Am I stuck lately? Sure. Stuck on pie. Stuck on my two rewrites. In an uncomfortable rut in my life? Unable to cobble together enough to pay my mortgage? All of the above.
I have been revising my Middle Grade Gothic novel for what feels like years (and is actually over a YEAR). At least I’m up to revising the ending, but everything I wrote this weekend is crap and has to be redone.
I paused, at one point yesterday, and baked a pie for the friends I was petsitting for — mostly because they had a whole bag of Pippin apples on the counter. If that’s not a blatant invitation to bake a pie, I don’t know what is. If they have a round pie dish, I couldn’t find it. I loved their red, square casserole anyway and it was the perfect depth for deep dish.
Before you start gagging and having visions of Martha Stewart, let me tell you what happened. I was blocked on the crust!
I have never understood why people are so intimidated by pie until yesterday. No matter what I did — from chilling the marble rolling pin to trying again with a totally different fat — I could not get a damn crust to roll out. I didn’t have my trusty French rolling pin or my pastry cutter, but that shouldn’t matter. I had cold fat, two knives, a cold smooth surface, flour and water. In theory, or at least according to my own blog, that’s all you need!
I resorted to a press crust finally for the bottom, and threw some strips of dough over the top in a faux-lattice.
My friends tell me it tasted great and I believe them because it smelled pretty fantastic. These friends are also far more healthy eaters than me and had no white sugar accessible, so I substituted wildflower honey (which they had plenty of), turbinado sugar (same diff), and maple syrup. Instead of vanilla, I used some homemade spiced rum someone had given them as a gift. Recipe for this improvised square pie below.
After my Dad died his friend Phil, with whom he had been having lunch once a week for decades, started having lunch with me instead. In between lunches, Phil, being an old school kind of guy, writes me letters. Phil is also old school enough to have written letters with Saul Bellow too.
Phil wrote me that when Saul got stuck while writing The Adventures of Augie March, he found the action of the Parisian street cleaners, hosing the gutters madly with water controlled by rolled up old carpets helped him to feel free to gush whatever the hell he wanted onto the page. The moral of this story? I badly need a trip to Paris.
Improvised Apple Pie (dairy-free)
Make your crust and put it in the fridge or freezer (covered to avoid picking up weird smells). My press crust recipe is here.
Ingredients for filling:
Love this cheesy cover — says “Nobel prize” winner!
2 – 3 cups of cut up apples (some green plus whatever you have in the house, but not too mealy)
2 tablespoons of rum
3 tablespoons of honey3 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 cup turbinado or brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice or orange juice
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Peel and cut up about 2 cups worth of apples into bite-sized chunks. Discard cores. I usually use whatever apples I have on hand but mixing in green apples that are closer to their quince ancestors and more pectin-y means you don’t have to bother with thickeners in your filling. I have never even heard of using corn starch or even flour in an apple pie filling because my Mom always used Granny Smiths — but I read that people do it. Don’t. Green apples will solve this problem. Make sure the apples are fairly fresh. You want some texture. If the apples are already soft, use them to make homemade apple sauce instead or apple butter.
Here’s a new step my my Mom never did. Put all of your ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke them until the sugar is dissolved and the apples are starting to get soft. Alternatively, do what Cooks Illustrated says and cook them in a dutch oven and then remove them and cool them flat in large pan with sides. I have already registered my disgust at their need to dirty everything in your kitchen. No need to do it again here!
Preheat the oven to 375.
Once the filling is cool (which it will do just fine in your microwave-safe bowl) pour it into your chilled crust. At this point you could opt for a streusel topping or roll out a sheet of pastry to put on top (which was what I did at Thanksgiving). If you add a top crust, sprinkle it with turbinado sugar before baking and be sure to prick the top with a fork multiple times before baking. In good news, the pre-cooked filling probably won’t bubble out and make a mess of your oven but put a baking sheet underneath when you put the pie in the oven just in case. Every apple is different.
Bake your pie for about an hour, covering it with foil if the crust starts to burn. As I mentioned above, pre-cooked filling isn’t as lively as the other kind, so your pie will be ready when the crust is golden brown and the whole thing looks firm.
Improvised Apple Pie: Printer-ready