped unscathed. I’ve not been able to get to my shop yet, so I have no idea if the roof is intact. Fortunately, my flour blends are spoilage-resistant. Doubly fortunate, I stocked up my house with packaged mixes, so I can ship from here.
Right now we’re suffering through a gasoline supply crises, but that won’t last forever. So, this is not a complaint - just a comment: I’ve got a mild case of cabin fever.
|Baking - the route to mental health|
I do know the way to attenuate cabin fever, however: bake!
I’ve been plotting a complicated sweet treat for the past three weeks: a pie with a twist. But first a backstory:
I love apple pies, as you my gentle readers know, but only pies made with the right apples: Northern Spy, Gold Rush or Lodi. In July, I purchased and dehydrated a nice stack of Lodi and was looking forward to doing the same with large quantities of Northern Spy once they came in. Last week I headed to my favorite country store, Race Farm Market, with a duel mission: to see if they’d like to carry my bread mixes and to pick up some Northern Spy.
Owner Devin Race was enthusiastic about my mixes (YEA!) and Race’s now carries them, but alas she had no Northern Spy. “We’re sold out,” she told me. “People have figured out how good a pie apple they are.”
Well, damn! I’d more than done my part in that. Now I wish I’d kept my fingers off the keyboard. (Gold Rush come in during November, so there’s hope.)
Fortunately I have all those Lodi dehydrates. Lodi are intense and tart, so I began to wonder, what happens when they’re ground up and incorporated into a crust, making a kind of inverted apple pie?
I decided to find out.
But first I had to consider the filling. Did there even have to be a filling?
|Pies with foil "skirts" to prevent over-browning of the crust|
I mulled it over. A pie is great because of its inherent contrasts: tart vs sweet; rich vs fruity; crunchy vs mushy. My biggest critique of my own pies is the way the filling usually wets (and therefore defeats) the crunchy crust. However, just plain crunchy crust - regardless of the flavors which might be in that crust - didn’t sound appealing. Yes, there did have to be a filling. A very rich, very sweet, very creamy one. Something to complement and contrast with the tart Lodi in the crust. How about ...... Cinnamon custard....!!!
I had no idea if there even was such a thing as cinnamon custard but I was certain Google would tell me.
Indeed it turned out that there are thousands of variations of cinnamon custard. Thanks to the Martha Stewart version I was able to make a spicy but not overwhelming treat. And thanks to a quirk of life-under-Sandy, (my local groceries are all out of dairy products) I used ingredients I normally wouldn’t: condensed, sweetened milk and a big dollop of leftover creme fraiche, both of which added interesting flavors and obviated any need for more sugar.
And now a warning: I’ve had lots of time on my hands the past few days to play around with my favorite idea fixé: flaky pastry. The technique described and illustrated below is a low-impact (that is, not overly laborious) version of classic puff pastry and produces a wonderfully flaky pie crust. If you already have a crust recipe you’re satisfied with, stick with it. Just pull out 25% - 33% of the flour (by weight) and replace with dried apples and walnuts using the preparation instructions below.
In this recipe I use both weight and volume measures. The former are more accurate, but once small volumes of fine powders, or messy things, like condensed milk, get in the act, my kitchen scale is insufficiently precise - and I don’t like risking its electronic innards over spilled milk.
Finally, if you are uninterested in the recipe please skip to the end and read the last paragraph. It’s an update on post-Sandy and my plans for the future of this blog.
Yield: Two small (4” diameter) pies
Ingredients for the crust:
64 grams Bette Hagman Featherlite flour
7 grams dehydrated apples, preferable Lodi, Gold Rush or Northern Spy
10 grams shelled, chopped walnuts
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp Xanthan gum
1/2 stick (55 grams) unsweetened butter
7 grams rice vinegar
20 grams water
Ingredients for the filling:
1/8 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup condensed, sweetened milk
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla pod
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
1 TBLS Creme fraiche (or condensed, sweetened milk)
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
Make the crust:
Chop walnuts and apple slices into chunks about 1/4” in diameter. Place into a spice grinder (a coffee grinder works well) and grind until the consistency of coarse salt. You may have to stop and scrape the sides occasionally. In a medium bowl, toss the ground apples and walnuts with the Featherlite, xanthan gum, sugar and salt. Stir well. Place bowl into refrigerator to chill.
