There is supposed to be a food debate that has been going on for a year or so as to which is better: Cake or Pie?
Now, I love a good, moist homemade cake, topped with homemade icing. I admire those who can decorate cakes and cupcakes, a talent which I do not possess. I enjoy baking cakes and cupcakes, but, for me, the greatest baking pleasures come from pie-baking. Cake is chemistry. It’s careful measurements and chemical reactions. It’s special pans that are specially prepared for best results. It’s focus and care in mixing. Don’t over mix. Don’t overbeat. It’s gentleness when placing pans into the oven and closing the appliance’s door. It’s carefully set timers and progress, nervously monitored, during baking and cooling-in-the pan-time. It’s that moment of removing the cake from the pan, that inhalation of breath that is either released with a satisfied sigh as an intact cake is revealed or a moan of aggravation and disappointment. Then, more waiting for complete cooling before the real fun– icing, frosting, dusting, or decorating– may occur. It’s a deflated finish after watching the batter’s majestic rise through the oven door window. It’s further slicing to make a uniform shape.
Pie? Well, pie is freedom and creativity, from start to finish. There’s no waiting for the real fun with pie-making. It’s a glorious experience that engages your senses, right from the start. It’s a family activity or a chance for friends to visit and create. Fine flour, mixed with salt and maybe, a little sugar, and you’re done with your dry ingredients. It’s getting your hands in, as you use a pastry blender or your fingers to cut small bits of cold fats into the flour mixture. It’s off-white flour becoming warmly-colored as it takes on the butter. It’s good, repetitive work that allows you to take out any aggressions you might be carrying, but also rewards you with immediate results. It’s each tiny bead of butter absorbing all the flour until you’re able to pinch a bit between your fingers and already feel a silky dough.
It’s cold water, just combined with a fork, and a beautiful mound of dough is formed, with marks of the layers that will become light flakiness in the baked crust.
Photo above by Lauren Gulde, Santa Clara Design, at one of my pie classes:)
It’s magic, in your hands and before your eyes. It’s the smooth finish of a favorite rolling pin, its firmness under your palms, as the dough yields to pressure and forms a flat circle, or as close as you can come to a circle, because it will still work.
It’s the satisfaction of a heavy apple in your hands, peeling it in a continuous ring. It’s sugar, as it draws forth the juices from apple slices as soon as they make contact. It’s the contrast of textures and colors, as cinnamon and nutmeg are sprinkled over the slices.
It’s more rolling, placing the top crust, knowing that any mistakes can be quickly fixed and the imperfections just add to the homemade charm. It’s the sure placement of the pie plate in the oven and the satisfying thud of the heavy door. It is even beauty in the aftermath, with its mound of apple curls, squared cores, and flour patterns.
It’s baking time that fills the house with the scent of cinnamon and butter: a combination of joy and slight agony. It’s a pie that emerges from the oven, even lovelier than it entered, with its golden hue, touches of deeper brown, and luscious sweetness dripping down the edge in a spot or so. It is no deflation of pastry or spirit for this dessert. It is savored best while still slightly warm, with vanilla ice cream instantly melting against a slice. Pie is warm, hearty, and more glorious in its imperfections. It feeds the body and soul.
Golden, flaky crust seals in tender, sweet apples that have been sweetened and spiced. It really doesn’t get any better than that, except in the sharing.
The Pie Belle’s Apple Pie
2 prepared pie crusts
6 cups peeled and cored baking apples (a combination of Granny Smith and another variety such as Braeburn is great)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a pie plate with the bottom crust. In a large bowl, combine all filling ingredients and toss gently. Spoon the filling into the pastry-lined plate. Dot apple slices with butter. Top with the top crust, seal and crimp the edges. Cut slits in the top of the solid pie crust.
Bake at 425 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until the apples are tender, the filling is bubbly and thickened, and the crust is golden brown.