October 26, 2012

Apple Pie and Pie Preparation Strategy

I am a particular lover of pie, and apple pie is my personal favorite. Apple season in New England is a wonderful thing, and I like to take full advantage of it by prepping a stack of pie fillings with fresh in season fruit, then freezing the filling for later use.

I've definitely found that making a pie start to finish to be ready for a specific meal is simply not feasible since we've had kids. It takes me 2+ hours of actual work to make a pie, start to finish. I'm sure some of you are far more efficient, but there you have it. Its key, for me at least, to break it up into more discrete chunks that can be more flexibly located in time. Some overall efficiency can also be gained by doing things in larger volume for multiple pies.

There are a few approaches I've tested in the past, but this is what I'm doing these days:
  • prepare filling with everything, minus thickener (I use cornstarch), let stand on counter for at least 30 minutes, or in the fridge for a few hours
  • boil down drained juices until they are significantly thickened, pour back over apples, let cool down (faster if the apples were in the fridge). This method doesn't need as much thickener as if you don't boil the juices
  • add thickener and mix
  •  freeze for later (optionally)
If the pie is getting made within a few days, I just leave the filling in the fridge until cooking time. If its more than a couple days away I freeze it.

Baking frozen filling in unfrozen crust is no problem, but it will take longer to bake so more pains will need to be taken to protect the crust from overbrowning. If a two temp bake is used, like a 220C for 20 minutes, followed by longer at 175C, the 175C part just needs to be longer. A single high temp bake can also be used, but the crust needs to be tented with foil at some point. These days I usually just freeze the made up filling in a freezer ziploc and let it thaw in a metal bowl in the fridge or on the counter when I want to use it.

For apple pie, the last couple years I have processed ~10-20kg of apples all at once and weighed out amounts to individually freeze for future use as fillings. I use 850g for a galette style one crust pie, 1100g for a standard two crust pie, and 1500g for a massive 300mm diameter deep dish pie. It would save a little time to freeze the filling in its bag, but molded into a pie dish. This way it wouldn't need to get defrosted before cooking; the frozen filling could be dropped right into a crust lined pie pan. But its not much trouble to defrost the bag of filling before use, plus I don't have enough dishes to mold all the fillings while freezing.

This year for pie filling I used mostly Golden Russets, plus some Yellow Delicious, Rhode Island Greening, Mutsu, Cortland, and Arkansas Black, all picked on our outing to Red Apple Farm. Two 1500g fillings, one 1100g, one 800g, and a leftover 650g went into the four pies I baked for Saturday dinner at cider weekend (which are shown under construction in the picture at the top of the post).

The girls helped me peel the apples, which goes fairly quickly using my antique apple peeler. I got this one off ebay for like $30, and it could use some overhauling, but it does ok as long as you baby it. I did sharpen the blade, clean off rust, and oil it up when I first received it.

A new one, which looks like it is made with the same castings, can be had from Lehmans. This type of peeler doesn't take out the core like the little spiral cutting one that is most popular these days, so I core the apples using an ejector coring tool like this; can't remember where it came from. I prefer this type of peeler, partly because the mechanical action is beautiful, but also because I don't like how thin and uniform the slices are that come out of the spiral cutting peeler, I think the macro-texture of the filling is better with bigger chunks, and it seems more home style as well. This peeler is also extremely fast, so even with having to punch out the cores and cut the apples I don't think it loses much time vs. a spiral cut peeler.

As for seasonings, sugar, and thickener, I mostly use the proportions layed out in the wonderful Pie and Pastry Bible, but Rose Levy Berenbaum. I cut back on the nutmeg, cut the sugar down, but add in some boiled cider. For a regular filling I use:
  • 1000g sliced and peeled apples
  • 80g sugar
  • 30g boiled cider
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
The cooking down of the juices is an idea from the Pie and Pastry Bible. At first I thought it sounded like extra work, but now I'm a convert. It demands less thickener, so the filling is not as gloopy and the flavors are more concentrated. The pie tends to leak less since there is less total liquid; this is especially true with heavily loaded pies. Also, when freezing fillings its a pain to have too much liquid. Liquid tends to leak out of ziplock bags, make a mess when defrosting, and contributes to soggy bottom crust.

One other thing you can do ahead of time is partly prepare the crusts. In this post I show what I use for crust and how to make it, but there are further strategies you can use to shift more of the work in advance.

A great way to go is roll out the two crusts ahead of time, put the bottom crust in your pan and trim it, then put the crust lined pan and the other rolled crust in plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge. Then when its time to bake you can take out the pan, dump in the filling, put on the top crust, finish it up and bake it. If its too annoying to store the fully rolled out top crust in the fridge for space reasons, you can just roll it to like 150mm, wrap in plastic, and store in the crust lined pan on top of the other crust.

I usually make up a bunch of crusts together using the food processor method, roll out each half crust to about 200mm, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze. A stack of these can be wrapped in foil and will keep in the freezer for a long time. Rolling out partially will cut the amount of work to do later and make the crust defrost faster on the counter. I've found that if I roll out fully, the crust will fall apart during baking if previously frozen, but if just a bit more rolling is done on it on baking day it will come out well.

Lots of people say you can make up the whole pie and freeze it, then bake it straight out of the freezer. You can line the pie pan with plastic wrap to pop the frozen pie out of the pan so your pan is not stuck in the freezer for who knows how long (wrap is later removed of course before baking!). I use a 3 parts butter to 1 part other fat mix in my crust though, and this does not do that well baking straight from the freezer; it kind of falls apart and cracks up severely. So I prefer to make up a pie from defrosted filling and partially rolled out rounds.

Below is some pie from cider weekend a few years ago, in the process of being enjoyed by the cider hands.

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