I’ve gained two new hobbies this quarantine era: baking and photography. Or maybe three. I’ve also gained weight because of said hobbies. Apparently, baking has become the new yoga. People, or at least the people I see on Instagram, have all been mixing flour and cranking up their ovens to make the nth version of banana bread. So of course the basic in me just had to join the bandwagon.
And boy is it fun! Before quarantine, I never thought “I” could make cakes from scratch and, lo and behold, pies and bread. Bread?!!! Me, baking bread? LOL. I’m blown away by how much we could learn when we
obsess show up to our craft. Craft? Haha. I mean how much we can achieve just by doing a particular activity over and over again. Same goes with food photography.
After 12 years, I’ve dusted my very old Nikon D40 and threw caution to the wind as I turned the dial to Manual Mode. For the longest time I simply couldn’t be bothered. It was too much jargon — ISO, aperture, exposure. Ugh! Can I just point and shoot? But not this time. Something inside me was ignited to venture into the unknown, to try something that I’ve been putting off. With this pandemic, everyone’s got the time, don’t we?
It took quite a while for me to get used to these manual settings (I’m still getting used to it as we speak), but when I did grasp the concept and knobs slowly but surely, I was hooked. It’s like a new door has been opened where endless beautiful things and possibilities lay.
So I’ve baked (and shot) many a cake since June. Some were surprisingly delicious and dainty, others were a total disaster. Every attempt, in all its novelty at this point, makes me feel like a newborn with new toys. Every thing is exciting and bursting with potential. I feel energized to wake up and fill my days with new recipes and new shoot concepts.
I love the precision of baking, bodes well for someone like me who’s controlling. I love how tactile and transformative the entire process is. How one minute it’s all flour and eggs, the next minute the smell of warm bananas have enveloped our tiny apartment. Even the mishaps I love. I mean it’s frustrating and expensive as hell for sure, but I like the fact that there’s so much to learn at this stage, so much more to explore. This is how it feels like to be a beginner where everything feels shiny and new.
That brings me to my latest venture — apple pie! With the help of my cooking guru Alison Roman, I was able to make pie crust and apple filling that turned these gala apples to a dessert that is so incredibly unfamiliar to me. That’s actually what I realized while making it. I have no food memories whatsoever about apple pie (save for Jollibee’s peach mango pie?). I did not grow up apple picking in Bislig, and my grandma never made nor had any idea what apple pie was. And so it goes that I still made one, for the very first time, and I am pretty pleased with the results.
The pie crust is the most crucial element of a pie, obviously. Alison Roman’s pie crust recipe is easy to do. It’s mostly just mixing dry and wet ingredients. Kneading a little bit. Then lots of resting time in the fridge. For the filling, it’s, again, a simple mixing of the apples and spices. I deviated a little from AR’s recipe. Yes, I had the audacity to experiment and cooked my filling in a pan briefly so that it’s already a little bit cooked through before I pop it in the oven. AR’s recipe does not include this step. It’s mix and dump and close the pie.
Pies take a long time to bake, about an hour and a half or more. After it’s done, you have to wait ideally another 2-4 hours to fully rest and cool the pie. I didn’t expect it would be this time consuming to be honest. It seems like this apple pie thinks quite highly of herself, she wants us to wait in anticipation. So when I was finally able to have a slice for myself, topped with vanilla ice cream, I had to give it up to her. This pie is worth the wait.
I may not have grown up eating apple pie, but eating this one made me wish I did. It’s sweet and tangy and flaky. The sweetness of the vanilla ice cream makes the whole slice even more decadent. Sinfully so. Days after, this pie retains its flavor no problem. Just warm it up, and you’re all set again like it was just recently out of the oven.
The Only Pie Crust
(from Alison Roman’s Dining In)
2 1/2 cups AP flour (plus more for rolling)
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, chilled
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar
1/4 cup ice water
1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together. Add the butter and toss to coat it in the flour mixture. Using your hands, smash the butter between your palms and fingertips, mixing it into the flour, creating long, thin, flaky, floury, buttery bits. Once there are no more chunks remaining and everything's fully incorporated, dump the flour mixture onto a work surface.
2. Combine the vinegar with the ice water and drizzle it over the flour-butter mixture. Run your fingers through the mixture like you're running your fingers through your hair, just to evenly distribute the water through the flour until the dough starts coming together.
3. Knead the dough a few more times, just to gather up any dry bits from the bottom and place them on the top to be incorporated. Once you've got a shaggy mass of dough (it will not be smooth and it will not be shiny), knead it once or twice more and divide it in half. Pat each piece into a flat disk, about 1 inch thick. Wrap each disk individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
DOUBLE CRUST APPLE PIE
INGREDIENTS: 1 large egg beaten 1 1/2 kilos of apples (peeled, pitted, and sliced to 1/2 an inch thick) 1/3 cup honey 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 tbsp lemon zest 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 3 tbsp cornstarch 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger 1 tbsp vanilla pinch of salt pinch of cinnamon 1/2 cup Demerara sugar (optional) STEPS: 1. Preheat oven to 191C (375F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of pie dough into a round about 14 inches in diameter. Transfer it to the parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining disk of dough, separating the two rounds with a piece of parchment to make it easier to separate them. Pop the baking sheet in the refrigerator while you make the filling. 3. Beat the egg with 1 tsp of water and set aside (this is your egg wash, and it will help seal the pie and make it golden brown on top. 4. In a large bowl, toss the apples, honey, granulated sugar, lemon zest, apple cider vinegar, cornstarch, ginger, vanilla, and salt together. Toss a few times to breakup any clumps of cornstarch. 5. Transfer one round of pie dough to a 9-inch pie plate. Using your fingers, encourage the crust to fit snugly against the pie dish. Add the filling, letting it sort of mound in the center (it'll distribute evenly as it bakes). Brush the edges of the pie dough with the egg wash. Place the remaining round of pie dough over the apple filling and using your fingers, press the dough together around the edges to seal. 6. Crimp the edges using a fork. Then trim any excess overhang. Make a few three-inch slits on the top to allow moisture and steam to escape as the pie bakes. 7. Brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for at least 60 minutes. 8. After about an hour, rotate the pie. It will likely need another 30 or 45 minutes more in the oven. 9. The piecrust should be the color of a perfect croissant all over—dangerously golden, almost to the brink of "Is my pie burned?"). No. If the edges start to get too dark for your liking before the top is ready, place thin strips of foil over the parts that are getting too far ahead of the game. 10. Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool completely for about 4 hours. Unless you can't wait that long, do as you please.