Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pie the First: Apple Gruyère

First off, watch Pushing Daisies.  This is mission-critical.  The short-lived Amélie-colored comedy has brought so much joy to my life over the past few months; I feel like I really can't oversell it.  However, I suspect you're not here to get television recommendations, and you're perhaps wondering why my very first pie blog posting appears to have very little to say regarding pie.  Dear reader, have faith and forge on!

In the world of Pushing Daisies lives a girl named Chuck.  Chuck has two socially phobic cheese enthusiast aunts named Lily and Vivian.  In an effort to improve the aunts' spirits, Chuck sneaks homeopathic mood enhancers into pies.  Most often, these pies are covered in cheese.  Naturally, yours truly couldn't resist taking one of her creations for a spin!

One of her first antidepressant Trojan horse pies involves a tasty and complicated flavor pairing: apple filling with Gruyère baked into the crust.  Oh me, oh my.  I had hoped to track down the recipes that used to be posted on the official Pushing Daisies website, but ABC apparently doesn't make a habit of hosting web promotions for shows they've brutally slaughtered (read: cancelled in favor of Grey's Anatomy spinoffs).  No luck, but I did find one benevolent pie enthusiast who dreamt up her own version and shared directions.

In a nutshell, I followed Tisha's recipe for the filling, as well as her helpful hints on integrating the Gruyère.  I departed from her directions for the crust for several important reasons:
  • I am already in possession of a simple and straightforward crust recipe that turns out just the way I want it to (straight from the brain of my pie guru mama)
  • I have a number of vegetarian/vegan friends who would be left out of the pie inhaling process if I used lard in my crust
  • I am massively broke and already have all the ingredients for regular crust
  • Lard is a nasty-sounding word and I'm a pansy
I grated about an ounce and a half of Gruyère into the crust, right before I formed it into dough balls to be rolled out.  I also noticed (after having watched both seasons of Pushing Daisies many times) that Chuck tops her pie with some big, coarse shreds of Gruyère across the top of the finished pie.  Never one to miss an opportunity to add more cheese, I followed suit.  Another notable deviation from the recipe: despite living in Washington, the apple capital of America, I couldn't for the life of me track down any of the varieties Tisha recommended.  I finally got so tired of looking that I just grabbed six of my favorite variety, Gala, and rolled with them.  They were less tart than usual, which I suspect pushed my creation even further away from what it was meant to be, but so it goes.

I'd also like to highly recommend a classy kitchen gadget that has the added advantage of looking like a medieval torture device.  The Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer is a truly ingenious creation that saves mad amounts of time for pies.  You pull the red handle back (toward the right, in the picture), load an apple onto the prongs, and start turning.  The apple spirals toward the left, hitting two mechanisms as it goes.  First, it hits a blade arm that removes the peel in a funky spiral shoestring manner.  Then, the apple reaches a circular blade, which simultaneously slices the apple (once more, spirally) and separates the slices from the core.  Fabulous!  I was lucky enough to find a bargain version of this bad boy on sale at Bi-Mart for $10, but I can vouch more vocally from the "real" Pampered Chef version featured in my link.  My mum's had it for many years and it still works perfectly every time.  My bargain version still does the trick, but is smaller and feels less sturdy, like it might need replacing in the near future.  Bottom line, though-- if you plan to make an apple pie a time or two, this contraption is the way to do it.

But enough with the technical talk and on with the pie!  This bad boy bakes for nearly an hour, and what a grueling hour it is.  The apple filling smells epic good as it heats up, and the cheese melting across the top is nigh on irresistible.  It definitely needed the specified 20 minutes to cool, and placing a cookie sheet under the pie pan saved my oven from becoming a sticky apple mess, as the filling tends to erupt out of any structural weaknesses in the top crust.  However, I am happy to report that the finished product was well-worth the trouble!

This pie is really f***ing good.

I've made an apple pie or two in my twenty-three years on this earth, but I think it's safe to say this one was best by far.  To be fair, cheese is one of my deepest passions, so its addition into most types of food is often a free pass into my belly.  So far, though, my taste testers have been quite pleased!

My observations in hindsight:
  • Gala apples were not the best choice.  I can't remember making an apple pie with anything but Granny Smith apples, but I thought I should at least try something semi-red for this recipe.  If available, I'd try the tart red varieties listed, or just revert back to Granny Smiths.  Non-baking apples yield very mellow pie filling-- sweet but without the subtle tartness you expect when you eat an apple fresh.
  • I really enjoyed having cheese across the top of the pie, as it made for easy bite-stacking possibilities.  Composing a bite with a bit of bottom crust, a few pieces of apple, and a large chunk of cheesy top crust was just about the most fun I've had with a fork all day.  However, the cheese hardens after melting, which makes it hard to cut through when slicing the pie.  In fact, I really destroyed a lot of the top crust just trying to slice the pie.  I'm curious to see if this problem could be partially mitigated by waiting to grate cheese across the top until after the pie has baked.
  • The pie dough needed more cheese (surprise, surprise!).  The recipe called for 2 ounces of Gruyère grated into the dough, but using the smallest grate size makes for very slow progress.  My arm got tired after an ounce and a half, and it looked like plenty of cheese, so I called it quits.  I'd shoot for more like 3 or 4 ounces next time, as we could hardly taste the cheese in the crust this time around.
Overall, a really tasty twist on a classic pie variety.  This one will definitely stay in my recipe box and be reused often.  In keeping with the trend of nerdiness already established within this blog, I think all pies will need to be rated on a painfully dorky scale.  Let's leave stars to the astronomers, how about?  Each finished pie will instead be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 decimal digits of pi, for a lowest score of 3.1 up to a highest score of 3.14159.

Pie the first, Apple with Gruyère crust, was undoubtedly tasty.  The juxtaposition of the sweet apple filling with the strong tangy cheese was exciting and fun, with a good (not too runny) consistency and a nice flaky crust.  More cheese in the crust and better choice of apples would have improved it greatly, but as it stands, this pie earns four decimal places of pi-- 3.1416 (with rounding, of course).

Happy baking and much love,

Friday, September 18, 2009

A very good place to start

It seems that all the cool kids have blogs these days, but the cool kids also tend to lead cool lives, thereby generating interesting material for said blogs.

I lead a decidedly uncool, but deeply happy, life.

In an effort to make said happy life a little happier, I'm starting a new project.  Once a week, I bake a pie, sometimes from a recipe and sometimes freestyle.  Then, I tell you hooligans all about how it went (admittedly, this step will probably come after I take a brief sampling break... om nom nom).  It seems to me like it'd be fun to be the friend who always has pie on hand, and I'm in constant need of a creative outlet.  My hopes are that I can hone my piemaking skills, feed my favorite people, and gum up the series of tubes with some pastry goodness.

Let the pie blogging commence!