When my brother emailed that he and his lady, not to mention the two lads (aged 2 and 3) and various outliers from Long Island requested that I contribute an apple pie and a few quarts of ice cream to Thanksgiving, I immediately started to edit the request in my mind.
Pie is, to my mind, risky. Commercial pies can be great, but the better they are the more money they cost, and I didn't have a lot to spend. As to home-made pies, the fact is that I'm not a baker. It takes a special talent and, while I may develop it some day, I haven't yet.
Then there are the two variables in any fruit pie: the filling and the crust. The filling hits or misses on the sweet/tart/firm/watery properties of the fruit, and fresh fruit are not predictable. The crust, on the other hand, can be controlled--if you are a good baker and you have either an infallible pie crust sense, or an infallible recipe.
Maybe it all comes down to the fact that, if my braised beef shank is sticking to the casserole or my lamb ribs are getting grey instead of golden brown, I know what to do about it; knowledge, experience and sense tell me to take it off the fire, or turn up the flame, or add more liquid, or start all over again if I need to. But I've got no senses like that for baking, and that's why, wisely I think, I stay away from the stuff.
Still. My brother asked me specially for a dessert. The rest of the meal would be taken care of by my sister-in-law, her sister and their mother, welterweight cooks all. What to do?
Relief came in the form of this recipe by Paula Deen from the Food Network website.
1/4 cup bourbon or apple juice
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 to 3 Granny Smith apples (about 1 pound), peeled, cored, halved, and thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon lemon zest, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup crushed shortbread cookies
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
5 sheets phyllo dough from 1 pound package of frozen dough
2 tablespoons butter, melted, for brushing phyllo sheets, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Caramel sauce, purchased
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk
For the Strudel:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, pour the bourbon or apple juice over the raisins and microwave on high for 45 seconds. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Combine the raisins, apples, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, brown sugar, cookie crumbs, pecans, and butter in a large bowl.
Remove the phyllo dough from the box, unfold, and cover with a damp towel. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on the work surface and brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat with the remaining sheets, brushing each with melted butter, stacking when done, being sure to keep the unbuttered phyllo covered.
Place the apple mixture on the nearest third of the phyllo stack, being sure to leave a 2-inch border. Gently lift the bottom edge of the phyllo stack to cover the filling and fold the side edges over. Continue to roll the stack away from you until the filling is completely sealed in and the seam is on the bottom. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Pour over the glaze and sprinkle with cinnamon and confectioners' sugar. Pass warm caramel sauce, to drizzle over the strudel.
For the Glaze:
Mix ingredients thoroughly.
*Cook's Note: If too thick add a little bit of milk. If too thin add a little bit of confectioners' sugar.
This is Annie again. the fact is, the filling turned out marvelously--rich, buttery, sweet but not insipid. It helps if you cut the applies into thin chunks, not thin slices, and mix all the dry ingredients first, then add the apples and finally the butter. Inexpressibly delicious, with the firm, tart Granny Smiths a perfect counterpoint to the fancy richness of the trimmings.
But that phylllo dough...brother, beware. It's a thin, damp membrane which shatters when you look at it (I mean when it's still unbaked). If it actually does come through the bakig process, it's as appetizing as a brown paper bag.
So now I've got tons of this filling and nothing to fill. The good news is I also have three days until T-give, and enough money left to buy one of those little boxes of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.
I can still do good things. Tune in later and we'll find out what, exactly.