Thursday, May 27, 2010

Apple Pie

So last night I took my second swing at the Alton Brown version of the good 'ole American apple pie. The results look good. I don't yet know how they taste. Why is that, you ask? Well let me tell you about it.

The fully-authentic American apple pie is not fast food. I now scoff at the Bullet Express infomericials which seem to indicate that you can whip-up an apple pie quickly. Bullshit! You may get some crust with some apple in it, but this is hardly a classic american apple pie. The real thing takes time. Considerable amounts of time. What does the time table look like?
  1. After whipping up the crust dough, you need to put it in the frige for two hours. I do mine over night in the frige. It turns out much better that way.
  2. You need to peel and slice your 3.5 pounds of apples. This is a laborious process. You can get a partial short-cut by using a good apple slicer which automatically cuts the apple into 12 equal slices, however, this doesn't really save that much labor. Slicing apple is the easiest part anyhow. The apple slicer is mostly used for consistency of thickness, not time savings.
  3. You have to place your apple wedges in a colander, sprinkle 2 or 3 ounces of sugar on them, and allow 1.5 hours for "apple collapse". The sugar basically sucks large amounts of apple juice out of the slices. This juice should be allowed to drain into a mixing bowl... you'll need it later. If you skip this step, the wedges will expand like crazy in the heat of the oven. The result will be the dreaded pie-dome, which is not good eats.
  4. An absolute minimum of 2 hours after start-time, you can begin assembly. Believe me, it will take longer than that. If you are assembling anything short of 3 hours after start-time, you probably skipped a step or did something wrong.
  5. The next step is to roll out your dough. For me, this has been the most challenging portion of the show. I hate wax paper. I haven't owned any in 20 years. Believe me, you need wax paper. Next time, I am buying wax paper. Pie dough is not like pasta dough. It does not hold together well. There isn't much gluten there to hold it together. If you glutenize your flour, you will get tough--not flaky--pie crust. That ain't good eats. The problem is that good pie dough, rips and tears and falls apart under little stress. The answer is rolling in wax paper... that has been flowered... in rice flour... not wheat.
  6. Then you must assemble the ingredient for the filling. Alton Brown recommends your sugared, collapsed apple wedges, apple jelly, apple cider, salt, tapioca, lime juice, more sugar, and the Grains of Paradise. More about that later. No fucking Nutmeg. No fucking cinnamon. No fucking cloves. No fucking Allspice. You may use Caraway as an alternative, but this is not recommended. Toss it all together in another mixing bowl, stick your Pie Bird dead-center, and pack your filling into your pie crusted-tart pan. More about the Pie Bird later. More about the Tart Pan later.
  7. Slap your wax-paper cover of pie crust over the top, poking the Pie Bird's little head out of the middle, seal it good.
  8. You need to reduce the apple juice you got from your "apple collapse" in a sauce pan--or plain pan--down to a jelly glaze. This takes 10 or 15 minutes under low heat. Get out a nice barbecue brush, and brush that glaze onto your pie crust. This sugar will caramelize on your crust, and give you some nice brown flavors.
  9. The first time I did pie, I used my regular gas-oven. I set the temp at 400 degrees, extra-high because my oven sucks, and cooked it for 50 minutes. It didn't work out so well. The whole pie was under-done. My regular oven does not hit or maintain its target temperatures well at all. This is why I bought a NewWave Oven Pro in the first place. Last night, I dropped my loaded tart-pan inside my NuWaveOven Pro for 50 minutes at 90% power. It looks like it worked out extremely well. The crust seems very flaky and I got a very nice browning effect. Remember color = flavor. You want lots of nice brown caramel flavors. I should have known a convection infrared oven would kick-ass in this application. A lot of bakers absolutely demand convection ovens.
  10. Once you do that, you set the pie out to cool for no less than four (4) hours. If you skip this step, the whole frickin' thing will fall apart into rubbish as you slice it. It will still taste good, but you will be eating hot apple cobbler. They call it apple cobbler because to you cobbled it down before it was ready. As Alton says, your patients will be rewarded.
So reckon 3 hours before you can begin assembling. One hour to assemble, if you are fast. One hour to cook. Four hours to cool. We're talking about a 9 hour project to make just one fucking pie. Better make two while you're at it. Now I remember vividly how my grandmother used to get up early on Thanks Giving day and start the pies. I know why she did this now.

I made my pie last night. I let it cool over night. It got more than 4 hours of cooling. It was ready to eat this morning, but I didn't want to slice into it. Apple pie for breakfast just doesn't seem right to me. I want steak and eggs. I put my pie in the frige to cool some more. It's going to be great tonight.

