Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Apple Pie for Someone You Love, A Kitchen Valentine

Food writers, cookbook authors, and otherwise sorts of recipe recorders spend their days formatting recipes. In my case, this means documenting what I create first in flour and butter and then translating, in exacting wording, each recipe just so. For the website, this means you can make what I make – and it should come out at least similarly. In cookbooks and magazine and other print venues, recipe writing and formatting is even more stringent. But this exactitude enables cookbook readers to enjoy the culinary haiku and reproduce the same recipe. Accuracy has its appeal and consistency of recipe writing is what great cookbooks are all about. Essentially, it is my kitchen, expertise, taste and baker’s vision in a template you can use. I spoke at an alumni gathering at my own university recently, McGill. It was a speech about translating our passions into viable work and a career. One of the students asked me if I ever worry about my passion for baking dimming, due to it being my day job. Fortunately, (and it was a good question), the answer is no. Somehow the flame is always there. But still, I often longingly day dream, especially in this heart-themed month, how I would write recipes if formatting was not an issue and no one paid no mind to exact amounts and perfect dotted teaspoons and ups. I thought about this again when I saw the fabulous and tender, bittersweet movie Waitress, wherein Jenna, a pregnant, waitress with a penchant for sweet and dramatic pies, creates pies of life: Lonely Chicago Pie, Car Radio Pie, Falling in Love Pie, Love at First Sight Chocolate Mousse Pie and Spanish Dancer Pie. She also has ‘Baby Sreaming It’s Head Off in the Middle of theNightand Ruining My Life’ Pie (pecans and nutmeg over a New York Style cheesecake. No Crust) and the dire but delicious “Earl Murders Me Cause I’m Having An Affair Pie’ (Blackberries and cherries in a chocolate crust) or the deadly, “I can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie’ (Vanilla custard with banana. Hold the banana).Waitress is a film well worth renting. It is up there with other great food films (Mostly Martha, Simply Irresistible, Like Water for Chocolate, Big Night, No Reservations, Babette’s Feast) and because of the tragic real-life aftermath of one of the film’s stars and screenplay writers, it is all the more poignant. In honor of Jenna, the pie genius protagonist, as well as the late Adrienne Shelley, the screenplay writer behind the film who also stars in it, a pie recipe as replete as the film itself.

It bears noting: I am not Jenna the Waitress but I am a pie gal. So if I invented a special apple pie for a sweetheart I would write a recipe very simply and from the heart. It would go something, in the case of apple pie, like this.

Apple Pie for Someone You Love

Enough butter pastry for one nice size tart pan

6 to 8 apples, such as a combination of Golden Delicious because they keep their shape well and Cortland or Macs, because they are crisp and sweet and have good apple character - which is everything in an apple pieSugar - if you are sweet, use less (I use less). If you are cold-hearted or you are jaded (as life in the city can make you) use more. But it might not help.

Cinnamon - not really necessary in apple pie but I like it, as do those I love, and I bake to please. Touch of lemon juice - balances the tart with the sweet.

Butter. Because butter is a gift. It is like gold. You must taste the butter to make sure it is fresh. A little might stay on your lips and shine ever so. You can lick that off. It will not affect the recipe. It might garner you more kisses than even the pie will.

Smidgen of apple cider - if you have a notion

Directions: pare your apples. Dream a little while doing this, but take care not to cut yourself. Think good thoughts. Good thoughts flavor everything just so. This is why most everything I make is ambrosial and stirring.

Butter your pan - preferably a nice French pan. A nice copper pan or a graniteware pan, while plain, will do the trick. Plain can be simple and pure. Be mindful of simple things.

Arrange your apples on the pan bottom. Dot with butter and dust with sugar. Lay a kiss of cinnamon on top, and one smaller kiss of lemon juice.

Roll your crust out - it might rip if you lack experience but if you are gentle, easy going, and thorough, it will respond. All dough knows the baker's intentions and it will respond in kind. Take time to touch the dough to have a sense of how it feels. Think of someone you love who will later enjoy your efforts. Take your time.

Lay the dough out on the apples, press lightly - properly rolled dough will naturally curve itself around the apples. Make sure it all nestles together just so. Bake in a hot stove ...not scorching but just enough heat.

Reduce heat and let things settle. Warm is always better than hot; slow is always better than rushing. Bring it out of the oven and with one deft movement - it is all about oh knowing and not knowing but hoping. Flip it over on a serving plate. Some times this is messy...but it is always good. Apple pie like this is best when it's shared. Best at midnight or early morning. It is not a dish for company. It is a dish for two. That is its true yield.

For more pies, real and wondrous, visit