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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Rock Loves Pie: Alton Brown's "Super Apple Pie"

Well who doesn't, right? But "love" is probably an inadequate term to describe the M's feelings about apple pie. Several years ago, he watched in awe as the Penis Lady decided on a slice-by-slice basis whether a particular apple was good enough for the pie she was making (making in an extremely old school and temperamental oven, I might add). So when the "Apple of My Pie" episode of Good Eats aired . . .

eing dewey-eyed optimists, we'd gotten esoteric software like Applejack, tapioca flour, and grains of paradise a while back, thinking we'd be able to saunter out to a Blood, Bath, & Beyond for other necessities. However, in an unusual turn for AB, the Super Apple Pie requires hardware not necessarily found by default in the standard American kitchen. Or in a standard (or nonstandard) American kitchen store. Specifically, one needs:

  1. Not just any old apple corer/slicer, but the jumbo kind. By reducing the forbidden fruit to no fewer than 12 uniform slices, the jumbo corer unlocks the secrets of uniformly delicious filling.
  2. A 2-part tart pan. Ok, I'm absolutely willing to own up to the fact that the number of tart pans in my kitchen is (was) zero, but had I had a tart pan, it certainly would not have been the right kind, as AB demands a tart pan that is 2 inches deep. Trips to several up-scale cooking stores and one cake-decorating store (hey, it's around the corner from my local yarn store, and I scored an awesome set of H. P. Lovecraft-themed cookie cutters for Chicagowench, what do you want from my life?) later, I can tell you that's not easy to find. But it was the Swedes (via Amazon) to the rescue.
  3. And, of course, you'll need a pie bird. What's that? You're neither a spinster aunt nor a character in an Agatha Christie mystery and you've never heard of a pie bird? Fear not, once you're over your ceramic/glass hen dish obsession Amazon is there for you.

The hardware did all arrive eventually, and I decided that today was my day. I braved the positively disgusting weather to hit the local grocery store for the apples, apple jam, and a few other items not specifically devoted to this project.

I began with the dough and encountered my first hurdle: lack of a real food processor. We have one of those multi-attachment hand blenders, and it works just fine for many things. Blending pastry dough is not one of them, as the only real food-processor like arrangement with any appreciable capacity is a tall, narrow blender pitcher with the blade whirring very close to its bottom. I should've just done the dough by hand, but I was trying to adhere as closely to the recipe as possible. Anyway, I did eventually have two discs of dough WRAPPED IN PLASTIC in the fridge.

On to apple duty. I'd gotten braeburns, golden delicious, granny smiths, and in the absence of honeycrisps, something from New Zealand that sounded likely. In the process of peeling and coring/slicing those bad boys, I rediscovered that using those corer/slicer really takes some forearm strength that I haven't got. Also, I really hate peeling shit. Oh, and I managed to find a parallelogram-shaped apple. Seriously, the core of that bad boy was at a 45-degree angle to the horizon and took a left turn at Albuquerque. I was so disturbed by this freak of nature that I then forgot to peel the last golden delicious, meaning that I got to shave the peel off each individual slice. Aces!

Once the dough is chilling and the sugared apples are draining, there's kind of a lull in the proceedings, so I decided to try to get some things ready for dinner. This would prove unwise, but it seemed so simple at the time: Soak some corn in the husk for grilling; peel (grrrr, but I did it with my orange monkey peeler, and the orange-on-orange amused me inordinately) and parboil sweet potatoes, also for grilling; mix up some marinade for chicken and vegetables to be kebabbed.

So the sweet potatoes were ready to be drained just before I was ready to roll out the bottom disc of dough, except that they WEREN'T quite ready, so decided to set the timer for 3 more minutes for them. No problem, I thought, I can roll out the dough in 3 minutes! HEY, YOU! TROUBLEMAKER IN THE BACK! I CAN SEE YOU TWITTERING THAT!