Once flour blend is cold, mix vinegar and water and place into freezer. Remove flour blend from refrigerator. Cut butter into thin slices and toss into the flour blend. Using your fingertips, press each butter slice into a very thin layer.
Lay several sheets of plastic wrap on the countertop, forming an “X”. Turn out the flour+butter onto this, scraping any chunks that adhere to the bowl. Form into a loose mound with a cavity on top. Pour the ice water into the cavity, then toss the sides of the mound onto the ice water, covering it. Pat down the mound, then turn up one side of the plastic wrap to cover the flour. Pat and press the plastic wrap, flattening and shaping the flour into a rough rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.
Peel back the plastic, scraping off any layers that adhere. Fold up the dough in thirds, letter-style. It will be rough and difficult to handle. Recover with plastic and pat/thump/press into another rectangle that is a 90-degree-different orientation from the first. Uncover and fold this rectangle, which should work a little bit easier. Repeat the folding, patting, and refolding until the liquid is well incorporated - this will take 5 to 7 cycles. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
When dough is thoroughly chilled, remove from refrigerator. Preheat an oven to 425 F. Roll dough into a slab that is 1/8” to 1/4” thick. This will be easier on a well-floured wooden surface. You may have to fill in cracks with chunks of dough and you may need to slip a spatula or bench knife under the dough from time to time to keep it from sticking to the wood. Try to form a long oval that can be cut into two circles. Pick up each circle (a pizza peel or “giant spatula” works well here) and place onto 4” pyrex bowls/pans. Press dough into pans and crimp edges. Blind bake 12 minutes. Remove from oven, cover crimped edges with tin foil, and blind bake another 5 - 10 minutes, until crust within pie bowls is lightly browned. Remove from heat and allow to cool thoroughly. Keep the aluminum foil “skirts” in place.
Make the filling:
Scrape the outer layer from the vanilla pod and set pod aside. Place cream, condensed milk, milk, creme fraiche (if using), cinnamon stick, 1/8 tsp of the ground cinnamon and vanilla pod scrapings into a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Cover pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Heat oven to 325 F.
Remove cinnamon stick. Mixture may be strained (optional). Place mixture into a small bowl. Add 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, egg yolks, and egg. Whisk until completely blended. Ladle mixture into pie shells, being careful not to let liquid reach the skirts. Liquid should reach only 1/2 way up the shell.
Place pies into oven and bake 20 minutes. Check and continue baking if necessary. Pies are done if the liquid jiggles slightly. Remove from heat. Custard will continue to set while pies cool.
Serve while still warm. :-)
And now the Sandy update: For the time being I am stuck in Weehawken, primarily because I refuse to join a mile-long line for gasoline. This is not just a convenience decision: the mood here is turning ugly. If I wanted bad vibrations I’d not have retired from the community college. Fortunately I can take a train to the town where my shop is, and walk the rest of the way to work. I’ll probably do this within the next day or two if power is back and the gas lines haven’t abated.
Regarding this blog: long posts like the one you’ve just slogged through are becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Luce’s Gluten-Free Artisan Bread is at present a one-man operation, and every time-bite used for blogging is time removed from the biz. I don’t want to drop this blog but I don’t want to wait weeks between posts either. Therefore I’m going to make the entries shorter and more diverse. Recipes will be rare.
I hope you continue to read me. I seriously doubt that anyone depends on my recipes for total life entertainment, but if you do, send me an email and I’ll figure out a way to get new ones to you.
Stay safe, stay dry, buy Luce’s. That’s all I can say today.