Caramel cider apple pie

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It’s taken a couple of tries, but I finally got got the caramel apple pie to come out perfectly and just in time for Thanksgiving.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I first saw this recipe on Cup of Jo over the summer and set it aside for apple season.

I found the recipe to be very inspiring, but a tiny bit sloppy.  There were details missing that I found frustrating, particularly with the cider caramel, so I took the liberty of making a few changes, which I’ve outlined below.

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A few tips and what I changed:

Given that the original recipe’s crust is from Martha Stewart, it’s probably perfect good to use.  I however, have a lot of faith and experience with Mark Bittman’s flaky pie crust and made two of those for this pie.  Bittman’s recipe is easy, always flaky, and has never gotten soggy on me.

Getting the caramel right took a few tries.  What ended up working for me was to keep the cider at a steady medium boil, and actually measure the liquid to see how far it reduced.  Once it was down to about a cup, it was noticeably thicker, but not as thick as I expect caramel to be.  If I cooked it much longer it burned, so at the one cup mark, I put it in a mason jar and stuck it in the fridge.  That finally did the trick.

I like the apple pie filling to be perfectly soft and have no sort of undercooked bite to the apple texture.  Once I’d cut up the apples, I sauteed them in skillet until they softened.  The additional benefit of pre-cooking your apples is that it removes some of the juice and the pie will be less likely to be watery (the pie in the original recipe photos looks very liquidy.) This takes about 10 minutes in my Le Creuset, and about 20 in a regular kitchen skillet.  I let them cool in the skillet for about 10 minutes, then mix the other filling ingredients directly into the apples in the skillet.  Mix well, then transfer to your prepared pie crust.

Lately I’ve been wanting to improve my pie crust making skills, so I’ve been toying with these dough circles I saw on Food 52.  I found that it was important to keep the dough thin and cold, so I rolled the extra crust out on a piece of parchment paper, then transferred the paper and dough onto a sheet pan and refrigerated them for about 15 minutes.  When I was ready to assemble the top crust, I pulled the sheet pan out of the fridge and cut the dough circles with a shot glass. I got the best result by arranging the dough cut-outs in concentric circles over the apple pie filling, then arranging another set of circles along the edge of the crust.

Given that I used dough circles instead of a regular top crust, I found the browning on the pie crust to be more even if I brushed it with a little milk, rather than egg.  Don’t forget to sprinkle the crust with cinnamon and sugar before popping the pie in the oven.

Lastly, as with most pies, it is very important to let the pie cool completely before serving.  This will help the filling set and not ooze out of your cut pie, as well as help prevent your bottom crust from getting soggy.

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Tomato and rosemary focaccia

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So far this year, we’ve had a nice slow transition to fall and I’ve been enjoying the crisp weather.  This past weekend, however, we had a short-lived warm spell, and for about 36 hours we enjoyed sunny 70° temperatures.

Since we were feeling summery, I decided to bake a quick focaccia for brunch topped with a couple of the over-ripe tomatoes from the farmers market.  We bake all our pizzas, flatbreads, and focaccia on a large pizza stone that sits in the bottom of the oven, and use a wooden pizza peel to transfer the dough onto and off of the stone.  The stone is one of our favorite cooking implements and gives the crust great texture, but leaves the crumb perfectly chewy.

I pre-heated the oven to 400°, and rolled out a large hunk of the everyday dough we keep in the fridge at all times.  We sprinkle semolina on the pizza peel to keep the dough from sticking, then transfer the plain, rolled out dough onto the peel.  Give it a little shake to make sure it isn’t sticking.  Brush the dough all over with a little olive oil–we ran out of our usual extra virgin so I broke out this garlic flavored olive oil we’d gotten as a gift.  Sprinkle the dough with about a tbsp of minced fresh rosemary and a healthy pinch of sea salt, then arrange thinly sliced tomatoes over the dough.  Transfer to pizza stone and bake for about 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve outside on the balcony, to make the most of any unseasonably warm weather.

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

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A few tips:

I kept this focaccia pretty simple, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a little grated parmesan or crumbled goat cheese.

If you are using a pizza stone and find the bottom just the right amount of browned, but the top needs a little more time, transfer the dough from the stone to a baking sheet and set on a rack higher up in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Your pizza crust bottom will stay crisp.

Lots of people use corn meal or flour underneath dough to keep it from sticking to the peel, but we find that semolina doesn’t burn as fast in the oven and sticks less to the dough than either cornmeal or flour.

Again, if you are using a stone, put the undressed dough on the peel first, then add your toppings.  This way you won’t have to worry about anything falling off and can go straight from adding toppings to transferring to the stone.  Using a peel does take a little practice but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Don’t skip the step of brushing olive oil on the dough to save a few calories.  It adds so much flavor, its really worth it.

Instead, try replacing a 1/3 of your white flour with whole wheat flour.  That’s about as much as I would substitute before I find that the dough quality really starts to take a dive.

As always, use dough that’s been aged for at least 24 hours.  Those sour flavors just can’t be beat.

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Pizza with figs, Roquefort, and caramelized onions

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All week long I’ve had figs on my mind.  I spent hours pouring over new recipes to try, and daydreaming ideas to improve old favorites.  Figs come twice a year, but are at their best in the later summer and early fall.  To me they are the perfect kind of sweet, not too sugary, not too tart, the way I imagined nectar tasted to bees when I was child.  Like a with a good cheese, your first taste of a ripe fig should be held on the tongue for a moment, taking time to appreciate its subtle flavors before it melts away in your mouth.

