Monday, August 13, 2012

Apple pie, from start to finish

The smell of coffee and pastries in the morning is so chic. So French. But they've got to be flaky, delicate pastries. Bulky, doughy things that fill your mouth like cotton balls don't count. A donut is not a pastry, but a boorish bread whose texture baffles your tongue so as not to object to its objectionable sweetness. Americans can't get desserts right. They are either too sweet, too colorful, too large, too something. There's always something bothersome about them, something excessive and gratuitous that makes you feel both guilty and empty in the aftermath.

Even though I'm sold for pastries and coffee every now and then, lately I've found this sort of treat very infrequent. One reason is that it's a struggle to find decent pastries in the States. The other reason is, this type of food is not exactly encouraged by the Beauty Detox Solution. And it's too bad. But a treat that I allow myself every now and then, because I can make it myself and I make it well, is apple pie. I have a slice for brunch with some nicely spiced Rooibos tea. They go so well together. And the pie, of course, I make myself from start to finish.

Apple pie
~ serves 8

10-12 medium organic apples, peeled and cut into slices
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp organic flour (or verified non-GMO)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 cup (2  8-oz sticks) unsalted butter, very cold
2 1/2 cups organic flour (or verified non-GMO)
1 tsp salt
6-10 Tbsp ice-cold water

In a large bowl, mix the apples well with the lemon juice, sugar, flour and spices. This is your filling. Cover and set aside.

In another bowl, mix the flour and salt with a fork. Add the butter stick, cut into 8 chunks or so. We are going to cut the butter into the flour, as it were. The goal is to get pea-sized pieces of butter distributed throughout the mixture. This will make the crust flaky like it's supposed to be. If you have a pastry tool, lucky you. For the rest of us, take a butter knife in each hand and begin to cut into the butter with the knives going in opposite directions, so that they are crossing each other side by side. 

Once you got the butter into pea-sized pieces and evenly distributed, it's time to get the cold water into the mix. It's important that the water be as cold as possible, so add an ice cube in for good measure. For the next part you will use a fork. Add the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, incorporating it with the fork in a whipping motion. We just want to moisten the dough, but we don't want to mash the butter pieces. Add water until you feel the dough could be easily gathered into a ball without crumbling. 

At this point, divide the dough into a larger ball and a smaller one. Prepare a clean, dry surface and spread flour on it. Generously. Press the ball on the flat surface and with a rolling pin begin to roll it into a circle. The dough will break at the edges, so you will have to pamper it and mend it all the time, until it spreads into a circle large enough to fill your pie plate. Do this with patience and don't start to cry. We are almost there. 

Now you're going to move the dough into the pie plate. If it breaks in the process, don't panic. You can stitch it back together, I promise. With the rolling pin, start to roll the dough off the surface, wrapping it around the rolling pin. If you notice it's sticking to the flat surface, take a wide knife or spatula and help it a little. You will wish you had five hands for this, I know. Once you've rolled 3/4 of the dough onto the rolling pin, you're golden. Lift the rolling pin gently and move the dough (in one piece, hopefully) onto the pie plate, unwrapping it off the rolling pin at the same time. 

If you are a ninja, the dough will lay perfectly into the pie plate. For the rest of us, we'll have to pull onto the dough a little to set it in evenly. Set the filling into the pie plate. And now it's also time to preheat your oven to 400.

Repeat the above process with the smaller ball of dough, which will be the lid of your pie. Spread it to the right size, and slide it onto the pie plate to cover the filling. If you'd like to make a nice pattern on the edge, press the bottom and top together on the sides and then make a wavy design with your fingers, like I did:

With a knife, make a few slits on top but very carefully so as not to break the dough and make the whole thing ugly. Shove it in the 400 degree oven, wipe the sweat off your forehead and go read a magazine for 15 minutes. Then, lower the temperature to 375 and fold some aluminum foil over the outer edges of the pie. This prevents the edges from burning. Now kick it back into the oven and go take a nap. The pie will sit in there for 30 more minutes or until golden-brown. Let it cool for at least 1 hour before serving. And be proud of yourself! Making pastry is no piece of cake.

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