Adventures in Baking Land – Apple Pie

I have not posted in awhile because I’ve been taking a Baking Arts course. To say that it is challenging is an understatement. A friend of mine, Sandie Schultz, posted a soufflé picture on Facebook and mentioned her time in a baking class. Her image of people crying in the bathroom after a failed assignment, resonated with me.

Never having baked before, I too was throwing up my hands in the air, tears of frustration salting the dough mixture. I followed the video for each class. The instructor’s final presentation was perfect while mine looked pathetic. But each week we met online with an experienced pastry chef, Chef Mia de Ala, who encouraged our work, gave helpful suggestions, and answered each question, no matter how simple. Like mine – “why is brown sugar called yellow sugar?”

I’ve decided I’m going to share my experiences. When I first started the course I thought no way am I blogging about this. I realize this is part of me and I need to share.

I’ll include the points of information I received, in the next series of blog posts. I’m baring my baking soul here for the world to see. That which does not kill me makes me fatter.

I’ll start with a picture of the finished pie as a confidence booster. Apple pie originated in England, not America as some people think. The first recipe for apple pie appeared in 1390.

The most important point I have learned from the course it to practice baking. Practice, practice, practice. It has been said that baking is a science because you are dealing with different, precise processes. The only way to get this precision correct is to practice. You need to get to know the feel of various doughs, the back and forth sway of a palette masking knife. And, the toughest challenge, piping. More about that when we come to it. For now – pie dough.

I already had a familiarity with dough from both the pasta and pizza classes. What I was to learn in this course was flaky dough, mealy, short dough, crusts. All Purpose (10% protein), Bread Flour (11 – 13% protien), pastry flour (9%), and cake (8%). Pastry flour provides a balance of gluten to hold the dough together but still keep it tender and flaky.

This recipe used pastry flour, shortening, brown sugar, cold water and salt. I had bought a big bag of pastry flour for this course. I first sifted the flour and then I put it in the fridge to cool. I wasn’t sure if this was the correct order but at least I figured it would be cold when I wanted to use it.

The ingredients need to be cold so I kept the flour, shortening and water in the fridge for 2 hours. Shortening is a vegetable fat product that has a higher melting point than butter. It allows for easier mixing than butter as the butter melts with the hands moving. However, shortening does not have flavour. Butter and lard (animal fat) have a richer flavour.

The instructions where to mix the shortening into the flour so they became pea size. The butter makes pockets of fat that melt when baked. They produce steam which lifts the dough and makes them flakey. I thought that after mixing it together on the board, my dough did not look like the dough in the video. That one was smooth, without cracks. I could see the pieces of butter in my dough but also these large cracks. I think this is going to give me a problem.

The idea is to roll out the dough. Then split it into 4 pieces. Stack one pieces on top of each other to create layers and better structure. I then split the dough into 2 pieces, one for the bottom and one for the top. Wrapped in cling wrap and set aside to prepare the apples.

I took the dough out of the fridge after about 20 minutes. This is the first pie that I have ever made. I did make a quiche in Culinary Arts 1 class but that was it. The dough fell apart after I put it on the board. It did not look like the dough in the video. I tried to bring it together and used my fingers to pinch the cracks closed.

My work in not looking like was in the video would become a recurring theme. I realized that if I was not going to be discouraged, I would have to not compare. After all this was a professional chef with years of experience. I was doing it for the first time. That continuing thought kept me from running from the kitchen in tears.

One thing I did have to adjust for is that George Brown had access to ingredients and materials that I did not. I was supposed to cover the dough with plastic wrap in order to roll it out. The plastic wrap roll was not wide enough to make a 2-finger gap along one side. It is a standard dimension that is in the supermarket. George Brown has wide rolls of wrap. I placed the pie plate on the dough to measure a 2 inch gap from the edge. This will allow the dough to hang over the plate.

Each time I rolled I had to take the plastic off and use my fingers to try to close the cracks. The more I rolled the more cracks appeared. I finally got the dough so that there was a 2 finger gap along 2 sides. I put it in the pan. It did not hang over the sides like it showed in the video. I was able to push it down into the pan.

The advice from the instructor was to fold the dough over and roll again to close the cracks.

I used Courtland apples for the pie. Other apples that can be used are Crispin, Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Idaho Red. It was European settlers that introduced to North America, the best apples for making pies. After they sat in the bowl with the sugar, they remained firm. I did not get any discolouration. They stayed white. There was lots of liquid in the bottom so I know the sugar did its job. Lemon juice is added to keep them from browning. Starch for binding and sugar and cinnamon for flavour.

The chef had suggested using lemon zest which I did. I did enjoy the scent of lemon as I mixed the zest into the sugar. I piled the apples into the pan. It seemed to be very high even though I was pushing the slices in to lesson the gaps. I still had slices left over in the bowl when I decided to stop.

Rolling the top presented the same problem. I used my fingers to pinch the cracks closed. I also cut pieces from larger edges and stuck them into the smaller edges. I stopped once I had an 11 inch size. Used a piping tip to punch a hole in the centre to allow steam to escape.

For most of the edge I had enough dough to make the flutes. After brushing the egg wash, I sprinkled brown sugar top. This was an experiment as it was not in the recipe. I did not care for the texture of the brown sugar after it cooked. It gave the pie a gritty mouthfeel. I scraped it off the top. My instructor thought it was interesting and was going to experiment with it.

The pie turned out well. At about the 20-minute mark, I began to smell it. At 40 minutes the entire room smelled of butter. This was strange because I had not used butter. I have never had a shortening smell before. The apples were not soft. They still had some texture and firmness to them. The pie crust was flaky and tender on the edge. The bottom crust was still tough. The pie could have baked another 10 minutes. .

One comment

  1. Ha Ha. Pies are an exacting Art Form for sure. All in all a very good job, esp. for your first attempt. Mine were so bad to begin ~ Fear of Pie Syndrome ~ they had me make all butter crusts for the Special Catering Events the School did on a regular basis. (Jane Goodall’s was one where I made flooded, standing Cheeta cookies & Chocolate Palm Trees with hanging Cookie Monkeys strung together by their tails.) Pies are still not my favorite thing to make, although I do appreciate a well made crust when offered ~ much rarer than you might think to find. You will like making Bread much more.

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