I spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks searching for the perfect apple pie recipe--amply filled with slices of deliciously spiced apples with no "cave" between the crust and filling, and especially no oven boil-over (the piemarker's horror, especially the night before Thanksgiving. . ) I tried different varieties of apples and different combinations of ingredients searching for the Holy Grail of Pies. I'll explain the analysis later in the blog, but the three things I found most important were: Choosing the right apple variety, precooking the apples partially to get a full pie, and using Ultra Gel® instant thickener to avoid boil-out (which is what happens when the juices that accumulate as the apples cook boil out of the top of the pie and result in an ever-loving mess in the bottom of your oven. And to add insult to injury, the smoke that results usually ruins whatever is baking.) Here, my friends, is the treasure--the confidence to make the Perfect Apple Pie!
8 c. peeled and sliced tart apples (about 1/4" thick) - pack tightly in measuring cup
2 T. lemon juice (1 T. for very tart apples)
1 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cloves
8 T. Ultra Gel instant thickener (available at www.carnetfoods.com or Amazon)
Homemade or purchased pastry for deep dish 9" pie
Peel and slice the apples into a microwave-safe comtainer (a covered casserole dish works well).
Add the sugar, spices, and Ultra Gel® and toss until evenly coated.
Cover with a lid or vented plastic wrap and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Stir the apples carefully to make sure they get evenly cooked.
Continue cooking if necessary until the apples lose their crispness and a fork can be inserted easily.
Let cool at least 15 minutes--you will see that the released apple juice is already starting to thicken.
Prepare the bottom crust.
Add the thickened filling to the crust, smoothing the top.
Add the top crust and pierce generously to make vent holes for the steam.
Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 degrees for an additional thirty minutes. If the filling starts to ooze through the vents, the pie is done--remember that the apples have already been cooked and thickened, so no need to cook to boiling temperatures throughout.
About apples: I live in a great apple-growing area, so many varieties of fresh apples are easily available, and I think I tried them all! Granny Smiths are a national favorite for cooking for good reason--their tartness is a perfect foil for the added sweetener. The favor of the pie made with Granny Smiths was great but I was hoping for a little more firmness in the texture. Galas were too sweet, Honeycrisps were good, as were Jonnygolds. My current personal favorite, however, is the Fuji which seems to stay firm even when precooked.
About precooking apples: Do it!! Put the sliced apples in a covered casserole dish or cover with plastic wrap and microwave for six to eight minutes, stirring every couple of minutes, until a fork can be inserted. This takes the crispness out of the apples and
allows them to be easily arranged in the pie plate without the expectation of further shrinking, which leaves a very unflattering "cave" between the filling and the crust.
About using the right thickener: This is the real secret to the smooth texture and lovely sheen of the Perfect Apple Pie. Since Ultra Gel® is an instant starch, it grabs the moisture when it is released from the apples and immediately thickens it, which keeps it from boiling out of the pie. And those lovely thickened juices are at their mouthwatering best when still warm. Side of ice cream, anyone?
This photo shows two standard glass pie plates (incidentally, if you want the bottom crust of your fruit pie to be crisp, the heat-conducting qualities of a glass pie plate will be an advantage). The pie plate on the left is a "deep dish" style pie plate and holds roughly 1 1/2 times the pie filling as the one on the right--also a standard pie plate. This recipe is sized for the plate on the left or one like it.
Incidentally, pies thickened with Ultra Gel® can be made and frozen ahead of your big celebration (don't try this if you thicken with traditional cornstarch or flour). After preparing the pies, bake them for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then remove from the oven, cool, package, and freeze. Do not thaw before baking--bake at 400 for about 15 minutes to crisp the crust, then turn down to 350 until hot all the way through (remember--they're already thickened). Cover the edges with foil if they start getting too brown.
Happy Holidays to all!!
Apple Pie Filling - Home Canned with love and flavor!
Football weather at our house is also Apple Pie Filling weather! It is a rite of passage to gather the family to survey the plentiful and delicious local apples, choose a good Saturday, and mass produce enough apple pie filling for the year. We have been home-canning Apple Pie Filling for over 25 years now, as early adopters when the USDA came out with recipes that were tested and recommended for the home canner using the modified food starch Clearjel. This recipe has been adapted to use Ultra Gel®, as it is easily available and far more versatile than Clearjel.
Peel, core, and slice apples (1/4 inch thickness for even cooking). Place in water containing ascorbic acid or other anti-browning agent.
Blanch apple slices in boiling water for 1 minute in batches, then keep warm (I use a 6 qt slow cooker on warm). Also see notes below.
Start 4-5 inches of water boiling in the water bath canner.