The fact of the matter is, I COULD have rolled that dough out in under 3 minutes if (a) I'd checked before starting things to see that I had wax paper, (b) if my Oxo rolling pin—a rolling pin by a company that makes many, many fine kitchen products, and by those products I usually swear—if my Oxo rolling pin did not suck the testicles of the donkey ridden by Lucifer himself in hell, and (c) if I had not been attacked by peppercorns.

You see, the wax paper doesn't get a lot of use in my household (AB's chocolate chip cookies, of course, call for parchment paper). As stated above, I wasn't even sure I had wax paper, so when I spied wax paper at the back of the pantry, I was so innocently pleased at not having my baking project derailed, I failed to spot the peppercorn ambush.

Those peppercorns, I would also like to make clear, have been missing for at least 3 weeks. I was being stubborn and holding out on buying more because I knew, I knew that I had container filled to the brim with them. I did indeed, at least when they weren't away berry terrorist training camp. So, yes, just as I reached for the waxed paper, the container reappeared, lid loosened, and tipped over into the box of zip lock bags, on to the shelf, on to the shelf below that shelf, and the shelf below the shelf below the shelf, and so on. Naturally, a healthy amount made it on to the floor just in case I wanted to reenact the fight in the arcade from Thunderbolt. (I cannot believe that Google Image Search is letting me down on the pachinko front here.) I swept the floor. There are still roly poly peppercorns all over the pantry. They will be cleaned up, but today is not that day.

So after the peppercorn attack, I spent some time overhandling my already overhandled dough, as the dread hell-forged rolling pin kept tearing it up. But eventually I did get it into the pan. Sort of. I had a whole arc along which there wasn't enough dough to be pressed up and into the flutes, but I told myself I'd compensate with the top dough.

Now those of you who have been reading along with Og for a while might notice that all of this surely took a lot more than three minutes, and yet nowhere in the midst of the peppercorn onslaught did I mention the timer going off. It turns out that hitting start is crucial to timer use. Ah well, in a perhaps prescient moment earlier at the grocery store I'd bought some chipotles in adobo, so I figured I'd punt and make—you guessed it, AB's—chipotle-smashed sweet potatoes.

So, bottom dough is in, apples have drained for their required amount of time, drained liquid is transferred to a sauce pan for reduction purposes. It's time to turn my attention to the filling. Having tossed the apples once with just sugar, it's now time to toss them with a mixture of more sugar, tapioca flour, lime juice, apple jelly, apple cider (I just went with another TBS of applejack, as suggested in the episode), an eensy bit of salt, and those grains of paradise.

We'd found this in one of those built-in grinder jars at Whole Foods. Convenient enough, I suppose, unless the plastic neckband is impossible to get off. I struggled and struggled with it, finally ending by taking my paring knife to it. And with a sense of triumph, I pulled the neckband free! And the entire top of the fucking grinder came off, dumping easily a quarter cup of them into my mixture (the recipe calls for a quarter teaspoon). Fortunately, mixture take 2 was more successful, and it was time to layer in the apples.

Except I've completely forgotten how he did that in the episode and the recipe directions are not winding up with me having a heap that's higher in the center than at the edges. But eventually, I come up with a workable set of concentric circles and appropriate heaping. After another round of being cruelly used by the evil rolling pin, I got the top dough on and even managed to get a really good seal all the way around, even where my bottom dough had come up short.

For once, my somewhat temperature-twitchy (but much beloved) vintage oven had not wildly overshot its mark. It was sitting patiently at 425, waiting for my most beauteous pie. Cooking was completely uneventful. Pulling away the sides of the tart pan with the aid of my oatmeal can was completely uneventful. Cutting the first piece, sadly, resulted in all-too-eventful and unwanted tectonic activity (not catastrophic, but it wasn't the two pretty pieces I'd been hoping for). It also almost resulted in some quality spouse stabbing as M said, while I was still holding the damn serrated knife in my hand, "You're supposed to use a serrated knife."

Diagnosis? That is, excuse me, some damned fine pie.

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Blogger Erin Sleme said...

After seeing that orange monkey peeler, I can no longer understand why all peelers don't look like that.

10:01 PM  

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