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Posts tagged ‘apple pie’

a little slice of heaven

27 September 2010


Les Price, the great sower of all things apple at Jones Creek Farm, observed that i had a penchant for English varieties. i peered into the bags of apples i had just gingerly picked from the orchard: Ellison’s Orange and Cox’s Orange Pippins and gave thought to the 40 pounds of Bramley’s i’d toted home just the weekend before.

i began to delve deeper into my mostly subconscious affinity for all things British : Winnie, the English bull terrier, Elroy, the Old English bulldog, Ralph Vaughn Williams, a recent, torrid love affair with a certain MINI-Cooper, Hidcote lavender, and of course, my beloved friend Alex. yes, an astute assessment on Les’s part and a startling revelation on mine.

bringing it back to the apples, i put up nearly 100 pounds of English varieties. and i knew when i was finally ready to bake, i’d want to dedicate the first pie of the season to Alex. this special pie could not be ordinary, although i venture to say few pies made with these varieties would be considered as such. it had to be spectacular.

a recent segment of Unique Eats on The Cooking Channel had featured Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in Brooklyn, New York. impressed by their creativity, originality, seasonal approach and commitment to local/organic ingredients, i decided to send them a note to request the recipe for their salted caramel apple pie. Emily and Melissa quickly and kindly responded with this perfectly extraordinary culinary tribute to Alex.

Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Salted Caramel Apple Pie
a recipe generously shared by Emily and Melissa Elsen…heartfelt thanks

set aside about four hours to tackle the recipe—it will be time well-spent.


for the crust
1 recipe of your favorite (2-crust) all-butter pie crust

for the salted caramel
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (i used salted and cut back slightly on the sea salt)
1/2 cup fresh heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (recommended: Maldon sea salt flakes)

for the filling
4 to 6 lemons
5 to 6 medium to large apples (recommend a mix of varieties, including some tart)
1/3 cup raw sugar (castor, unrefined, large granule sugar)
2 tablespoons flour (to me, it seems like the amount of flour depends upon how juicy your apples are, so increase accordingly. the Bramley’s exude a lot of juice.)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (i increased this to 1/2)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters (i didn’t have this ingredient, so i don’t know what i was missing. perhaps Emily or Melissa can comment, but the pie was wonderful nonetheless.)

for final assembly
1 egg beaten
raw sugar, for sprinkling
1 teaspoon sea salt (flake)


the crust

  1. prepare one 2-crust batch of your favorite all-butter pie crust.
  2. roll the bottom crust to fit a 9-inch pan, and cut the top crust as a lattice, approximately 1-inch in width or as desired.
  3. chill the rolled crust while you prepare the salted caramel and apple filling.

the salted caramel

  1. cook the sugar and water together over low heat until just dissolved.
  2. add the butter and bring to a slow boil; continue cooking at a low boil until the mixture turns a deep, golden brown color, almost copper. important note: this process takes awhile, depending on the heat source. keep an eye on it: if the caramel begins to smoke, you’ve burned it, and you’ll have to start over.
  3. when the mixture has turned a copper color, remove it from the heat, and immediately add the heavy cream – the mixture will bubble rapidly and steam, so be cautious as the sugar will be very hot.
  4. whisk the final mixture together well over low heat and sprinkle in the sea salt; set aside.

the filling

  1. juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl.
  2. core, peel, and thinly slice the whole apples.
  3. dredge all the apple slices in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning and to add flavor; set the prepared apples aside.
  4. in a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and Angostura bitters.
  5. sprinkle the mixture over the apples in the mixing bowl; use your hands to gently mix and coat the apple slices.

