Saturday, October 6, 2012

Apple Pie

I'm one of those people whose spiritual well-being is reliant on four fully distinct seasons. Balmy, mild winters with very little snow make me feel cheated and dyspeptic. Early summers that smother the cool, fresh, and so very tenuous onset of spring find me disconsolate, and only made moodier by all you "the-only-nice-day-is-a-sunny day" revelers. But I find one seasonal encroachment more devastating than all the others. A fall overtaken by clear skies, bright sun, and 70-80 degree weather? OH HELL NO.

Forgetting the past winter, in which I spent many days hosting a scornful tirade against Minnesota, shaming it for this pitiful excuse of a season it's supposed to be known for and daring it to move to California if it's so keen on candyass winters (no, that doesn't make any sense, but I'm telling you - this is how I am), I've been feeling spiritually well for the past six months.

And now fall is here, and so far, I think I've done a pretty good job celebrating. I bought a chai latte mix for mornings and a hot cocoa mix for the afternoon. I went to an apple orchard where we had apple brats and cider. I baked pumpkin bread and apple pie cookies (pictured below) with my sister. I bundled up to watch a UofM soccer game under the lights, the requisite hot chocolate in hand. I go on a walk every afternoon, and every time I see a leaf on the ground that has taken on mind-blowing colors, I practice restraint, knowing that in five more paces I'll see another masterpiece. And just today, my morning walk went from a trip to the corner post box to a much longer outing fueled by the compulsion to walk down every street framed in red and gold. My ears were getting cold, but I willed myself not to think it a discomfort.
I reminded myself how good it felt to be cold again.

Lucky for me, I know some ladies who want to celebrate fall as much as I do. Last week we came together with the tastes of the season. I thought I would be bringing the piece de resistance, the quintessential fall treat. But I showed up and there was spicy butternut squash soup, stuffed mushrooms, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. My apple pie was one of many in a spread of fall bounty.

Five honeycrisp apples went into my pie. I'm sure many would advise against this, as honeycrisps are exceptionally juicy. I chose not to worry about it.

One could spend hours researching the "right way" to do apple pie. Will you cave and use shortening for a flakier crust, or stay true to butter? Then you need to read up on proper technique - all the tricks to keeping the touchy pie dough happy until it hits the oven and you can finally breathe. And don't even bother searching for "the best" baking apple. There are too many, depending on what you're aiming for, and they all have their weaknesses. 

My opinion? Grab your favorite apple and move on.

The crust fuss, however, is warranted. Here's what I know. The butter must be cold and solid the entire time you're working with it. Ignore the natural impulse to work toward a homogeneous, uniform dough - visible bits of butter must be kept intact! Pie dough does best under minimal handling. Bring it together into a crumbly mass, and leave it that way.

For me, that's where the rigor of apple pie stops. You always hear how baking is an exact science, and it is, mostly. But with apple pie, I can bake like a cook. I eyeball the filling, from apples to spices. Maybe this is a bit lazy, and I'm certainly not maximizing my chances of delivering an exquisite, deeply nuanced apple pie. But there's something rustic and messy and real about literally throwing things together and then plopping it all in the oven, knowing that whatever comes out will be delicious and enjoyed.

And it was.

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