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An Apple a Day ...

October 12, 2006 By:
Andrew Schloss, JE Feature
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Embellishing an apple pie is as American as a flaky crust packed high with thick slices of pippin, Winesap or Granny Smith, collapsing under the weight of a double dip of homemade ice-cream. It's as elaborate as poached lady apples in sour-cream custard beneath a high-flying puff-pastry crown.

It's as delicate as a bite-sized tartlet filled with a single apple wedge beneath a pane of caramel glaze, and as hearty as a deep-dish pie shell crowded with chunks of apple under a melting cap of cheddar cheese.

Apple-pie variations abound, emerging every time a new apple variety, crust recipe, and savory or sweet addition is used. There are scores of styles of apple pies, from two-crusted whoppers to slim disked galettes. There are crumb-lined apple pies -- and crumb-topped ones, too. There are glazed apple tarts, lattice-topped country-fair champions and upside-down tartes tatins.

The apple varieties that are best for pies are those with enough natural tang to give the apple a full fruit flavor once it has been sweetened and baked. Granny Smiths, Macouns, Gravensteins, McIntosh, Gala and Winesap all work well, but feel free to experiment or substitute one variety for another in any apple-pie recipe.

The only apple that should be avoided is the popular eating apple, Red Delicious. Though these are very juicy and snappingly crunchy for eating out of hand, they become bland and watery when baked.

When preparing apples for pie -- or any other preparation calling for a large number of apples -- you must take measures to keep those apples that are already peeled and sliced from browning while you are prepping the rest. Browning is an enzymatic reaction that happens when the interior flesh of an apple is exposed to oxygen.

Though there are several ways to slow the process down, there is no way to stop it -- which means efficiency and speed are essential from the moment the first apple is peeled until the assembled pie slides into the oven. The most popular way to retard enzymatic browning is to rub the cut surfaces of apple with lemon juice as they are cut, or hold them in water that has been acidulated with lemon juice or cider vinegar.

The easiest way to core an apple is to cut it in half through the stem end and scoop the seeds out with a melon-baller.

If you make fabulous pastry, feel free to use your favorite recipe, but don't fear the many premade pastry alternatives available at the supermarket these days. I recommend already-rolled refrigerated pastry sheets that only need to be slipped into a pie tine; Pillsbury, which is commonly available and kosher-dairy, yields great results.

Apple Turnovers Scented With Fennel

(Dairy)

2 apples (Winesap, Granny Smith or MacIntosh), peeled, cored and cubed
1 rib fennel, finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
juice of 1/2 orange
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 lb. frozen puff pastry, defrosted according to package directions
1 small egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. milk

In a heavy saucepan, cook the apples with the fennel and sugar until the apples release their juice and become tender, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in the orange juice in a small bowl.

When the apples are tender, stir this mixture into the apples and simmer for 1 minute.

Add the vanilla and turn into a bowl to cool. Cool completely before forming the pastries.

To form the pastries, roll the puff pastry on a lightly floured board until it becomes a square measuring 121/2 inches on each side. With a sharp knife, trim 1/4-inch from each side, leaving a 12-inch square of dough. Cut into quarters to make four squares with 6-inch sides.

Mix the egg with the milk, and brush the surface of each square, being careful that none of the egg wash drips over the edge.

Divide apple mixture among the four squares of pastry making a small mound in the center of each.

Fold each square of pastry, bringing one corner to the opposite corner, forming a triangle with the apple mixture in the center. Gently push the edges together.

Place on a baking sheet, leaving at least an inch of space between each pastry.

Brush the tops with more of the egg wash, and bake in a 400-degree preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until fully puffed and brown.

Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Apple Pie With Nut Topping

(Dairy)

6 Tbsps. unsalted butter
3 lbs. apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsps. vanilla extract
11/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 premade refrigerated pastry round
2 Tbsps. cornstarch

In a large pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Add the apple slices and toss so that all of the slices are coated with melted butter.

Add the sugar, salt and half of the cinnamon.

Simmer until the apples are tender.

Stir in the vanilla and cool until barley warm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, mix the chopped walnuts, brown sugar, flour and remaining cinnamon. Cut in the remaining butter until it's well-blended.

Line a 9-inch pie plate with the pastry; fold under the edges and crimp. Toss the cornstarch into the cooled apple mixture and pour into the pastry-lined pie pan, heaping it higher in the center.

Cover with the walnut-crumb mixture.

Bake for 50 minutes, until browned.

Cool for at least an hour on a cooling rack before slicing.

Serves 8.

Apple Sour-Cream Custard Pie

(Dairy)

2 Tbsps. butter
3 lbs. apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup sugar
2 tsps. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsps. pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup dark-brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsps. chilled unsalted butter
3/4 cup sour cream
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 premade refrigerated pastry round

In a large heavy pan, melt the butter.

Add the sliced apples and mix so that all of the slices are coated with melted butter.

Mix in half of the sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and the lemon juice.

Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the apple slices are tender. Stir in half of the vanilla. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For the Topping: Combine the pecans, brown sugar, remaining cinnamon, 1/2 cup of the flour and half the salt.

Cut the chilled butter into teaspoon-sized pieces, and work the butter through the dry ingredients until the mixture becomes crumbly.

Combine the sour cream with the remaining sugar, salt, flour and vanilla. Mix in the nutmeg and egg until smooth with a whisk. Drain the apples and fold into the sour-cream mixture.

Line a deep, 9-inch pie pan with the pastry; fold under the edges and crimp crust. Pour the apple/sour-cream filling into the crust. Tilt the pan so that the filling flows evenly to all parts of the pie.

Top with the crumb mixture and bake the pie on a sheet pan for an hour and 20 minutes, until golden-brown on top and the custard is set.

Cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Serves 8.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.

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