Combine water, apple juice, and lemon juice in a large heavy pan (I use a 12 qt magnalite--oldie but goodie!)
Combine sugar, Ultra Gel®, and spices in a bowl, mix together, and reserve for later use.
Bring the liquids to a boil
Remove from the heat and add the sugar mixture while stirring with a heavy wire whisk or spoon. This will result in a heavy paste. Remember, you will be adding more juice with the apples, so it needs to be thick.
Return to a medium heat and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly. It will pop and spit, so be careful! Boil for 1 minutes.
Add the warm apples to the liquid mixture and stir gently to avoid breaking the apple slices. Bring back to a boil, then start filling the prepared bottles. Keep the mixture warm. It is important that the mixture in the jars be very hot when added to the water bath canner.
Fill the bottles to 1/2 inch from the top. It is important to leave enough headspace for the filling to expand as it cooks.
Clean the bottle rims well, then add the lids per manufacturer directions.
Add the filled bottles to the boiling water in the water bath canner. The water should cover the bottles.
Adjust the heat to keep a slow boil. Process for 35 minutes.
A word about apples: There are an explosion of apples that work well for pie filling. Look for the attributes you like in a fresh apple pie--some people like an apple with a firm texture and substantial "bite" where others like a softer, sweeter apple. I've used a wide variety of apples--I started with Golden Delicious fresh off the tree while they still had a natural tartness and liked that they held their shape well. Johnathans had great tartness, but the slices seemed to break up more in handling. I used Jonagolds last year and found them delightful, and this year I'm using Fujis, which are also nice and a little firmer than others I've tried. The moral of the story is--use whatever you like in your fresh pies! When you're purchasing, plan about 1 1/2 lbs fresh apples per quart.
As for peeling apples--6 quarts seems like an overwhelming amount, but just put on a decent movie and get started. We often use an apple peeler/slicer and during a decent football game my husband plus one son can peel enough apples for 3 batches. If the game is really exciting, though, the apple peeling efficiency goes right down the drain! But I never have to beg for help--this is one product nobody wants to run out of!
My personal feeling (coming from a foods manufacturing background) is that if you're going to get out all the equipment necessary to can apple pie filling, you benefit from making multiple batches. So staff the project with pie-loving participants and set up an assembly line. Most of the equipment doesn't need to be washed between batches, saving a ton of time!
On blanching the apples: The theory of blanching (or parboiling) apples is that cooking them quickly inactivates enzymes which cause browning and reduced quality and also to heat the apples in preparation for canning. It is critical that the apples are cooked until a fork can be inserted, and that they be kept warm to ensure that they don't cool down the apple mixture before packing in the bottles. Apple pie filling is very thick, and requires that the mixture be packed at boiling temperatures and immediately be transferred to a boiling water bath canner to guarantee proper heat conduction throughout the jar.
Ascorbic acid or "Fruit Fresh" is added to water to protect the sliced apples from browning while six quarts are accumulated
Make sure the apples are coated with the water and anti-browning agent.
I found early on that I run out of stove space when I make apple pie filling, so I pre-cook the apples in the microwave rather than blanching them. I put 2 quarts in a covered casserole dish, then microwave until a fork can be easily inserted. In my microwave, I cook for 5 minutes on high, then stir, making sure the apples in the center are moved to where they will get more heat, then microwave for an additional 3 minutes.
A fork should be able to pierce the apple pieces easily.
Then the apples and any accumulated juices are transferred to a slow cooker on the warm setting to stay warm. A six quart slow cooker is just the right size for six quarts of peeled and sliced apples. If you get interrupted, turn the slow cooker off, so the apples don't get overcooked. They will stay warm enough.
Add the liquids to a heavy pan that will hold at least 7 quarts and bring to a boil over high heat.
Combine the dry ingredients.
Mix well with a fork or wire whisk.
Pour the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients gradually, stirring constantly.
Add the apples and stir to combine. Bring back to boiling.
Pack the bottles, leaving 1/2" - 3/4" headspace.
Water bath for 35 minutes, keeping the water at a slow boil.
Peach Pie Filling - Home Canned!
Home-canned peach pie filling--like summer sunshine in a bottle!! Think of peach pie or cobbler in February, when we're all wondering if the sun will ever shine again here in the Pacific Northwest. In my area, there is still a plentiful supply of late-summer peaches. O Henry peaches are one of my favorites for their robust flavor and rich color, but others prefer a firmer peach like an Elberta for use in peach pie filling. Every area has its favorites. But one thing is for sure--regardless of what variety you use, you'll be glad you have it!