the assembly

  1. preheat the oven to 375F to 400F, depending on your oven.
  2. gather your rolled pie crust, salted caramel and apple mixture.
  3. layer 1/3 of the apples in the bottom of the crust; gaps between apples should be minimal.
  4. pour 1/3 of the caramel over the apples.
  5. add 1/3 of the apples and caramel for a second layer, and then add a third layer of apples, and then a third layer of caramel. important note: save a small portion of the caramel to pour on top once the lattice is assembled.
  6. assemble the lattice crust, and flute the edges.
  7. pour the last bit of caramel on top of the pie.
  8. brush the crust with the beaten egg, then lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and sea salt.
  9. bake the pie on a baking sheet larger than the pie pan for 20 minutes (otherwise the caramel will bubble over and burn on the bottom of your oven, and that would be bad).
  10. reduce the oven temperature to 325F to 350F, again, depending on your oven, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.
  11. test the apples with a long toothpick or small knife; the apples should be just soft.

let the pie cool, then slice and revel in the sweet, buttery, salty, tart contrast and deliciousness of this truly amazing pie. cheers!

the fascinating rhythm of pie

10 November 2009


apple pie from 11/07 class

for me, baking is a dance—one that i perform with infinitely more poise and grace than i could ever exhibit on any dance floor. i glide through my kitchen, moving from pantry to countertop to oven with clarity of purpose and a decided rhythm that helps me keep beat with my joyful, self-defined creative process. as i learned from Seattle’s acclaimed, award-winning, pie-baking maestro Kate McDermott this past weekend, rhythm also plays a pivotal role in crafting an exceptional pie.

Kate and husband Jon Rowley spent more than two years refining their perfectly tender, flaky, lightly crisp and rich pie-crust recipe—and another few years researching and experimenting with combinations of heirloom apples to determine which yielded the best-tasting results. with a Brix refractometer, they measure each variety’s sugar content to determine how other ingredients might be adjusted to ensure every pie’s flavors are ideally balanced.

Kate listening to pies

Kate McDermott listens to the rhythm of a nearly done heirloom-apple pie.

as a classically trained musician with a highly refined ear, Kate discovered that her pies were completely baked when they emitted a rapid cadence of sizzle and a steady beat of whump. these culinary rhythms prompt her to remove her glorious handmade pies from the oven.

recently—in our small class of four pie-making wannabes— Kate demonstrated how to form a perfect pie crust by first combining refrigerated King Arthur flour, cold Kerrygold butter, chilled rendered leaf lard and salt in a very large, very chilled mixing bowl. she plunged her hands deeply into the bowl and lifted the ingredients with her palms up, blending the butter, lard and flour with her fingers, leaving fat chunks of all sizes to encourage an ultimately flaky consistency. next, Kate sprinkled icy cold water until a dough formed. then she let us loose to do the same, until each of us had two, flattened pie-dough disks.

as our dough chilled in the fridge, Kate and Jon shared that heirloom apples have thin skin, which contains tremendous flavor; it’s neither necessary nor desired to peel them. we all cheered. we cored and chunked Belle de Boskoop, Black Twig, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Elstar, JonathanKing David and Prairie Spy varieties, tossing them into a giant communal bowl. Kate then measured and divided the apples into four-to-five-pound piles, one pile for each of our pies. we laughed nervously when we realized how many apples we needed to load into our pie dishes. after combining a blend of spices with the apples, we were ready to roll out our pie crusts. and that’s when i panicked.

rolling my pie crust has always been a overwhelming challenge. i clumsily try to shape a round, but it never is. round, i mean. Kate helped me to relax, work more confidently and less gingerly with proven techniques. if the dough isn’t perfectly round, life isn’t over. a happy revelation. it will still fit in the pie dish and on the top of the pie. and, most importantly, it will still taste great.

when our crusts were rolled and pies filled, we crimped, vented and egg-washed the top crust, then Kate carefully loaded our masterpieces into her oven. as the pies baked, Kate served snacks, including some of her own divine apple pie, and read Henry Ward Beecher‘s apple pie sermon aloud. as our pies came out of the oven, and we listened for their sizzles and whumps, i realized it wasn’t simply the rhythm of the pies that made for a warm, uplifting afternoon. it was Kate’s melody: her overarching enthusiasm, patience, openness, generous spirit and genuine love of pies. and it was the harmony of working together for a common goal: to proudly craft our own amazing pies.

