December 16, 2006

Introducing iPile (and two other apple pies)

A few weeks ago I undertook to bake my first pie. Apple pie, as I've learned, is wrought with peril.

In my three apple pie experiences I fell into three of the most notable traps: soupy filling, undercooked center, and 'the incredible shrinking apple'.

Before I talk about the failures, because, really, they weren't failures since each of the pies were still quite decent (if I don't say so myself), I will talk about the one consistent success. Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts performed admirably; tasters could tell it wasn't homemade, but never had any objections to it.

Pie No. 1 - iPile 1.0 - Southern Living (previously mentioned)

The first was an Apple-Cranberry pie from the Nov. issue of Southern Living. Its short and user friendly recipe is what got me started on the idea of pieing. Liz got tired of peeling the 15 required apples, so we stopped at 11 or 12. Unfortunately I couldn't find the recommended types at the Union Square Greenmarket, so I ended up using Gala (recommended), Braeburn (recommended), and Rome (not recommended for anything, ever). The Galas, I imagine, were for structure, the Braeburns for tartness, and the Rome apples did nothing useful. They, in fact, melted into the consistency of watery apple sauce. Fine for apple sauce, less than ideal for pie. My co-workers dubbed it iPile, since it didn't hold its shape long after leaving the plate. The cranberries added some needed complexity and distracted from the soupy Rome glop. (If only I'd read "mediocre as a fresh fruit" beforehand)

Braeburn apples will probably be in most of the pies I make. Liz said that they tasted like apple cider. I agree. The galas didn't taste like much, and the Romes, well, sucked. In the end, the Southern Living recipe was great, but user error prevented it from being all it could be.

Pie No. 2 - Deep Dish - Cook's Illustrated

A week after iPile 1.0, Meg and I endeavored to prepare the Cook's Illustrated deep dish apple pie. Their editors also recommended pre-cooking and were more forthcoming about why it was necessary. Cooking (most of the filling elements) in a Dutch oven (or heavy, covered, pot) activates the pectin in the apples, which discourages them from shrinking when cooked. The covered pot, they said, helped distribute the heat. Skillets tend to get the apples too hot. Read Cook's, they're full of interesting stuff.

The Granny Smiths, Braeburns, and Galas came out wonderfully. We drained the goo off after pre-cooking and were left with an apple-y pie with an adequate amount of chohesive sauce (it wasn't swimming in apple sauce like the Southern Living pie was). The only thing was that the Cook's pie was much more involved than the SL one but there wasn't a significant difference in taste. The Southern Living pie took a lot less work and tasted just about as good (perhaps better if I hadn't botched it)

Pie No. 3 - Rum Raisin/Apple - Gourmet

It could have been because this was the final pie in the batch, but this apple-rum-raisin pie was lightyears ahead of the others. Lightyears. I undertook this pie alone; no Liz or Meghan to peel and core the apples this time.

I'm a sucker for things that I haven't heard of at the Greenmarket. This time the filling was made up of Northern Spy, Winesap, and Opelescent apples. The recipe differed from the others in that it didn't have cooks precook the apples (to keep them from shrinking). I was hesitant, but hey, it's Gourmet. They know what they're doing. And the apples shrunk as much as Cook's warned. Eh. Whatever, it still tasted great. The rum-soaked raisins shined; I soaked them for about a day and they livened the pie up.

Next, cookies. Maybe in time for [some of the] holidays. This post has been a long time coming. Sorry about the wait.

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As for the pictures, they were mine; the top was an extreme closeup of the Cooks Illustrated, and the bottom one was showing the sad, unfortunate shrinkage of Gourmet's.

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