Today, we woke up to a 47 degree bedroom. Woohoo! It’s finally warming up after last week’s cold snap. It’s useless to heat the bedrooms at night in the uninsulated bulk of our 1880’s rustic house, so we just turn off the thermostat before snoozing, and then turn it way up to a whopping 60 in the morning, taking the chill off until the woodstove kicks in.
Unheated bedroom + winter wind blowing through the panes of the old rope windows = 6 quilts on the bed and thick flannel sheets. You know there are enough quilts on the bed when it feels like you’re sleeping under a giant cast iron skillet.
Speaking of which, in honor of the cast iron cooking class scheduled for Feb. 6, let’s make an iron skillet apple cider caramel dumpling pie.
First we need to make some apple cider syrup/caramel to sweeten our pie. I always like to sweeten my pies with themselves. Hmm. Let me explain that one. Rather than sweeten a fruit pie with sugar from some other plant, why not intensify the flavors in the fruit you’re using with the sugars from the fruit itself. So for a peach pie, I will add about 1/4 cup sugar to 9 cups of sliced peaches, let that sit an hour or so, and then reduce the syrup … add to the drained peaches and then thicken. What you taste is the fruit, not the sugar. If I’m making a blueberry pie, I’ll add a handful of dried wild blueberries (Trader Joe’s are good) to guard against the dreaded summer berry runny filling and that also intensifies the blueberry flavor so I can get away with only 1/4 cup sugar per pie. You can add sugar to raw apples as well and reduce the syrup, but a cider caramel syrup pie will make you happy-cry.
If you live anywhere near apple trees, make heaps of cider syrup in cider-pressing season and then freeze it in little 4 oz. jars to use throughout the year. The better your cider, the better your cider syrup.
Pour 1/2 gallon of good cider in a pan and slowly simmer it about an hour, uncovered. Remove the scum if you find it creepy, and when it starts to get syrupy/bubbly like this, remove it from the heat. You can continue to reduce the syrup to a thick caramel and make all kinds of other stuff, but we need it a little syrupy for this dumpling pie. WATCH YOUR SYRUP like a hawk as it begins to thicken because if it scorches, you will sad-cry.
You’ll need one good, firm pie apple per person (mid-winter we can’t be picky, just not a red delicious or gala-type sweet apple). Peel and core the apples and place them in an iron skillet, pie plate or glass baking dish.
Into each apple hole, poke something like dried cranberries or raisins and toasted walnuts or other nuts.
For 8 apples, you’ll use half of your cider syrup. (More is ok too.) Pour half the syrup into a small glass canning jar and freeze for your next adventure. To the remainder, you’ll add a teaspoon or two of unsalted butter and a pinch of salt. Pour the cider syrup over the apples and add a splash of Calvados (French apple brandy) if you have it, for good luck.
Cover the apples with your best HOMEMADE-for-heaven’s-sake pie crust, and crimp the edges of the crust to the skillet/pie plate. Poke a hole over the center of each apple, brush the top of the crust with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Place the pie in the bottom third of a preheated 400 oven. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 and bake until you see some bubblage and the crust is lovely.
This is an everyday, un-uppity real people pie from the 1930s. And, guess what? If you have some of your homemade pie crusts stored away in the freezer, then this can even qualify as an emergency pie. More on that next week!
PS For last week’s Italian Alpine cooking class we made apple cider caramel gelato. It was so good, we almost fell off our chairs. Infuse 1 cup warm cream with vanilla bean innards for 30 minutes, stir in 1/2 cup cider caramel and add 2 cups milk and brown sugar to taste. Chill the mixture, then process in your ice cream machine, and when done, spread half into a glass bread pan. Top with a layer of lovely apple butter then spread the remaining gelato on top. Freeze until firm. You might be able to eat both the pie and gelato together, but I don’t trust myself.
NOTE: All fruits are acidic. You must bake this pie in a WELL-SEASONED iron pan or your pie will taste of iron. Remove any leftover pie immediately after eating to a glass pie plate or baking dish for storage.