i wish i would have taken more photos during class to share every step of the process with you, but i was literally up to my elbows in flour, lard, butter, pie dough and apples (and loving every minute of it). i totally forgot to remove my camera from its case, until our pies had been popped in the oven.

i’m about 100 percent positive that neither of the Gershwin brothers would have imagined the title of their 1924 hit could be applied to an award-winning berry or cherry or peach or heirloom-apple pie. but Kate’s rhythmic discovery is, indeed, fascinating. and her dedication to the Art of the Pie and teaching it to others, unwavering. if you’re near Seattle, i enthusiastically recommend that you take her class; it’s truly an experience every aspiring pie maker should have.

Kate’s Apple Pie
recipe shared with the gracious permission of Kate McDermott, Art of the Pie
makes one double-crust, 9-inch pie


for the double crust
2 1/2 cups refrigerated King Arthur unbleached white flour
8 tablespoons leaf lard, cut into various-size pieces, from peas to walnuts
8 tablespoons Irish butter (e.g., Kerrygold), cut into various-size pieces, from peas to walnuts
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 – 8 tablespoons ice water (variable, depending on environmental conditions)

for filling
about 10 cups heirloom apples, quartered and cored
1/2 cup flour
1/2 – 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar (my optional addition to 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (my optional addition)
a pinch or two of nutmeg
1 tablespoon organic apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

for topping
1 egg white mixed with 2 to 3 tablespoons water
1 – 2 tablespoons sugar


  1. in a generously large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the double crust, except the water.
  2. with clean hands, blend the mixture together until it looks like coarse meal; leave some lumps in it, so your pie will be flaky!
  3. sprinkle ice water over mixture and stir lightly with your hands or a fork.
  4. squeeze a handful of dough together; if it doesn’t hold, add a bit more water.
  5. form the dough into a ball, then divide in half.
  6. make two chubby disks, about 5 inches in diameter.
  7. wrap each disk in plastic, and let chill for about an hour.
  8. when the dough has chilled, place one of the disks on a well-floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top of it.
  9. thump the disk with your rolling pin (Kate prefers a French rolling pin, but whatever works best for you) several times; turn the disk over and thump the other side.
  10. if needed, sprinkle more flour on the disk to prevent sticking, then roll out the crust from the center in all directions. Kate advises to turn the dough quarter turns and to flip it over during the rolling process.
  11. when the dough is about an inch larger in diameter than your pie dish, fold the dough over the top of your rolling pin, brush off the excess flour on each side, and lay it carefully in the pie dish. don’t be alarmed if you have to patch your dough in a place or two; just brush a little water over any cracks, then reconnect the dough with any extra pieces you have left over.
  12. for your filling, slice the apples in 1/2-inch pieces.
  13. in a large mixing bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, except the butter; mix lightly until the surface of the apples have been coated.
  14. pour the mixture into the pie dish that contains your bottom crust, mounding high; dot with the butter.
  15. preheat oven to 425F.
  16. roll out your top crust, and place over the pile of apples.
  17. trim your crust with kitchen shears or a sharp knife, leaving about an inch of overhang.
  18. roll the crust over or under, so the pie is sealed; make sure the crust doesn’t extend beyond the edges of the pie dish.
  19. crimp the edges of the crust with a fork.
  20. paint with egg-white wash.
  21. cut decorative vent holes of your choice in the top crust.
  22. sprinkle sugar on top.
  23. bake the pie for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375F and bake for about another 40 minutes.
  24. when you remove the pie from the oven, listen for the sizzle and a deep, subtle bubbling or whump.
  25. cool on a wire rack. Kate’s sage advice: if you leave your pies to cool on the back porch, expect resident squirrels to pay a little visit.

serve alone for breakfast or with ice cream after your evening meal.