Sunday, September 20, 2009

Almost American Apple Pie

I don't think I ever had a slice of homemade pie until I was invited for dinner at my husband's parents' during college. Sad, right? Well... not really, I guess.... I was too busy eating homemade carnitas and tamales to really know what I was missing.

Anyway, who doesn't love apple pie in the fall? My favorite version's a bit different though. It's made with Mexican pilconcillo (also known as panela or panocha in other Latin countries), boiled-down cane sugar juice that's been left to crystallize in a cone or disk shape. It basically tastes like deeply molasses-flavored brown sugar and, in this recipe, is boiled into a dark syrupy sauce in which the apples are drenched before baking. The result is a rich molasses and caramel flavored filling that turns the old American apple pie standard upside-down.

You can usually find Piloncillo in the "Latin" section of the regular grocery store here in California. (Sometimes they have a shelf of Mexican spices in bags, which is where I found mine, at Albertson's.) Otherwise, you're going to have to visit your local Mexican specialty grocer. It's also for sale online at Gourmet Sleuth, here.

And, see that pretty lattice top in my picture (which isn't very good quality--sorry--I took in on my iphone)? It wasn't as terribly hard to achieve as you might think. The trick is to never let your dough get warm. Yes, this takes time and tons of patience. You may have to run back and forth to the fridge if your kitchen gets warm. I'm telling you though, it's worth it. Happy Fall.

Lattice Apple Pie with Mexican Brown Sugar

adapted from epicurious
If the top crust looks too scary, halve your dough recipe (or purchase refrigerated dough or a frozen crust) and try an easy streusel topping instead: with a pastry cutter or two knives, mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon until crumbly. Sprinkle over pie. (Streusel recipe adapted from Betty Crocker.) Another great spin, per another epicurious user's delicious advice, might include adding a handful of rum-soaked raisins to your filling before baking.

  • 1/2 pound piloncillo (unrefined brown sugar; also called panela)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 4 (1-inch-wide) strips orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 1/2 pounds medium apples (I used 2 medium Granny Smith, 2 medium Winesap, and 2 medium Honey crisp)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Pastry dough (for a double-crust pie), below
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Put a large heavy baking sheet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

Bring piloncillo, water, zest, spices, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, covered, stirring occasionally until piloncillo has dissolved. Remove lid and boil over medium-low heat until syrup is thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, 6 to 10 minutes. Discard zest and cool syrup slightly.

Meanwhile, peel and core apples, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges.

Toss apples with flour, then with syrup.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keeping remaining piece chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate.

Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, and chill shell.

Roll out remaining piece of dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 16-by 11-inch rectangle. Cut dough crosswise into 11 (1 1/4-inch-wide) strips.

Stir apple mixture, then spoon evenly into pie shell. Weave a tight lattice pattern over pie with pastry strips. (If you've never woven a lattice crust before, watch a handy how-to video, here.)

Trim all strips flush with edge of pie plate. Fold bottom crust up over edge of lattice and crimp. Brush lattice (but not edge) with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake pie on hot baking sheet 20 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes more. Cool pie to warm or room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.

Pastry Dough

adapted from epicurious

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 7 to 9 tablespoons ice water

Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

Drizzle 5 to 6 tablespoon ice water evenly over mixture. Gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated. Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add more water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Turn out onto a work surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one. Press into a ball, then flatten into 2 (5-inch) disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

On what I can pass you

Anyone who sat empty-plated at my gradmother-in-law's dinner table long enough would always receive the same earnest question--"what can I pass you?"

Grandma Alyce was warm and generous and something delicious was always baking in her oven.

My own mother doesn't bake so much, but she sure does cook. Every night growing up she made us dinner. Every morning she packed us lunch. (Yes, I'm sure I could find no less than 20 classmates who remember her sandwiches. I could barter those sandwiches for gold if I needed to...) And, like Grandma Alyce, my mother's main intentions when cooking are to send you home feeling well-fed and content. Enchiladas. Homemade chips and salsa. Taquitos. Ceviche. And some interesting versions of American food, like meatloaf, with a Mexican spin only my mother could pull off. Don't ever think you can go to her house without at least sampling something she's made.

I like to think I'm at least half as good a cook as my mom and at least half as good a baker as Grandma Alyce (and my mother-in-law for that matter, whose ice cream roll and dark chocolate cake are to be rivaled by none). And, like my mom, mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law, my intentions are to share too--both my own recipes (which includes our recipes) and the recipes I find, and (should you live close enough, friends), the products of these recipes.

And, since I love cooking, and love baking, I'm happy to be able to share these things with you.
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