Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Apple Pie Even I Can Enjoy

Let the record show that when it comes to apple pie I've always been pretty "meh."  My whole life, apple pie has never really turned my crank.  The only way I enjoy it is with a crumb topping, like Dutch apple pie.  But seeing as how it's Fall, and how practically everybody on the planet goes crazy for apple pie, I knew I was going to have to bust out the apple pies.  No problem.  I had a partial bag of cranberries leftover in the freezer and thought that apple-cranberry sounded delightful.   A quick search of the ol' interwebs revealed a great many apple pies using cranberries.  Sounds like Fall to me!  I settled on this recipe for Cranberry-Apple Crumble Pie from  It's always a good idea to take a quick look at the reviews that people write on recipes.  Usually readers will post any changes they had to make to the recipe, or anything that didn't work out.  When I looked at the reviews for this pie, many people noted that they would have liked a little more sugar in the pie because it was very tart and some said they would have liked more crumble topping as well as more sugar in the crumble.  Others said they had trouble with the topping getting too brown.

Armed with this knowledge I set out to make the pie with a few changes.  Knowing that I adore generous amounts of a sweet crumble topping, I made a few adjustments to that portion of the recipe:
1 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
6 Tb. butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt

And for the pie filling itself, I added an extra 1/4 cup of sugar to help with the tartness issue.

As for the cooking portion of the recipe, it calls for putting chunks of butter on top of the fruit, covering the pie with foil, and baking it for 30 minutes BEFORE putting the crumble on top and then baking the rest of the way.  I had previously cooked a pie that calls for putting the crumble on half-way through the cooking time and I really didn't like that because the heat of the pie makes it hard to get the crumble on properly and it kind of falls all over the hot sheet pan.  I didn't want to deal with this, but I also didn't want a burned pie.  So instead I did this:
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees with a sheet pan on the bottom rack.  Omit the butter cubes on the fruit and instead pile the crumble all over the pie.  You may need to really pack it on, as the fruit will be mounded above the crust.  Place the pie on the heated pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Lower the heat to 350 degrees and move the pan and pie to the middle rack and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour more, until the fruit juices are thickened and bubbling out of the pie.  I covered my pie loosely with foil for about the last 20 minutes of cooking time.  All ovens are different, and so are our tastes, so keep a close eye on the pie and cover it when you think it is time.

It's worth noting that it is important when cooking fruit pies that the filling bubble properly so that your pie will set and not be a runny mess.  Both flour and cornstarch need to come to a boil in liquid to reach their full thickening power.  So if you see thin fruit juices spilling out of your pie, it isn't hot enough yet.  Wait until the juices are thick from whatever starch you used.  And remember that the outside edge of the pie will bubble first, before the middle gets to the proper temperature.  Be patient, you don't want a runny pie!  Generally the center of the pie should be over 200 degrees to achieve the proper thickening.

The resulting pie I made with a few minor changes was an apple pie that even I could get excited about!!  Juicy apples that retained just enough texture, tart cranberries (but not too tart!) and a delicious, crumb topping with the rich flavor of toasted pecans, yum!  This is the perfect Fall pie!

Ta da!  A beautiful apple pie!

Monday, October 10, 2011

When Just Chocolate Won't Do

When it came to making a pie for my friend Lindsay's birthday, my initial thought was chocolate cream.  But knowing how fabulous my friend is, and how "just chocolate" wouldn't do for such a special lady, I decided to she needed chocolate with something more.  Lindsay is a bona fide coffee junkie, so mocha seemed to make perfect sense.  And just to make the pie that much more fabulous, I added some booze too!  I think a girl has the right to go all out on her birthday.

Mocha Cream Pie
1 9" pie crust, blind baked
2 cups half & half
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tb. instant espresso powder
2 eggs
2 Tb. cornstarch
4 oz. quality semi-sweet or bittersweet  chocolate, chopped
1 Tb. butter
2 Tb. Baileys Irish Cream
2 cups heavy cream
3 Tb. sugar

In a small, heavy bottom pot, combine 1 1/2 cups of the half & half, the sugar and instant espresso.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup half & half, the eggs and cornstarch.  When the liquid mixture is simmering, ladle in about a cup of it into the egg and cornstarch mixture.  This will temper the eggs so that you don't add them cold into the hot liquid, thereby scrambling them.  Whisk the warmed egg mixture back into the pot and bring to a boil, whisking constantly to keep lumps from forming.  As soon as the mixture boils, remove from the heat and add the chocolate, butter and Baileys.  Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the cream is smooth.  You can strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to ensure a silky-smooth texture.  Pour the chocolate cream into the baked, cooled pie crust and smooth the top.  Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to keep a skin from forming. Place in the refrigerator and let cool completely, at least 4 hours.  Whip the heavy cream and sugar together to stiff peaks.  Top the pie with the whipped cream and decorate as desired with cocoa powder or shaved chocolate.

A pie fit for a fabulous birthday girl!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Back to the Business of Pie

Even since my return from working on the train, I haven't gotten back into pie mode.  Knowing that, I threw together an impromptu pie so that I could get something posted.  I went to my trusty freezer and found a pre-made pie crust from Wholly Wholesome and the rest of the cherries I bought during the summer.  A glance in the fridge found eggs and sour cream and the cupboard revealed oats and almonds.  Sour Cream Cherry Pie with Almond Crumble.  Done. Boom.

1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked
Crumble Topping
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup almonds
6 Tb. butter, melted
pinch of cinnamon
2 cups pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
3 Tb. flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Place a sheet pan on the bottom rack of the oven and pre-heat to 400 degrees.
To make the topping, combine the sugar, flour, oats, almonds and cinnamon.  Stir in the butter until the mixture is crumbly and well combined.  Put in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the pie.

Combine the flour and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk well.  Whisk in the eggs, extract and sour cream, mixing well to remove any lumps.  Fold in the cherries.  Pour the mixture into the pie shell and distribute the crumble topping evenly over the top.  Place on the pie on the heated pan in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and move the pie and the pan to the top rack to help the crumble brown.  Cook until the pie is set but jiggles slightly, about another 30 to 45 minutes.

Almond crumble topping.

Mixing the cherries and the sour cream filling.
The finished pie!
Oh crumbly goodness!