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I’ve given this pie recipe as a present, paired with a great big heavy-duty cookie sheet. When I last gave the combo to someone, here’s what I wrote:

“Somehow, pie got scary, and people stopped baking pies. This is the easiest of pies, a single-crust, pleated-edge wonder baked on a cookie sheet (hence the cookie-sheet part of the gift). Try making this with Granny Smith apples, because you can find them year-round and they’re pretty consistent. Other good ones — you should mix! — are Jonamacs, MacIntosh, Empire and Braeburn. And with a bit of experimenting, you’ll even use peaches or pears for this — less sugar, more flour.”

As we all know, what makes pie scary is really Fear of Crust. When I posted Cranberry Nut Pie, a couple of people quietly said, “ahem, you’re dodging the crust question…” And I will get to that, I promise. Crust will be next week.

But Fear of Crust should not stand in the way of pie. Dad taught me that years ago, when he bought the frozen crusts or the nice red boxes from Betty Crocker that you mixed with water. He liked pie, but he did not like making his own crust. In later years, he was thrilled to find a tastier option, with even more of the work done: Pillsbury’s Pie Crust, ready-made and refrigerated. Barriers to pie, falling right and left!

This recipe happens to work really well with home-made crust, or Pillsbury’s. And you don’t have to tell anyone which option you picked.

Free-form apple pie

Free-Form Apple Pie

Makes two pies, and serves 4-6

  • Crust for two-crust pie — if homemade, refrigerate in two pieces
  • 5 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange peel (optional, but will make people talk)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400°F. Let pie crust (your own or Pillsbury) stand at room temperature 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon juice and orange peel (if using). Mix to blend well.

Line a large cookie sheet (14 x 17 is good) with parchment. Roll out homemade crust into two rounds, 12-13 inches in diameter. Place first round (or first round of ready-made crust) onto parchment, and spoon half the apple mixture onto the center of the crust, spreading to within about 3 inches of the edge. Cut 1 tablespoon of butter into bits, and dot filling with butter.Free-form apple pie, ready to pleat

Starting anywhere, pleat crust edges up and over the filling, pinching or pressing the crust edges together to keep apple filling from running out when cooking. Repeat with second round of crust, second half of filling and remaining tablespoon of butter.

Place baking sheet in oven. Bake until crust is golden brown and apples are tender, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe and photographs copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC

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My father, the apple hunter: September in Washington, and we would start looking for the right apples in grocery stores or on family adventures out towards the Blue Ridge. “Right” was Jonathans, a bright-red early apple here in the mid-Atlantic. Dad loved to use these apples for sauce because their red skin, left on for the cooking, would turn the final sauce a lovely pink. He’d gleefully make applesauce to use as a vehicle for whipped cream (lightly sweetened) or to pour over gingerbread. “Applesauce” was a seasonal fruit for us.

You’ll need a food mill to make this recipe with the skins on, or you can press a smallish colander into food-mill service. I still use Grammy’s Foley food mill, with a funny red wooden handle. It looks like a made-up kitchen tool, with a little twizzler on the bottom to scrape the applesauce off the holes.

Other varieties of apple are also good for sauce. Here on the East Coast, Paula Reds, Ida Reds, Macouns, MacIntosh and Romes are all good (this is one apple-use category where Granny Smiths lose out, scoring “bland” for both taste and looks). A mixture of apples is good, too, if you want to pick some for flavor, some for color. The trick is to make this applesauce in the the fall, with fresh local apples, and freeze it for happiness all winter long.

Dad’s Jonathan Applesauce

Makes about 5 cups

  • About 3 pounds Jonathan or other variety of apple, washed, quartered and cored
  • Sugar, if neededJonathan apples for saucing

Put a generous half-inch of water into a pot large enough to hold the apples easily. Add apple quarters. Cover pot, place on medium-hot stove, and bring water to a boil. Remove lid and cook, stirring mixture occasionally, until apples begin to get mushy (about 20 minutes). After the 20-minute mark, stir frequently to ensure sauce is not sticking; add more water by the half-cupful if sauce seems too dry. Keep cooking for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until apples have broken down.

When apples are good and saucy, remove pot from stove. Break up any recalcitrant apple-lumps with a spoon; let sauce cool, then put through a food mill to remove skins and any stray seeds. Taste sauce, and add a tablespoon or two of sugar if needed to brighten the flavor or take the edge off the tang. Refrigerate or freeze.

Photograph and recipe copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC

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