Snowy Day Apple Crisp

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Yesterday we had a daylong spring snowstorm. They aren’t exactly unusual in St. Louis, but they aren’t a yearly occurrence either. We got almost a foot at our house, which is a lot for us.

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Rich’s mom was visiting from Florida and she said it was more snow than she had seen in years. My father-in-law had skipped the trip in favor of staying at home in warm weather. He was pretty much laughing at us as he played golf in the sunshine.

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Since we were stuck at home we planned a day of board games and baking. I planned to make an apple pie, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Mary, Rich’s mom, wanted a hands on lesson in caramel sauce. I got the ice cream started and found a bag of already peeled apples in the freezer before a doozy of a migraine came out of nowhere and laid me flat for most of the afternoon. Feeling awful sent all thoughts of pie and caramel sauce out the window into the snowstorm. After I felt better I pulled together an apple crisp to go with the ice cream and we were all happy. There is no better therapy for me than playing in the kitchen, especially since everyone else washed all the dishes and cooked dinner.

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The picture of the crisp isn’t very pretty (so I’ll distract you with Rich’s pretty snow pictures).

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I had sweetened the apples with brown sugar and lots of cinnamon before I started feeling bad, thinking that would provide a nice contrast with light colored pie crust. When I made the crisp topping I also used brown sugar for the crumbs, which made the whole thing one color. When you make it, use white sugar in the filling and you will get more color contrast. Looks aside, it tasted fabulous. I still want apple pie, though. I might just have to make one in the near future to satisfy the craving.

What do you do when the weather strands you inside?

Download or print just the recipe here.

Apple Crisp with Brown Sugar Topping
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6-8

The topping is pretty sweet – you may not want to add any sugar to the filling, especially if your apples are sweet rather than tart.

Filling:
3-4 large apples, peeled and diced
1-4 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon, to taste
1-2 tablespoons flour, if apples are juicy

Topping:
¼ cup butter, melted
½ cup flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square casserole dish, or equivalent.

Mix apples with sugar, cinnamon and flour and spread in an even layer in greased dish.

Stir flour, brown sugar and cinnamon into melted butter until damp crumbs form. Spread in an even layer on top of apples.

Bake 30-45 minutes, or until apples are tender and topping is crunchy. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Gluten Free Apple Turnovers

I have not needed to bake anything gluten free before, but I decided to try it before my last book club meeting. We were all taking something to nibble on while we were discussing our book, and I always like to take the chance to bake something. One of our members is trying to maintain a gluten free diet. Her youngest daughter is severely allergic to gluten and she is trying to stay away from gluten also. I had a few lackluster orchard apples that needed cooking, so I decided to make gluten free apple turnovers. I figured pie crust might be a good experiment for my first foray into gluten free baking, since it wouldn’t need to rise.

I looked online to find a gluten free pie crust recipe. I found a few that called for xanthan gum, which is supposed to be a wonder ingredient in gluten free baking. It is a thickening and binding agent, and helps make up for the structure that gluten normally provides. It is a pricy ingredient, and since I wasn’t sure I would do much gluten free baking, I didn’t really want to invest in any. I found a few other recipes that called for an egg, and no xanthan gum. I figured the egg could provide the binding action of xanthan gum.

I used King Arthur Flour’s gluten free flour mix and went to town. The recipe that I was working from called for a huge amount of butter. While I am used to pie crust that uses a lot of butter, this seemed excessive. I was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough flour to hold all that butter and I would end up with a big mess. I ended up cutting the butter in half, which still made a beautifully buttery crust. The turnovers sizzled in the oven and basically fried in their own butter on the baking sheet.

The turnovers got rave reviews from everyone at the meeting. I completely forgot to take pictures, but trust me; they were beautifully golden brown, with a slight bit of apple filling showing through the slits in the tops. Since there isn’t a photographic record, I won’t mention how lumpy and misshapen they were. I should have chilled my dough a bit before trying to roll it out. It goes to show you that even ugly food can taste wonderful.

Print or download recipe here.

Gluten Free Apple Turnovers
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 large turnovers

 Filling:
1 ½ pounds apples, approximately
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon maple syrup or water
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

Crust:
2 cups gluten free flour (I used King Arthur Flours multi-purpose mix), plus more for rolling out the dough
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional)
½ cup butter (1 stick), diced and then chilled
1 egg, lightly beaten
Ice water

Topping:
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
Granulated sugar or cinnamon sugar

Prepare the filling first. Peel and dice the apples. Combine the apples, vanilla and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Add maple syrup or water, and brown sugar to taste. Use less if the apples are sweet. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, or until apples are soft. They will cook a little bit in the oven, but not much, so make sure they are the texture you like. When the apples are to your liking, add the cornstarch and water mixture to the apples and stir constantly until the liquid bubbles and thickens slightly. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.

