It is so hard to get back into a routine! Over the summer months, our schedules are completely upheaved resulting in a serious lack of blog posts. We took full advantage of the stress-free days which included sleeping late, hanging out at the pool, and then staying up late watching stupid movies. We ate loads of delicious food, enjoyed each other’s company, laughed a lot, and even took lots of pictures, but the blogging muse was absent from these spontaneous family revelries. Although well intended, blog posts also went unwritten as we managed to sneak in trips to Amelia Island, Raleigh, Iowa City, and Charleston where we enjoyed the local attractions (and food.)
School started incredibly early this year which necessitated earlier shopping and preparations. Then the real fun began with scheduling issues, Senior class pictures, sports practices, homework and teenage drama. Today is the last day of the first week of school: while still somewhat chaotic, we have settled into an almost what-is-normal-for-us regime. Thus blog posts should return to their regularly scheduled writing.
When cleaning out the refrigerator this morning (to make room for homemade lunch staples), I happened upon several Granny-smith apples originally purchased to make a salad with butter lettuce, blue cheese, and pecans. A free-form apple pie (or crostata in the Italian vernacular) prepared by folding the edges of the dough over the top giving it a more "rough" look may be just the thing to complete a first-week-of-school Friday night dinner. Topped with the pecans and blue cheese crumbles, the torta could even be elevated to Saturday date-night status.
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus a bit for flouring your work surface)
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) very cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons ice cold vodka
- Ice water
- 3-4 tart, firm apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- Freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Combine the flour, sugar and salt and then add the chopped, cold butter; the colder the better. Work it with a pastry cutter or 2 knives until all the butter is chopped up into pea sized bits and even distributed throughout the flour mixture. You can use your hands if you wish, but don’t over handle as it will begin to melt the butter. (I have very warm hands and thus use utensils because you really want to avoid melting the butter into the flour as your crust will be chewing instead of flaky and crispy.) Allowing the butter to remain in pieces rather than being fully incorporated into the flour forms air pockets which make for a flaky crust.
Add the cold vodka and mix gently. Vodka in pastry is for crispiness. The biggest factor in creating a crispy crust is drying the dough to, well, a crisp and vodka evaporates quickly; more quickly than water.
Next, add ice water in small increments until the dough pulls together into a loose ball. The four should not look at all sticky; just moist. Once it comes together, put it in the refrigerator for at least ½ hour (or more – the longer the better.)
While the dough is cooling, peel, core, and slice your apples into ¼-inch slices. Then retrieve your dough and gently roll it out into about a ¼-inch disk. Transfer the rolled dough onto a greased baking pan.
Starting in the center, arrange half the sliced apples in concentric circles on the crust and sprinkle with one tablespoon of sugar. Layer the other half of the apples over the first layer and sprinkle with another tablespoon of sugar (or two depending on the sweetness of your apples.) Pour the 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the apples and lightly dust the top with cinnamon.
Fold the edges of the pastry over the apples, leaving the middle exposed. Cook at 400˚F for about 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are soft and cooked through. Serve hot, warm or cold with your favorite topping (or not).