Why We Like Them: Apples

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Wacky Apple in Hotchkiss grows more than 10 varieties of apples on some 500 acres of organic orchards. Photo by Paul Miller

Ready to Pick
A short primer for the orchard newbie

LOOKS MATTER
You want unbruised, firm (no wrinkles!), heavy apples with full color (that means they’ve received lots of sunlight) and smooth skin. Specks are OK, but beware of russeting (those corky streaks you sometimes see); it’s a sign of too much dampness.

DO THE SNIFF TEST
Fresh apples should have a sweet aroma, some varieties’ stronger than others’.

BE AN OUTSIDER
Start picking on the outside of the tree—apples there will ripen first.

DO THE TWIST
To pick an apple, try this technique: Roll it upwards off the branch and then give a mini-twist. Don’t pull from the tree like you’re tugging a pigtail.

NO DUMPING
Once apples are picked, they stop ripening. Place them gently into your basket. Keep cool, and do not wash until just before you eat them. (High humidity helps keep them from shriveling, so place a wet paper towel in the fruit drawer nearby but not touching.) Do not place near potatoes, which release a gas that speeds up apple spoilage.

PERFECT PIE
Denver pastry chef John Hinman lets us in on his secrets

For something as basic as apple pie, the dessert can be surprisingly scary to tackle for the first time. Just ask John Hinman, owner of Denver’s Hinman’s Bakery.

“At one time, I was very intimidated by pies,” he says. “They seemed like a lot of work—and I had never really tasted a good one.”

Then one summer some years back, Hinman bit the bullet and set out to make the best apple pie he could. Nothing fancy—no apple fennel pies for him. (“Why change something that’s already good?”) He just wanted something simple, authentic and tasty.

He scoured old cookbooks, trolled the internet—at one point he was even rendering his own lard to try to come up with the best crust. “I entered every pie contest in Denver that I could, figuring if I can start beating the grandmas, then I’ll know I have something good going on.”

He must have succeeded. Customers frequently tell him that his pies bring up fond memories and make them smile.

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A slice is nice We added a scoop of ice cream from High Point Creamery to John Hinman’s apple pie. Photo by Paul Miller

JOHN HINMAN’S APPLE PIE
DOUGH INGREDIENTS
(enough for 1 double-crust pie)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into ½ -inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6-8 tablespoons ice water

FILLING INGREDIENTS
4 cups peeled, diced apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
⅛ teaspoon cloves
1 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

OAT CRUMBLE INGREDIENTS
¾ cup oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ pound butter, melted and cooled

DOUGH DIRECTIONS
In a mixer, combine fl our, butter, salt and sugar. Mix on medium speed until the butter is broken down into pea-sized shapes. Add cold water. Turn up the speed on the mixer a few times until dough just comes together. Turn out on the table, press dough together with your hands and divide into two equal portions. Wrap in plastic wrap until ready to use. Dough will keep in the fridge for two days or in the freezer for months.

FILLING DIRECTIONS
Sprinkle lemon juice over diced apples in a saucepan. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and spices. Add to the apples and mix well. Heat up the apple juice and add to the apples. Cook over medium-high until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat, add vanilla and cool.

OAT CRUMBLE DIRECTIONS
Mix ingredients together. Reserve.

ASSEMBLY DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out the chilled pie dough into a 10- to 11-inch round. Press into a 9-inch pie pan and crimp the edges. Fill with apple filling. Top with oat crumble to cover. Bake for 1 hour, or until bubbly.

John’s Pie Tricks
GO FATTY

For the crust, use European-style butter (like Plugra or Kerry Gold), which has 80 percent butterfat (American butter has 20 percent).

FREEZE!
Put your crust ingredients in the freezer before using, use ice-cold water and handle the dough as little as possible.

PAR-COOK FIRST
After peeling and slicing the apples (1/2- to 1-inch thick), par-cook them for 15-20 minutes with a little cinnamon, sugar and flour. Then let the apple mixture cool.

ADD SOME SWEET
A touch of vanilla will balance out the lemon juice.

COOL IT
After the pie is assembled, stick it in the freezer for an hour or two before putting it in the oven. “It will slow down the rate that the butter melts, so your pie will keep its shape.”

BE PATIENT
“Usually when you look in the oven and the pie seems done, it needs 10 more minutes.”

ADJUST THE TEMPERATURE
Hinman starts at 375 F for the first 15 minutes, then drops it to 325-350 F.

TAKE A COURSE
Hinman plans to offer a fall pie-making class.

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