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#13 : Deep-Dish Apple Pie (and Pizza!)

("It counts as pie.")

We can be pretty traditional (stuck in a rut?) when scheduling dinners, especially in the winter. While we do tend to ask "What shall we have for dinner?" over our first cup of coffee (if not before), it's pretty much a given that we'll have a roast chicken with buttermilk mashed potatoes on Sunday night, go for meatless Monday and then have Taco Tuesday, making our own tortillas. (See the expert advice regarding not having a tortilla press, from Mexican cook Pati Jinich, here.) But sometimes we shake things up a little, having chicken fricassee or even pot roast on a Sunday night, and this week I announced we were having Taco Wednesday as Tuesday was March 14, aka Pi Day (3/14 = 3.14...), well known in this house as PIE Day, and therefore we were having all pies - pizza pie for dinner followed by more pie for dessert. Jeff didn't argue.

We did discover a book How to Bake Pi by mathematician Eugenia Cheng, but unfortunately not in time to use it for Pi Day...not that that was really a problem with all our other pie books. I have requested it from the library - so we'll get ideas for 3/14 aka 3.14... next year, if not before.

I decided that as usual I would let Jeff take care of the pizza dough. We have a very simple recipe for making pizza dough; it just needs time to rest and rise. Usually we make it the night before, but if we forget, Jeff makes the dough first thing in the morning and then turns on the oven for a few minutes before shutting it off (just to warm it) and then pops the bowl of dough into the oven (again, without the oven turned on) to warm it slightly. We have learned to leave kitchen "signals" for each other - an oven mitt on the handle of a pot means "This was in the oven - do not touch" and a dish towel folded on the back of the oven means, "Pizza dough in here - do not turn on the oven." (We came up with this alert after I once unknowingly turned on the oven and ruined the dough that was gently rising in there. I like to say, we never make the same mistake twice - we go on to make new mistakes instead.)

While Jeff tackled the pizza, I went to work on the dessert pie - but when I suggested the pie I had in mind, Jeff said he really would like a deep-dish apple pie. Sounded like a good "traditional" way to celebrate pie day and I bought 5 pounds of apples and got to work. Of course, Jeff being Jeff, he found two pie recipes, one from America's Test Kitchen for deep-dish apple pie and another from the Washington Post (Zesty Apple Pie, with lots of spices) and in true Jeff fashion said I should combine the two recipes.

Why stick to just one recipe?

Jeff does have a habit of picking out the "highlights" of several recipes and combining them, which usually results in fantastic results but unless we write down what we did, we'll often have trouble re-creating the results. For this reason all our cookbooks have comments pencilled in the margins, usually "cut back sugar" or "use Julia Child recipe instead." My favorite comment in a cookbook is "Do NOT use this pie dough recipe - it falls apart and gives Jeff fits." I decided that combining the two recipes was a good idea.

The ATK apple pie recipe (found here) fixes the problem of the apples shrinking during baking (leaving a dome of air between the apples and the top crust) by having you first cook the apples on the stovetop. That sounded like a good idea, and I peeled, cored and sliced 2 1/2 pounds of tart apples (Granny Smith) and 2 1/2 pounds of sweet apples (Jeff suggested Honeycrisps, one of our favorite "eating apples.") The apple prep was fun. Just make sure you have some lemon juice waiting to prevent the peeled apples from turning brown. I borrowed the "add bourbon to the apples" suggestion from the Washington Post recipe and added the spices before baking the apples in a large pot.

The apples smelled so good cooking in the bourbon and spices!

Spread the apples on a parchment-covered baking sheet to cool for a half hour, then drain them to remove the excess liquid. (It's perfectly okay to take a sip of that spicy apple bourbon...yummy. It also tastes great the next day on yogurt.)

Some of the apples seemed a bit too soft and almost mushy. I decided the apples that held their shape were the Granny Smiths, so next time - there is always a next time - I might use a different apple in place of the Honeycrisps. The recipe suggests Jonagold or Braeburn, both sometimes hard to find at the store, or the reliable Golden Delicious. (Despite their name I find both Red Delicious and Golden Delicious to be rather boring to eat, but they might work well for baking.)

I usually follow a recipe as written the first time before making any tweaks, unless of course the recipe just seems too crazy (in which case I find a better recipe.) The ATK recipe called for initially baking the pie at 425 for 25 minutes before lowering the heat to 350, and with some reservations, I did so. The turbinado sugar sprinkled on top scorched slightly in a few spots ("those spots are just extra crispy," Jeff said hopefully); next time, I will start the oven at 400, and Jeff suggested not sprinkling on the sugar until turning down the oven to 350, which might be a good idea. Again, always learn from your mistakes, and realize this means you can try it again (meaning more pie) with better results.

The pizza dough made four small pizzas, and we made two topped with mushrooms and cheese, and two white pizzas with broccoli raab. Somehow I had picked up the raab and put it in a bag at the store and then set it down somewhere, meaning I had to make a second quick trip to the store to get some more. The clerk at the IGA (a woman on my former mail route) saw me come in and hollered, "Nope - get out! Only one visit per day allowed." This made everyone in the store laugh, including me.

The Verdict: Pie Perfection or Better Luck Next Time?

The pizzas were terrific and we remembered why we so often put broccoli raab on top of them - so good. Years ago, we somehow managed to eat all four pizzas in one evening; nowadays we eat just two pizzas for dinner which is great as it gives us lunch the next day. (Sometimes a little mouse in the house will have a nibble of pie for breakfast, and, somehow, that mouse has even learned how to use a knife to slice off a tiny piece.) Despite the less-than-perfect top crust of the apple pie, and the overcooked Honeycrisps, the apple pie was delicious, too, especially when topped with a drizzle of our hard cider salted caramel sauce. Pi/Pie Day 2023 was a roaring success.

Incidentally, I saw this shelf label when buying the apples and it made me laugh. Mistakes happen...laugh them off and learn from them...and move on. Hope you had a nice Pi/Pie Day and remember, you don't need to wait until the middle of March - you can make any day a Pie Day!

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