Prepare the crust while the filling cools. Combine the gluten free flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add cold butter and cut in with a pastry blender until mixture looks like coarse sand, with a few larger pieces of butter. Add egg and mix briefly. Add ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together when pressed into a ball. Place ball of dough on a piece of plastic wrap and form into a flat disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease. Set aside. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on a surface lightly floured with gluten-free flour. Divide dough in half and set one half aside, loosely covered.

Roll first piece of dough into a rough rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick, adding extra flour if dough starts to stick. Cut dough into 6 rectangles or squares. Place 2-3 tablespoons of apple mixture on one half of each rectangle, leaving an edge of clean dough on three sides. Bring empty half of dough up and over filling and press edges to seal. Use your fingers to apply a little water to the edges if they won’t seal. Patch any holes with dough scraps, using a little water as glue.

Use a lightly floured spatula to move sealed turnovers to baking sheet. Repeat with second half of dough. If dough gets hard to work with, cover it and return it to the fridge for a few minutes before trying again.

Cut a few slits in the top of each turnover with a sharp knife. Combine egg with water. Brush turnovers with egg mixture and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar or cinnamon sugar.

Bake turnovers for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until tops are lightly golden brown on top and a little darker on the bottoms. Let turnovers cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes to firm up before moving to a rack to cool thoroughly. Store in a sealed container for a few days, or freeze to keep longer. Thaw at room temperature.

Pie Crust isn’t Scary

I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they are afraid of making pie crust. Trust me, you can do it. Even if you have never baked much before, you can make your own pie crust. It can seem tricky, but stick with me and you can leave the dough boy’s ready-made crusts at the store and make your very own, from-scratch pies.

The most important thing to remember when making pie crust is to keep everything cold. If things start to get sticky (literally), throw the crust in the fridge and take a break for a while. If you start to lose your cool, stick the crust in the fridge and put your feet up until you regain your equilibrium. And maybe don’t try your first pie on a hot day when the A/C isn’t up to par. Other than that, as long as you take your time, you will be successful in your pie endeavors.

One more thing. Repeat after me – I will not make my first pie crust for company. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Try this when you have all the time in the world. When you are baking for company, or to take to a party, you worry about what people will think of your results. You don’t need that pressure. Make the first pie for just you and your supportive family. And if your family isn’t supportive, play Little Red Hen and eat the whole pie yourself.

I made a freeform pie on a cookie sheet for this series of posts. I have never done one before, and I have no idea why not. It worked beautifully. If you have never made pie before, I encourage you to make a freeform pie. There are no worries about fitting the pie into a pie plate, or getting the crust rolled out even close to round. If you want to make a pie in a pie plate, go for it, but you will have to wait for another pie post to get specific directions and pictures for a traditional pie.

I am only giving you the recipe for pie crust today. If you have made pies before, use the crust to make your favorite pie. If you have never made crust before, read the directions and look at the pictures today. If you get ambitious, make the crust through to the chilling step and leave it in the fridge until tomorrow. Otherwise, read, absorb and get ready to make pie soon!

Butter Pie Crust
from The Cook’s Life
Makes 2-3 9-inch pie crusts

I use all butter for this crust, and a lot of it. The high ratio of butter to flour makes for a nice flaky pie crust that tastes fabulous. The directions look long, but I tried to cover every detail, since I can’t be in the kitchen with you.

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water, approximately
Flour for rolling

Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.

Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender. This is a great tool for making pie crusts, but you can also use two knives, one in each hand and cut from the middle of the bowl to the edges, cutting the butter into smaller and smaller pieces. A food processor also works.

Blend with the pastry blender or pulse in the food processor until the butter is cut into pieces a little smaller than peas. There will be various-sized pieces, which is fine.

Sprinkle 4 tablespoons water on the mixture and mix with a spatula or pulse in the food processor once or twice. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until most of the dough comes together. There will still be dry-looking pieces. Move the dough and all the little bits to a piece of plastic wrap spread on the counter. Using your hands, try to press the dough into a ball. If it really is too dry, sprinkle water on the dry parts, a teaspoon at a time, until it comes together.

The dough should be buttery, but not wet. Don’t panic if you get it too wet. You can fix it later.

It will leave your hands greasy, which is what you want.

Once you have a ball of dough that will hold together, cut the ball in half. Form each half into a flat disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes, or up to a week. You can also freeze it for longer, but put it in an airtight container or plastic bag. Thaw overnight in the fridge. This makes 2 very generous pie crusts. If you are an experienced pie maker, you can make 3 crusts. Otherwise make 2, which will give you lots of extra to cover mistakes – and enough to make some tasty baker’s treats.