So I deviated from Alton's program in a couple of key ways:
  1. I put some poppy seeds in the pie crust mix. Poppy seeds are good. They add a lot of flavor, and they do contain those narcotic opiod alkaloids known as morphine, codeine, thebaine, and papaverine. That is not a joke. They really do. Old people eat poppy seed baked goods all the time. They do so for because of their arthritis. I have advanced osteo-arthritis in my knees. You don't get much of the good stuff in poppy seeds, but every little bit helps.
  2. I refused to settle for just the Grains of Paradise in my pie. I like a little cinnamon, Allspice and Caraway in my apple pie. I hate cloves. No cloves. I therefore ground up a blend of these spices in my Magic Bullet. It worked like a sonofabitch the first time. The pie was very fragrant, and it had a lot of flavor. I was a bit more conservative with the dosage this time. I wanted subtly. There is a synergistic effect here. Be cautious.
  3. I cannot find Apple Jelly anywhere on the frickin' local market. This really pisses me off. No, Whole Foods does not have it. Trader Joe's doesn't either. Neither does Gelson's. Neither Sur Le Table. Neither does Bristol Farms. If you want Apple Jelly, you can make it yourself. Therefore, I substituted Apple Butter instead. There doesn't appear to be any negative consequences from this substitution. It works fine.
  4. I like a mixture of corn starch and tapioca as my thickening ingredients. Maybe I am just a poor-boy, but I was raised on corn starch, and it tastes better to me. Tapioca is a bit funky.
  5. Of course, the NuWaveOven Pro is not precisely as per the SOP. We'll see how it works out. It looked great.
  6. I did not like the size of the full apple wedges. I cut them in half. A little smaller is a little better. You can pack more weight in there that way.
Otherwise, I did it the Alton Brown way. So now for a few of those key items Alton insisted on, and which I have never seen before:
  1. The tart pan. This is a special pan with a wrinkly outer wall and false bottom. It has to be 10 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. That is not easy to find. Sur Le Table came close, but no cigar. I had to order a pair of these items through Both turned out to be different and excellent. One was aluminum and the other was titanium.
  2. A Pie Bird is a ceramic (usually porcelain) little bird with his head stuck high in the air. It looks like something you might hang on a Christmas tree. The correct term in engineering vernacular is a steam vent. It belongs to a bygone era when people used to make everything ornate. I think it is a pretty cool throwback. If you don't use a Pie Bird, steam pressure will build inside your pie, and you will get either a pie dome, or a dripping mess. Sing a song of six-pence. Four and twenty black birds baked in a pie.
  3. Grains of Paradise is a very strange little spice I never heard of before. Shortly after seeing the apple pie episode of Good Eats, I noticed Samuel Adams is brewing a beer with Grains of Paradise. It is also known as Melegueta pepper and Alligator pepper. It looks like pepper and tastes like pepper to me. I got mine from Whole Foods. I think Caraway tastes better. There is something a bit weird about pepper in an apple pie. I am a major fan of heat also. I am currently growing Naga Jolokia and Bhut Jolokia in my hydroponic garden. It doesn't get hotter than that. Even so, I find pepper in my apple pie weird.
About the Pie Crust

For me the most surprising and amazing aspect of the Alton Brown apple pie is the crust formula. Alton gave us the following items:
  1. 12 oz (by weight) white flour.
  2. 1 Tablespoon of sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon of salt
  4. 6 oz (by weight) of unsalted butter (1.5 sticks of Challenge)
  5. 2 oz (by weight) of vegetable shortening (Crisco)
  6. 3 oz of Apple Jack.
No water. No egg. Little gluten. That's the objective. You mix the dry ingrediants in your food processor. I have a KitchenAid which is decent. You add the butter slowly as it blends. You add the vegetable shorting. Finally, you pour in the Apple Jack. Your food processor will turn it into a dough ball.

As noted above, I added some Poppy Seeds.

Just what the hell is Apple Jack? It's not your childhood cereal, that is for sure. It is the original, and most preferred, alcoholic beverage of the founding fathers. George Washington used to brew it. Abe Lincoln used to sell it in his Tavern in Springfield. It doesn't get more American than that.

Apple Jack is basically Apple Brandy. It is mostly ethyl alcohol. Ethyl Alcohol does not combine with wheat protein to form glutens. There is still some water in that Apple Jack, but not much. Apple Jack adds apple flavor to the crust, and makes it light and flaky. This is the secret ingredient, the quintessential element, the missing 5th element of the apple pie.

The 6th Element

I put the 6th element into the crust with the Poppy Seeds. Ethyl alcohol has some interesting interaction effects with Opiates. Some fools crush Vicodin tablets and drink them with Scotch Whiskey. The ethyl alcohol is an accelerator of the hydrocodone. They call this "dose dumping". This puts all of the hydrocodone into your blood stream immediately, triggering a bigger reaction.

I'll tell you what happens when you bake Poppy Seeds in a pie crust with Apple Jack tomorrow. You see, Alton Brown is not the only sonofabitch around here who knows something about chemistry. I am perfectly capable of adding some wrinkles here you just can't and won't believe.

You see! This is how I stay out of trouble. There are no Kevin Ellison stories with me because I stay home and bake apple pie. There are no Sean Payton stories with me, because I am busy baking apple pies. There are no Gloria James Delonte West stories with me, because I am home in the evenings baking apple pie.

Now I just need to invite Eva Mendez and/or Paz Vega over for a slice.