I've been thinking all about value lately, more specifically, the value of my actions. I find myself questioning, well, maybe not questioning, but examining the underlying beliefs I hold. I've been checking for any structural weakness in the ideological foundation over which I have built my life.
Maybe I'm going through an existential crisis. Maybe it's a sign that I've hit a new level of emotional maturity and I'm trying to better understand myself, which would be ironic because a lot of times I feel like I'm having a conversation with a 3-year-old:
"Why do I bother to cook?"
"Because I like it. It makes me happy."
"Because it's nice to make good food."
"Why? I can just buy food from the store."
"Because a home cooked meal is different."
"Because it's an expression of love, damn it!"*
My uncle recently turned 50; his birthday party was over the weekend. I didn't know what to bring for him. Truth be told I don't know him that well. (Did I mention I have 9 uncles and that does not include the men married to my aunts?) I love him and his family a ton but we don't really see each other outside of family functions. He's an engineer and he likes to fish. . . I think.
I thought about bringing a bottle of wine. (Does he drink?) Maybe some flowers. (Is it weird to give your uncle flowers?) And then I thought about apple pie. Who doesn't love apple pie?
I recently got a new cookbook, The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen. In it is a recipe for apple rose pie. It's the comfort of apple pie with a sofisticated twist: rose water. It is fantastic. Warm, sweet apple pie with floral tones. It's like grandma's kitchen meets Roseraie du Val-de-Marne. I made this pie a few weeks ago for fun using a standard double crust with a lattice top as instructed in the book. The family loved it.
But see, last year I became intrigued with apple rose pies. You know, the pies where the apples are made with the usual sugar and cinnamon (at least is the case with the ones I've seen) but thinly sliced and arranged to look like a rose. Well, when I saw the Elsens' recipe using rose water, it only seemed natural to use their pie filling to make an apple rose pie. After all, a pie that looks like a rose should taste like a rose, right?
Instead of a pie pan I used a tart pan because I thought it looked pretty. . . either, or.
I didn't time myself but I'm guessing it took me about 10-15 minutes to arrange the slices.
Because there is no upper crust to prevent the delicately sliced apples from drying out in the oven I covered them with foil.
I didn't actually get to taste any of the pie after it was finished. There were a lot of people at the party and it went in a flash. I did received a lot of compliments though and everyone wanted to know what that flavor in the pie was. People guessed cardamom, ginger, even rosemary (???). When I told them it was rose they laughed (because the pie looked like a rose!).
Apple Rose Pie (adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)
make one 9-inch pie
1 9-inch single-crust pie pastry
Juice of 1 lemon
6 or 7 medium baking apples (I prefer something with a pink or red skin like Pink Lady)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons rose water
Line a 9-inch tart pan with the prepared pie pastry. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer while you prepare the apples.
Place the lemon juice into a large bowl. Leaving the skins on, core the apples by cutting away the flesh in four sections. Thinly slice the apple chunks using a mandolin. Make these super thin, like paper thin. Test the thickness by taking an apple slice and rolling it up into a coil. If it breaks, make them thinner. As you slice the apples, place them in the bowl with the lemon juice, coating them so they don't turn brown. Once the apples are all sliced sprinkle half of the granulated sugar on top of them and cover the bowl. Let the apple slices sit for 20 or 30 minutes to soften and release some of their juices.
Preheat the oven to 375F. In a medium bowl mix the remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Gently toss the sugar mixture with the apples slices making sure not to tear the apple slices apart. Sprinkle the apples with the rose water.
Remove the pastry-lined tart pan from the refrigerator. To make the rose pattern layer the apple slices one at a time, skin facing up, in the pastry. Start on the outer edge and spiral inward toward the center. The final apple slice--the center of the rose--should be a thin slice that is rolled up tight. Once all the slices are arranged in the pastry spoon out any remaining apple chunks from the liquid left in the bowl and pour it over the slices.
Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. (If you don't, the butter from the crust will melt out of the tart pan, drip onto the bottom of your oven, and fill your home with thick, black, stinky smoke.) Take a square of foil and fold it into a circle that just covers the apples but not the crust. This prevents the apples from drying out and toasting in the oven while allowing the crust to brown. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minute or until the crust is golden brown and the juice between the apple slices bubbles.
Let the pie cool for 2 to 3 hours and serve at room temperature. Yeah, right, I know. If you can wait and let it cool the juices will thicken. But if you have to cut into as soon as it comes out of the oven and eat runny pie, well, I've been there. I won't judge.