All my life, even before I really got into cooking, baking has been a passion of mine. I’m far from an expert baker, but I’ve always loved to do it and have been complimented on my baked goods countless times. However, more than half of the time, I think those compliments really should have gone to Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines. I admit, I’m great at following a recipe on a box, and even spicing it up with decorations or frosting… but it’s on the rare occasion that I’ve ever baked anything from scratch.
Last fall, I managed to bake a pretty decent pumpkin cheesecake with a pecan cookie crust from scratch, following a recipe I found on the internet. It was the success of that pie and my love for apples that I decided to give apple pie the old college try, for the first time ever.
As with all of my new endeavors, I began by searching for a recipe. The one thing I’ve always judged any recipe on is its user reviews; it not only has to have GOOD reviews, but it has to have a LOT of them. So when I came across this recipe, I thought I had found a winner.
I gathered up the ingredients on a Wednesday evening after work and set out on my quest. And then about five minutes into my quest, I realized that the recipe I was following did not include ingredients or instructions for the crust… I panicked. Now what? Would I have to throw away all the apples that I had spent an hour peeling, or go out to the store and buy stuff for a crust and hope I had enough time to make it?
After a quick Google search and a few websites later, I found a recipe for a pie crust that sounded good, was recommended for apple pie, and I magically had JUST enough ingredients to make. Success, this would work out after all.
Except that I followed the recipe instead of my instinct.
I followed the instructions on the pie crust recipe to a T. First, I blended together the ingredients exactly as the recipe indicated, left with a pile of crumbles that I shaped carefully into 2 discs, being careful not to handle them too much, as the recipe cautioned.
I then put the 2 discs into the fridge, following the line in the recipe that said “Let dough chill for an hour to 2 days.” I let the dough chill for an hour and began rolling it out.
RED FLAG #1: I had a feeling an hour wouldn’t be enough time for the dough to chill adequately. I thought to myself, “Maybe I should let it chill overnight and make the pie tomorrow.” And then I said, “No, the recipe says an hour is enough time, so it must be.”
Unfortunately, my instinct won. The dough didn’t quite roll out as anticipated. In fact, it didn’t roll out at all. No matter how much flour I used to coat the counter, the rolling pin or the dough, it got stuck to EVERYTHING. I ended up with a sticky pile of some semblance of pie crust dough that I didn’t know what to do with. But I wanted to persevere. I’d come this far, right? So I managed to lift it up and plop it in my pie plate, and with some handiwork, plugged up a few holes and made the dough cover the pan so I could put some apples inside.
Meanwhile, as the dough was chilling, I proceeded with the rest of the apple pie recipe. I peeled a combination of Cortland and Granny Smith apples, set them aside and began preparing the mixture of sugar, brown sugar and butter that the recipe described. As the mixture was simmering, I chopped up my apples and continued trying to roll out both the top and bottom crust.
Once I somehow managed to make the crust work, making a pseudo-lattice top since I could not roll the dough out into one big piece (I was hoping to try a lattice top anyway, just under better circumstances) I started to put the whole pie together.
RED FLAG #2: As I poured the apples into the bottom crust, I thought to myself, “I made this mixture of sugar and butter to give these apples some sweetness and flavor, but the recipe says to pour the mixture on top, rather than mixing it with the apples. Won’t the apples be awfully plain?” but again I proceeded with the recipe because I know baking is a science, not an art, and I didn’t trust my instincts on something I’ve never made before.
So I put the top crust on and then poured the sugar mixture over the top. But this mixture wasn’t a liquid. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be and I messed it up, or if it was just some major misunderstanding of the recipe on my part, but my pie suddenly looked like some sort of apple crumble instead of a pie.
RED FLAG #3: Because I poured this sugar mixture with a butter base on TOP of the pie, some butter was dripping off the pie even before I put it in the oven.
40 minutes later, my house was full of smoke as I opened the oven to check on the pie, and realized there was a puddle of butter burning at the bottom of my oven. Done or not, this pie had to come out. It looked awful but I needed to clean the butter. I called the pie a failure and vowed that I would try again. I had conveniently doubled the crust recipe when I made it because I wasn’t sure how much luck I would have with this pie from the start. I guess PART of me knew my instincts would be right.
Needless to say, despite it not looking like a pie, or coming out as I had hoped it would, it did still taste good. I brought the pie to work and got stellar reviews from the hawks my co-workers. So at least I got the flavors right, but all in all I know I can do better.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, “The Apple Pie Trials: Second Try’s a Charm?”