Friday, November 21, 2008
As you may know - or then, as you may not know - I have been trying to exorcise my apple-cinnamon demons by repeatedly making apple-cinnamon desserts. My theory is this: I will either become exhausted of eating the ethereal combination of apples and cinnamon (did I say "ethereal"?), or I am meant to be saddled with this demon for all time. Hmmmm. Which do you think it is? Right. Yeah. That's what I'm thinking.
In this journey toward possible exorcism, I'm working my way up to making Apple Pandowdy, which, sadly must now wait until after Thanksgiving to be made. I had pictured the weekly baking of apple desserts as a way to determine which dessert would triumph and be made to share at Thanksgiving, but, alas, I couldn't stop making that cursed (I would appreciate it if you would pronounce this "curse-ID", if you don't mind) apple cake, and it kept me from realizing my goal.
Cursed indeed. We've been out of dessert for nearly a week - ok, just a few days - as we finished Friday's skillet apple pie, for which I am about to provide you the recipe, on Sunday, and frankly, I do love Nutella, but it's a wee bit sad to eat it by the spoonful and call it dessert. The proper term for Nutella by the spoonful is snack.
As I just could not possibly go one more day without a proper dessert, I decided to make the cursed apple cake. I headed to the chicken coop to rustle up the two eggs called for in the recipe. And rustling it is these days. The chickens are four and a half years old. They are tired. They are molting. They would like to retire to a warmer climate, and most of all, they do not wish to lay eggs. We have sixteen chickens, and they produce exactly one egg per day. This is not the way it should be. In fact, when chickens are young and at the height of their egg-producing years, they lay an egg a day per bird. Those were good times: frittata any time we wanted, egg salad, deviled eggs for the Easter buffet, fresh pasta, quick carbonara sauce when we were feeling too lazy to cook but not quite able to deal with driving the fifteen miles to Providence for take-out. Yes, good times indeed.
But these are different times. For us, and for the chickens. And here I was on a quest for two eggs. I opened the door to the coop, which is actually a palatial chicken mansion with a large roosting area, four sturdy next boxes elevated off the floor and lined with hay that JR baled, plenty of room to walk about, and a large fenced-in pen, which might almost pass for a backyard in the city. The chickens even have squatters in their coop - by my estimate, there are fifteen to twenty sparrows also living in there. It appears that they, too, are enjoying the chicken feed and water that JR provides each day, judging by their inability or unwillingness to fly out of the coop when a human such as me enters. I know from experience that the chickens are laying eggs only in the nest box furthest from the wall, so I pushed through the crowd of chickens at the door, went directly to the last nest box, and found one egg. Yet, I needed two. I looked down, and on the floor found another egg. Perfect. I reached down into the feathers and sawdust, clamped my fingers around the egg, and felt jagged edges and the cold wet slime of egg white. Not so perfect. One of the heftier chickens must have been setting on the egg and broke it, thus leaving me with a small dilemma in the making of the apple cake.
If you are unfamiliar with the apple cake recipe - and I certainly don't expect you to be as familiar with it as am I - it calls for 6 ounces of cream cheese, which is two ounces short of the entire package of cream cheese. As I marched back to the house cradling the lone egg in my hand, it occurred to me: cream cheese was the key. The moisture gained by using an entire package of cream cheese made up for the loss of the egg, and resulted in a cake that was more dense. Slightly different than the light crumb of the original recipe, but still pretty darned good. I recommend you try it both ways. Then, perhaps, you'll be cursed (this you can pronounce "curst", which will please me greatly) as I am with this apple-cinnamon addiction.
As I am a known apple-cinnamon junkie, I couldn't help but read with great curiosity about America's Test Kitchen's attempts at Apple Pandowdy in the October issue of Cook's Illustrated. In the end, the tester, Yvonne Ruperti, evolved the recipe into a skillet apple pie, which I decided to make last Friday night as I build my apple-cinnamon stamina in a quest for the eventual baking of the elusive Apple Pandowdy.
Skillet Apple Pie, adapted from Cook's Illustrated:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons very cold vegetable shortening, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/2 cup apple cider
1/3 cup maple syrup
juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5-6 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons sugar - turbinado sugar (sold as "Sugar in the Raw". It works well for extra crunch and sparkle)
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and stir to blend. Add the vegetable shortening and the butter. Using your fingertips, break up the shortening and butter into smaller pieces while combining it with the flour mixture. The goal is to have pea-sized pieces of fat throughout the flour mixture. For a more in-depth description of this process, please see my savory pie crust post (I'm feeling a little lazy on a Friday afternoon, it seems, and to your detriment, so I do apologize. Please forgive me.).
Once the fats are the size of peas, add ice water by the tablespoon, pushing the dough together with a silicone spatula until the dough just comes together. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
In another mixing bowl, combine the cider, maple syrup, lemon juice, cornstarch, and cinnamon and whisk together until well-blended.
Move oven rack to upper-middle position. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.
In an oven-proof skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the apple slices and cook until they begin to caramelize, approximately 5-7 minutes. You do not need to fully cook the apples as they will be heading into that 500-degree oven shortly. Add cider mixture, stir to coat the apples, and remove from heat.
Once the 30 minutes has elapsed, roll out the dough on well-floured plastic wrap or parchment paper to an 11-inch circle. Place the rolling pin in the middle of the dough circle, and lift the edges of the plastic wrap or parchment paper to fold the dough over the rolling pin. You will be using the rolling pin to transport the dough to the skillet, and it is a sticky dough, so it could be tricky to pull off of the countertop without tearing it, hence, the plastic wrap/parchment paper suggestion. Place the dough over top of the apple mixture. Coat lightly with the egg white and dust with sugar. Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 6 rectangular pieces. Bake in the oven until the crust is golden brown, approximately 20 minutes. Allow to cool before serving, and be very careful of the skillet handle - it's easy to forget how hot a metal handle heated to 500 degrees is if you're busy in the kitchen. Oh, but you won't forget afterwards, no you won't. And the pie won't be nearly as enjoyable, so you may want to wrap an oven mitt around the handle to prevent any accidents. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Yield: 6 servings.
Dinner tonight: Bok choy, mushroom, and sirloin strip stir fry with sesame-soy noodles (which are actually linguine). Estimated cost for two: $8.90. Not bad for Chinese food that includes steak, now then, is it? The sirloin strip cost $4.87 for 9 and 3/4 ounces. The bok choy was 92-cents, the mushrooms were $1.95 for the package, we'll use about half of that, so 98-cents, and I will use leeks from the last day of my garden as well. The soy costs around 35-cents, the teriyaki sauce costs approximately 50-cents, and the sesame oil is 78-cents. We're using 1/2 of a one-pound bag of Whole Foods store-brand linguine, which costs 99-cents for the bag, so we'll round up and call it fifty cents. If you slightly overcook this linguine, it becomes more like the texture of udon, and therefore makes a decent substitute for the more expensive fresh udon. It is not udon, however, so if you are a purist, you should splurge and buy the fresh noodles you require.