It’s said that there are cooks and there are bakers. I consider myself both, but do tend to dive into dough when I’m happy/sad/stressed or otherwise in need of comfort – or when others are. The thing about baking is that you don’t do it out of necessity (as getting dinner on the table) and for the most part you don’t do it for yourself – baking is always about sharing.
Pies seem to dig even deeper into our collective histories – pies of all sorts are associated with the comforts of home, of casual celebrations and being together. You only make pies for people you really love. I mean to make pies more often than I do, and I say this as someone comfortable with the thought of making pastry from scratch – the prospect of making something like an apple pie from just butter-sugar-flour-apples can be daunting – but you can do this. I always have apples on my countertop, and make a habit of having puff pastry in the freezer. (Bonus: no one expects you to make puff pastry from scratch anyway.) The kind that comes by the sheet thaws quickly, and only needs to be unrolled, filled and folded. Apple pie assembly in ten minutes. Truly.
In Western Canada, February is Apple Month – this may seem odd, as we tend to celebrate orchard fruit in the fall, but apples from BC are some of the few fresh local fruits we can still access in the middle of winter. It’s the time of year when you want to warm up by the heat of the oven and stay home and bake on Saturday nights (ahem). I like to support our grower families next door, and almost always have Ambrosias in my fruit bowl – they’re sweet and tart, crunchy and tend to not oxidize (turn brown) as quickly as some other varieties. (I also may be biased after having met the couple who discovered Ambrosias in the Okanagan-a “chance seedling” in an orchard full of Jonagolds that had previously been home to Golden and Red Delicious – they say if they had been more diligent with their weeding, the variety wouldn’t exist.
I like to use a few different kinds in a pie, but a couple of the same work just fine too. Here’s what I do – slice them into a skillet with a blob of butter – don’t bother peeling them, there’s so much in the way of nutrients and fibre in the skin – and sauté them for a few minutes to allow them to soften, condense and caramelize. While they’re in the pan, unroll (or roll out) the pastry. This is the beauty of puff – it can be as sloppy and haphazard as you like, and it will still look fantastic. Puff pastry is that gorgeous woman who looks amazing even in old jeans and a baggy T-shirt. Toss the apples with some sugar and cinnamon and spread them out on one half of the pastry, leaving enough room to seal it closed. Again – as you can see, there is no need for perfection here. No rulers allowed. Fold over the pastry to cover them and press down around the edges with a fork, then brush all over with a beaten egg – this will make it glossy and gorgeous, but omit it if you like.
Don’t worry if it leaks – that’s what parchment is for. And that’s it. It can all be done on a baking sheet, no need for a pie plate. Someone once said thatthe best kind of pie is the kind on your table – this makes it even more doable.
Perhaps the best part: you can serve it warm, at room temperature or cold (hello, breakfast) in slices, like a strudel, or in wedges, which make them look like slices of pie. But it’s far easier to slide this onto a cutting board and cut it straight down at alternating angles than to wrestle a slice of warm pie cleanly out of its plate. Trust me on this. And it’s just as ideal a vehicle for ice cream.
Here’s to more pies on our tables.
*Thanks to BC Tree Fruits for asking me to help celebrate Apple Month – watch for a new apple recipe every Friday in February!