Figs, flour (for dough), sweet onion, Roquefort blue cheese

Figs, flour (for dough), sweet onion, Roquefort blue cheese

I like to get to the market early on Saturdays.  There is always something delicate that comes in small quantities and is gone if you sleep in, even just a little.  For me its worth it to give up a little sleep to have a chance to grab green garlic, the first pears, or a handful of mushrooms.  This week we were running a tiny bit late and when we arrived I headed straight to the back to look for figs.  To my delight, there was one carton of half a dozen figs left.  As soon as I’d set them in my basket, a well-dressed man came rushing up, asking if they were the last ones, and I was sorry to tell him I thought they were.

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Years ago, I had an internship in the mountains in eastern South Africa, and next door to our lodge was a tiny little gift shop called Nina’s, that also sold the most amazing light lunches.  They had a fig and Roquefort pizza that was a hit with my fellow interns.  I’ve never forgotten those amazing flavors and decided to try to make something similar.

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Caramelizing onions

Caramelizing onions

On the pizza stone

On the pizza stone

The result was better than I remembered.  I used far less Roquefort than I would mozzarella on a typical pizza (about an tablespoon and a half vs 1/2 a cup).  The Roquefort melts and spreads out thinly over the other ingredients, it’s sharp salty flavor mellowed by the sweetness of the figs and caramelized onions.  The mister is not a fan of non-traditional pizza (he loves a good red sauce), but even he wolfed down a few slices and tried to describe how the flavors interacted.

Outside it was sunny with a cool breeze, and I took the entire pizza board outside with a glass of sparkling vinho verde; the perfect lunch for an early autumn day.

A few tips:

Consider a pizza stone.  We keep one in the bottom of our oven at all times.  Pizza stones help your oven retain heat that is usually lost when opening the oven door.  This use of high, even heat combined with the kind of wet, aged dough we use, results in a crust that is crunchy on the outside and chewy within.  I’ve mentioned that we use the dough from this book, but here is a similar recipe from Food Wishes.

Aged dough already has really amazing flavor, but I think that brushing a little olive oil over your dough before adding any ingredients really adds another level of amazing flavor.  A tablespoon should be enough for the whole pizza.

Caramelizing onions takes a while.  I usually start well before I’m ready to make the pizza, and they are easy to keep in the refrigerator if you want to make them ahead of time or even the day before.  Just be sure to set the container out when you begin working on dinner; they’ll be easier to spread over the dough if they’ve had a chance to warm up. I caramelized two medium onions for this pizza.

Roquefort and other blue cheeses aren’t the easiest to crumble, but its easier if they are cold.  Keep the cheese in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

You can quarter the figs if you’d like, but I find thin, even slices make for easier eating.

I think that a light sprinkling of salt over the assembled pizza really helps bring out the flavors.  I take just a pinch of good sea salt and hold my fingers high above the pizza while sprinkling.  This helps get a more even distribution so no one part is too salty.  In the case of this pizza, I salted it just before adding the figs.

A perfect weekend lunch

A perfect weekend lunch

Tomato Galette

Leek, green onion, cherry tomatoes, corn, dough, egg, parmesan

Leek, green onion, cherry tomatoes, corn, dough, egg, parmesan

There was a point in learning to cook when I went from a frustrated picky eater trying to make food that tasted the way I wanted, to wanting to make simple, beautiful food to share with friends and family.   From the first time I saw them, galettes took my breath away, seeming somehow chic and rustic at the same time.

As autumn makes its way in, I’m tempted to make savory galettes with caramelized onions and squash, or sweet ones with apples and figs.  And yet, the farmers market is still bright with cherry tomatoes and ears of corn, and I couldn’t help but think of the summery galette Deb recently posted on Smitten Kitchen.  I’d practically drooled onto my computer screen when I first saw it, and this weekend I filled my market basket sun golds and sweet corn, knowing what would be making an appearance on our table for lunch.

Sauteed vegetables cooling

Sauteed vegetables cooling

Deb’s recipes are highly reliable, so if you don’t have a go-to dough, try hers.  We keep an everyday sourdough in our fridge most of the time.  It’s a little wetter than her recipe, but I’m used to working with it, so I felt comfortable deviating from her recipe a bit.  Apart from using a different dough and substituting one of the vegetables, I followed her recipe exactly and produced a wonderful, summery galette.

Galette assembled

Galette assembled

A few tips:

Mince a little fresh rosemary and add it to the flour when you are making the dough.  Rosemary is such a great aromatic to add to breads and cakes, and really makes a sourdough pop.

If possible, make your dough a couple of days ahead.  Dough that is at least 24 hours old develops amazing flavors and helps give it that golden yellow color.  This is likely the secret to the amazing crust at your favorite pizza place.

I’m not opposed to zucchini, but I don’t love it either, so I was happy to substitute chopped leeks here.  Their buttery flavor was perfect with the tomatoes, corn, and green onions.  I’m sure it would easy enough to substitute in your favorite summer vegetable, just make sure it’s something that doesn’t release too much liquid.

Out of the oven and ready for lunch

Out of the oven and ready for lunch

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