Working in batches, microwave blanche the peaches until steaming, stirring once. (I used a covered 2-quart casserole dish and heated on full power for 3 minutes, stirred then another 3 minutes. Your microwave may need different timing according to its wattage and the amount of peaches blanched at a time)
Transfer the peaches and any juice that accumulated to a slow cooker or roaster on the "keep warm" setting until needed.
Combine sugar, Ultra Gel® and cinnamon in a bowl.
Bring water to a boil in a large, heavy pan (at least 8 quarts)
Add sugar mixture and stir in. This will make a very thick paste that might look like it has some lumps in it. Don't worry--it will be fine.
Add the peaches The extra juice from the peaches will smooth out the thickened juices
Bring back to a boil and immediately pack the pie filling into clean jars, leaving 1" headspace
About blanching the peaches: In general, blanching is a concept that involves plunging fresh fruits or vegetables into boiling water for a short period of time in order to raise the temperature quickly. For purposes of home-canned pie filling, it is critical for every part of the jar of filling to achieve the appropriate temperatures to inactivate the enzymes and kill the microorganisms that cause food spoilage. Some recipes suggest blanching by dipping the peeled and sliced peaches in boiling water and that is certainly effective. But you lose all that flavorful juice and that just hurts my heart! Microwave blanching in a covered container should achieve the same goal if done properly and have the advantage of retaining the juices.
To accomplish this, put the peeled and sliced peaches in a heavy glass bowl (covered by a plate) or covered casserole dish and microwave for two minutes (be sure to protect against steam burns by using oven mitts). Stir carefully to make sure the peaches in the center are getting equal heat, and continue to microwave for another two minutes. Repeat as necessary. It only takes a batch or two to figure out a system that works. When adequately cooked, a fork should pierce the peaches easily but they need not be limp They should, however, be steamy and too hot to handle! Then slide them into a slow cooker on the "keep warm" setting until you have enough for the batch.
Pie filling is a thickened product, which means that heat will be slower to penetrate than if free water is available. In order to achieve a pie filling that will keep for the long term, it's really important to make sure all the pieces of the pie filling are at boiling temperatures when the bottles are packed. I know, we all hate to overcook those beautiful peaches, so its best to be able to work fast and get the peaches peeled and blanched as quickly as possible.
Peach Pie Filling is a delightful "end of summer" treat that will give back during the cold winter ahead (for those of us who have cold winters. . .)
Just a note: A quart of home-canned pie filling isn't enough for a deep dish pie. It is adequate for a standard pie (see photos of standard pie plates). If you want a larger pie, you might need to use a quart and a half of filling, or possibly add some blueberries.
Perfect Peach Pie!
Peach Pie--life doesn't get better than a cool fall evening and warm peach pie and ice cream shared with friends. The glory of peach pie is the syrupy richness of the sweet, thickened juices of the ripe peaches, but that's also part of the drama of peach pie. Because ripe, flavorful peaches are so juice-filled, as they heat during the baking process those juices are released. Traditional thickeners--flour and cornstarch don't thicken until the juices get to boiling temperatures. And that can create two problems: 1) The bottom crust can become soggy from all that juice, and 2) The juice can boil out through the slits in the top, creating a very smelly mess on the bottom of the oven and a pie that isn't very pretty.
The secret to "Perfect Peach Pie" is using Ultra Gel® as a thickener. It is an instant starch, which means when that yummy peach juice is released, it is immediately thickened, ensuring a crisp crust and no boil-out. And a presentation you can be proud of!!
Combine the sugar, Ultra Gel® and cinnamon in a separate bowl. (Woops, hadn't added the cinnamon, yet)
Add the sugar mixture to the peaches and stir or shake gently.
The sugar will start to pull the juices from the peaches, where the Ultra Gel® will start to thicken them.
If after a few minutes your peaches look drier than this, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Some peaches are juicier than other, either from the way they were stored, how ripe they are, or what variety they are.
Turn the peach mixture into a 9" pie plate lined with pastry.
Using glass pie plates for fruit pies give the best chance of getting a firm, well-baked bottom crust because glass absorbs the heat well. Second choice would be a dark-colored metal pie plate. Save the shiny ones for single-crust pies, where the heat can come from both top and bottom. Notice the two different styles of pie plates: One is about 1/2 inch taller than the other. This recipe is sized for the pie plate on the right--if you want to use a bigger or deeper pie plate, you will need to 1 1/2 x the recipe
Yumminess on the way!
Cut slits to allow the steam to escape and crimp the edges well. I like to brush the top of the pie with milk for better browning.
Ahhhh. . You've been smelling it for the past hour--now to put it on the cooling rack and watch your guests gather round. Notice--no boilout. Beautiful pie with plenty of juiciness!