Side Orders: Fall's apple crop ready for use

Side Orders: Fall's apple crop ready for use

October 16th, 2013 by Anne Braly in Life Entertainment

Excessive rain has been a blessing for area apple growers.

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

While the excessive rain hurt many gardens over the summer, it was a blessing for area apple growers.

"We did lose a few, such as our Empire and Courtlands and a few of the Golden Delicious due to disease from the rains, and weed control has been a problem, but overall, we have the biggest, best, juiciest crop we've ever had," says Chuck McSpadden, owner of Apple Valley Orchards in Cleveland. "The Galas and Jonagolds are looking tremendous, and the Braeburn crop looks great. So do the Fujis and Mutsus."

The North Georgia region had even more rain than Tennessee, but it didn't do anything except help the crop this year, says Janice Hale who, with husband Lynn, owns Hillcrest Orchards in the heart of Gilmer County, the apple county of Georgia. The rain made the apples come in about a week later than usual, but that's not a problem, she says, and while there was some concern about rotting issues, they never came to be.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed that the entire crop will be good," she says.

Both McSpadden and Hale say they will be picking apples through mid-November when the late apples, such as Pink Ladys and Black Arkansas varieties, are at their height. And both say prices have not been raised from last year.

So it appears we're in the midst of a bumper crop of fresh, crisp apples right from the orchard. And to many, there's no better way to celebrate the season than with a good apple pie. In anticipation of apple season, I've been on a quest to find the perfect apple pie recipe. I can make a good pie, but always use the same recipe. This year, I wanted something different.

I tried one that sounded extremely appealing because of its cinnamon roll crust. It was a dismal failure. The filling and topping were good, but the cinnamon rolls burned on the bottom. So I ended up resurrecting it by scooping out the filling and topping, heating them up and serving it with a scoop of ice cream as a no-crust pie. No point wasting the entire thing.

Feeling a little like Goldilocks, I tried the next recipe and the crust was good, but the filling was lacking in flavor and the topping was lacking flavor altogether.

So on to the next recipe. Once again, the crust was rather lackluster. Then it occurred to me to combine the three recipes into one, taking the parts I liked from each and putting them together in one pie. A miracle happened. The result was amazing. I finally found what I considered to be the perfect apple pie.

Caramel-Pecan Apple Pie

Crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

1/4 cup finely ground pecans

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 heaping teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Filling:

6-7 cups sliced peeled tart apples (Jonathon, Granny Smith, Winesap)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons sugar

4-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping, room temperature

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Streusel topping:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons cold butter

Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

3-4 tablespoons milk or cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine flour, pecans, salt and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it's ready. If the dough doesn't hold together, add a little more water and pulse again. Too much water will make the crust tough.

Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a clean surface. If you want an extra flaky crust, press the dough mixture into the table top with the heel of your hand a few times. This will help flatten the butter into layers between the flour to help with flakiness. Gently shape the dough mixture into a disk. Work the dough just enough to form the disk, do not overknead. You should be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. Sprinkle a little flour around the disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and for up to 2 days.

Remove disk from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes in order to soften to make rolling out a bit easier. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if it's sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep it from sticking. Carefully place into a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the dough down so it lines the bottom and sides of the plate. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough to within 1/2-inch of the edge of the plate and flute the edges, if desired.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the filling, in a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and vanilla. Combine the pecans, sugars, cinnamon and cornstarch; add to apple mixture and toss to coat. Pour caramel topping over bottom of pie shell; top with apple mixture and drizzle with butter.

For the streusel, combine the flour, pecans and sugar in a small bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over filling.

Bake for 55-65 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is browned. Immediately drizzle with caramel topping. Cool on a wire rack.

To finish, combine glaze ingredients and spread in decorative pattern over top of cooled pie.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.