Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Baking by the seat of my pants

I’m a baking rebel who must always change at least one measurement or ingredient in a recipe, and often more than one. Most of the time I use no recipe at all and just eyeball it. Results have been some of the worst things I’ve ever made--those culinary disasters that are carried to the backyard and chucked over the fence. But some of my experiments, especially my apple pies, have gone down in history as one-time magical works of art that can’t be duplicated.

The road to a magical pie is simple—start with a basic pie recipe, then tweak it.

Things to keep in mind when baking an apple pie:

* Most bakers will tell you that the best apples pies come from a combination of apples, and I agree. I never bake a pie using a single variety. By mixing them up, you combine apples of different strengths and qualities, the main ones being flavor, texture, and moisture.

* Good apple-pie apples include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

Jonathan: You can never go wrong with a Jonathan. It has all of the qualities of a good apple, especially when it comes to flavor and texture. A Jonathan apple might seem boring, but there’s a reason it’s been such a popular apple for so many years—it keeps well, has a good flavor, and doesn’t turn to mush when cooked.

Winesap: Winesaps are all about flavor, and a couple of these in your pie can add interest.
Granny Smith
Golden Delicious: Never bake a pie of all Golden Delicious, but adding one or two will increase flavor, moisture, and sweetness. If you add Golden Delicious, you can decrease the sugar.

*Never bake with a Red Delicious apple. I’m guessing that the Red Delicious is the most photographed, painted, and drawn apple in the land, and it’s graced the cover of many a magazine and book. But the Red Delicious apple is an example of getting by on looks alone. The Red Delicious is bland, grainy, and tasteless, but undeniably gorgeous.

Here are some combinations I might consider when plotting my apple pie:
Four Jonathan, two Winesap, one Golden Delicious
Four Granny Smith, two McIntosh, one Winesap
Four McIntosh, two Winesap
Four McIntosh, one Jonathan, one Golden Delicious
Three Granny Smith, two Winesap, one Golden Delicious

Other things to keep in mind:
* Size matters. I’ve experimented with this, and apples slices can be too thick or too thin. Too thick creates pieces that might not cook thoroughly, and too thin creates a pie that is too dense.

* It might be tempting to slice the apples directly into the pie pan, then sprinkle the dry ingredients over the top. I’m a lazy baker and I’ve done this. I can tell you that it works, but the pie won’t be as tasty. Coating the apples evenly is important if you want a magical pie.

* Adjust sugar according to the sweetness of the apples used. For instance, I would reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup or less if adding two Golden Delicious apples. Also, nutmeg isn’t necessary; it’s a matter of preference.

Standard pie recipe


2 (9 inch) unbaked pie crusts
7 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
In a bowl combine apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Place mixture in a pastry-lined 9-inch pie plate. Dot with butter and adjust top crust that has been vented.
Place in oven and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn oven temperature down to 275-300 degrees and bake 40-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and apples are tender. Let cool and serve.

A comprehensive apple resource: Orange Pippin


  1. See, I would have used brown sugar instead of white (speaking of corrupting recipes). :)

  2. Yes! I don't think i've ever used all brown, but I have mixed brown and white.

  3. while i'm not a pie baker, my apple crisp last night was delicious. i used a variety of apples and it definitely made it a lot more flavorful compared to just throwing in some granny smith's like i usually do.

  4. If I could make a crust, I might stand a chance. And if I could let it sit, I might also stand a chance. All in all, I never bake.

  5. yay, bonnie! i love apple crisp.

    patti, i hate to cook, but i love to bake. but i know what you mean about not being able to let it sit.