While the dough chills, get your rolling out space ready. Make sure you have enough room to work without bumping the rolling pin into anything. If you don’t have enough counter space, try the kitchen or dining room table. I roll my dough directly on the counter, but use a rolling mat or really large cutting board if you like. Put a damp towel or some rubber bands underneath your board or mat to keep it from slipping. Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour, rub flour on your rolling pin and get your pan ready. I used a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for my freeform pie. You can also use pie plates, of course.

Remove one dough disk from the fridge. If it has been chilling for more than 30 minutes, let it warm up on the counter for 15 minutes or so. Otherwise, get ready to roll!

Place the dough on your floured surface and sprinkle the top of it with flour. If your dough was too wet before the chilling, sprinkle the flour on heavily and be ready to add flour the instant it starts sticking.

Start rolling, gently, but not too timidly. Roll from the middle of the dough, directly to 12 o’clock. Then roll from the middle to 6 o’clock. Pick up the edges of the dough and slide it around 90 degrees, adding flour underneath if it sticks at all. Even if it doesn’t stick, add a little flour underneath the dough each time you turn it. Roll from the middle to 12 o’clock again and from the middle to 6 o’clock again. The minute it starts to stick to the rolling pin or the counter, sprinkle on flour – don’t finish the rolling stroke, get the flour. Flour is your friend in this process. This dough has enough butter in it that you aren’t going to hurt it with sprinkles of flour.

If the dough does stick and tear, you are fine. Scrape the stuck bits off and press them back into place. If they won’t stick together, wet your fingers a bit and use the water like glue. Then sprinkle flour on any sticky spots and keep rolling.

Your pie crust is not going to be round. It just isn’t. I have been making pies since I was ten, and after thirty years (yes, this year is the big 40), I still only roll mostly round crusts. This is why I wrote the recipe to make generous crusts. You will have enough crust to make any repairs or adjustments you need.

Keep rolling, turning and adding flour when you need to, until the dough is pretty thin. For a free-form pie, you want it a little thinner than 1/8-inch, but don’t go so thin that you have holes, if you can help it. Make sure you have enough flour under the dough, so that it slides over the surface and doesn’t stick when you turn it.

When you have the dough thin enough, sprinkle the top with flour. Carefully pick up the back edge of the dough and fold it in half. Use a dough scraper, spatula or knife, along with more flour, to help lift the dough it if does happen to stick, which mine did. Once you have it folded in half, sprinkle the top with flour again and fold one side over the other. Now you can carefully move your folded pie crust to the parchment lined baking sheet or pie plate. Position the point of the dough in the middle and unfold, brushing off any extra flour with your fingers.

You are now ready to fill and bake your first pie crust! Baking directions to follow tomorrow.

Download or print recipe here.
Download or print recipe with short directions – if you have made pie crust before.

Dessert from the Pantry – Mini Chocolate Pies

As I mentioned yesterday, Calvin spent last Friday night with my parents. They live about an hour away, and after we picked him up on Saturday I was daydreaming about dessert on the drive home (everyone daydreams about making dessert, right?). Saturday is dessert day around our house and I wanted to make something quick and easy, but different from our usual fallback of chocolate chip cookie bars or brownies.

We had part of a package of Double Stuf Oreos in the pantry. I figured it was just about enough to make crusts in my four mini pie pans. We always have the ingredients for Microwave Chocolate Pudding. And if “someone” (Rich) ran to the store for cream to whip, we would be all set for Mini Chocolate Pies.

Here is the method, with links to the chocolate pudding recipe:

Crush, or grind in a food processor, about a third of a package of Oreos. We had Double Stufs, but I think regular ones would have been better. The extra filling made the crust just a little too sweet, and you could see the flecks of white filling. Rich and Calvin thought it was just fine, though.

If you don’t have mini pie pans, you could probably do this in a regular 9-inch pie plate or small casserole dish. You might need more Oreos, or you could just press the crumbs in the bottom and not worry about going up the sides.

Press the crumbs into the pie pan(s). The cookie filling takes the place of butter or sugar in the crusts and holds the crumbs together. I first saw this on “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS several years ago, so I can’t take credit for the method.

Bake the crust(s) in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5-7 minutes. Stay in the kitchen and let your nose tell you when they are done – they will smell chocolatey and sweet. You can’t tell by the color, because the crumbs are so dark in the first place. These go from just done to burnt in seconds – I rescued mine just in time.  Let the crusts cool on a rack while you make the pudding. We used Microwave Chocolate Pudding, but any pudding will work.

Pour the pudding into the crust(s) and lay plastic wrap directly on the pudding surface to avoid a skin on top. Place in the fridge to cool.

We took the lazy route and got whipped cream in a can. Feel free to whip your own. Top the pies just before serving. Garnish with a few chopped chocolate chips or chocolate shavings, and maraschino cherries (Rich’s choice), if you like.

These are best the same day, or at most the next day, if they last that long.