Bakers, cooks rejoice the season of fruit
The story always begins at the orchard, sitting on the porch with tired farmers, sipping a glass of wine and watching the colors change on the hills as the sun settles.
Harvest has begun, there are ladders in the cherry trees and the first apples, the early ripening Lodi variety, have been picked.
And thus the season of fruit begins.
While I don’t have the farmers’ aching muscles, another product of an orchard heavyset with fruit, I woke up mighty tired to a house filled with the perfume of sweet cherry jam and Spiced Upside Down Apple Pie.
The fragrance is perfection. Complex floral and sweet spices in the air are more than a fair reward for standing in a (very) hot kitchen pitting cherries, slicing apples and transforming fruit into edible art late into the evening.
There are few things in life that I adore more than pie and I approach it as art. Instead of color theory and line drawing, my schooling was in my grandmother’s kitchen.
Granny Iris taught me to read recipes but also to read between the lines. I learned the science of crust and the architecture of cake. I developed the patience needed to stir and to keep stirring and most importantly, to always let the fruit speak.
Pie is simple. It’s one of the reasons we are so comforted by a slice. The simplicity is created from a few basic ingredients and a couple of good rules.
I began using white wine in my crust 30 years ago, an idea gleaned from a French recipe. I love the aroma, flakey texture and savory flavor.
It has become popular to use vodka in place of the water for crust. The reasoning being that the spirit is only 60 percent water. Alcohol doesn’t aid in the formation of gluten in the flour, which results in a flakier crust.
I’ve tried it and liked the results, but the reality is that you’re more likely to find 3 tablespoons of chilled white wine in my fridge than vodka. The same theory about gluten development applies to wine, though the alcohol is much lower.
Fat, delicately wrapped inside flour, is what makes the crust flaky. I’ve used lard, and while it does make a lovely crust, I find that all-butter crusts have better flavor. The trick is cold butter, minimal handling and letting the dough rest before rolling.
A food processor will cut the butter into the flour in seconds but I have returned to my grandmother’s method — I use my fingers. I’ll cut the cold butter into small bits, drop them into the bowl and then quickly pinch the flour and butter together until it’s a consistent crumbly texture.
My latest adaptation was inspired by a customer searching for a much larger and deeper pie dish. I looked at the tagine, the Tunisian clay oven which has a conical lid and a deep base, sitting on top of my fridge and I decided to test it out.
I chose Julia Child’s 1961 Upside-down Apple Tart (aka Tarte Tatin) recipe as a starting point and went from there. This recipe seemed like a perfect solution for a truly deep pie as the bottom crust is always tricky with so much filling.
I use a small corer to remove the stem and core from rinsed apples and then use a mandolin slicer to create 1/8-inch thick slices. I leave the peel on when I’m working with organically grown apples for more color and flavor. Using thin slices makes it easy to overlap and layer when filling the dish, and it creates a really gorgeous texture. The crust cover becomes the base once you invert the pie and because it’s perfectly baked, there’s no soggy bottom.
If apple pie is on your menu for this summer, you’ll find this one super easy to make and fun to serve. Everyone will love that there is more apple in the apple pie.
Mile High Apple Pie ala Julia Child
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 ½ tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons chilled white wine
Add salt to flour, cut butter into flour with pastry blender or fingers until crumbly.
Add wine one tablespoon at a time and bring dough together with a flat spatula or blending fork. Wrap in plastic and chill 30 minutes.
4 pounds Lodi or Granny Smith apples, cored and thinly sliced
2/3 cup cane sugar (blend together with spices in a small bowl)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon lemon rind, finely grated
6 tablespoons butter, melted plus 2 tablespoons butter for pan
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Butter deep round baking dish with 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons spiced sugar mix over base of dish.
- Overlap 1/3 of the apples around edge of dish. Overlap a smaller circle in the center.
- Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and sprinkle spiced sugar over apples.
- Repeat overlapping apple layer in opposite direction. Repeat butter and spiced sugar. Repeat once more in opposite direction. Press apples down firmly.
- Roll out dough on a silicone work mat into 8” square. Lightly dust with flour, fold into quarters and dust with flour again. Roll out dough to just slightly larger than baking dish. Place dough over apples and tuck the edges down around the upper layer of apples. Cut 4-6 vents in top to allow steam to vent.
- Bake in lower third of oven for 60 minutes. If pastry begins to brown too quickly, lightly cover with foil or use a pie shield. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.
- Once completely cooled, place serving platter over baking dish and invert. Serve with fresh whipped cream!
– Beverly Calder, BELLA in Baker City and La Grande