Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Pi Pie (or Ginger and Apple Pie for less nerdy people)

Finally finished!
This pie had been a real labour of love but one which was totally worth it. Oh don't get me wrong, it's actually a very simple idea and if you are going to do the normal crust topping then it is just as simple to make. It was only when I was working out my timings that I didn't take into account how fiddly and time consuming it would be to poke out each of the numbers from the cutters. When we were FINALLY eating it I had the type of sense of achievement that you get from studying hard for months then finally getting really good results and having that immensely happy but somewhat exhausted feeling. Really, nobody should get that tired from making just one pie but I've wanted to try out my own version of a pi pie since someone posted a picture of a less detailed version on my Facebook wall. The recipe for a apple and ginger one popped into my head for some reason, just knowing that it would work well and I'm pleased to say that I was right.

Now in my defense, even though I did go more than 2 hours over my expected completion time, I did have to do tea break for my mum when she got back from work, then again for my dad when he got in as well as making the dinner (bacon and sausage frittata with salad if anyone is interested). Couple that with my dad hovering about in the kitchen where he is notorious for getting in the way and I almost feel like I was justified in taking so long. Almost. I based my recipe on my normal apple pie which was originally the Hairy Bikers' Perfect Apple Pie but I did my usually tweaking as I went along when I was supposed to be sticking to the recipe when trying it for the first time. I have the greatest respect for the Hairy Bikers - they seem to have a great work ethic and attitude, really caring about the people they work with, an appreciation of the effort that goes into cooking for normal families and on top of that are genuinely nice guys. So I do feel a tad guilty about saying that my version of their recipe is better. I'm deeply grateful for them coming up with it in the first place because otherwise I probably wouldn't have developed my own but I think it would be great fun to show them how to make it that oh-so-important bit better. And seeing as how a number of their shows involve other people showing them what they cook, I think they would be fine with be saying I've messed about with one of the recipes that they got so ecstatic over on one of their shows.

I get the feeling that I'm always saying that the recipe I'm writing about is really good so I want to make it clear before I get a reputation for being a boastful so-and-so that for each recipe that ends up on here there are at least two that are mediocre at best and complete embarrassments at worst. For example, recently I made Jo Wheatley's lemon and white chocolate muffins. These appear in the children's section of her book Home Baking which goes to show how simple they are and yet I made the rookie mistake of overfilling the cases (and eating some of the chocolate) causing them to come out of the oven looking as if they had completely failed to grasp the meaning of the phrase 'muffin top'. Sure, some of the cases were so overfull that some mixture had escaped over the sides but not in the cheerful comforting way that you expect from the most delectable muffins. No, it was more in a sad, pathetic way of a creature so depressed it could only muster a half-hearted attempt to remove itself from its current predicament. The only reason why I am proclaiming with such alacrity that my apple pie is a step up from two well loved bakers is that I have had such praise from the two people who would tell me straight if anything were amiss with my baking. If my mum likes something she will give me a positive 'that was nice Laura' but the first time I did the unadulterated apple pie Mum could not/would not stop praising it, to the point where I was slightly embarrassed. My dad, well, I will get a resounding 'eurgh!' if something I present him with doesn't pass muster.

I am well aware of how protective my mother is over her children but you would realise soon after meeting her that she is fair and honest, especially when it comes to my baking because she knows how much I value unbiased comments so that I can improve where necessary. However, if you still think the familial reviews of my baking produce may be far too skewed then I urge you to try this one. The nerdy reference to the digits of the number denoted by the Greek letter pi (I am an enthusiastic chemistry student after all) are not a necessity, a standard pie crust with or without pastry leaves decoration will be more than adequate for someone who neither has the inclination or the time on their hands to mess about with mini cutters. In fact, I wouldn't recommend constructing the topping as depicted unless you have someone to clean up after you with infinite patience to scrub and then dry into the nooks and crannies of the necessary equipment but I do urge you to try it in the non-nerdy form. I welcome any pictures or comments here or on my Facebook page I'd Much Rather Bake Than of your efforts so please do give it a go. It is even a pie that suits any weather which is great news for us here in Britain. It is warming, delicious and comforting for those days when you are thankful to be out of any rain/wind/fog or whatever else a typically British summer throws at you and if a miracle happens and the sun comes out then it is simply perfect and light with ice-cream (my accompaniment of choice two days on the trot). Go on, give it a go. It really is very yummy.

300g bramley apples (weight when peeled, cored and thinly sliced)
2 tsp ground ginger
1 heaped tbsp cornflour
65g demerara sugar
1 piece stem ginger
milk or beaten egg or syrup from the ginger jar to glaze
demerara sugar for sprinkling

200g plain flour
25-50g ground almonds (your preference) 
2tsp ground ginger
100g chilled butter, diced
finely grated zest of one lemon
1 egg beaten with 1tbsp cold water and 1tsp syrup from the ginger jar

  1. Sift the flour, ground almonds and ginger into the bowl and mix so evenly distributed. Rub in the butter until it looks sort of like breadcrumbs. This will seem like it is taking ages at first but will then suddenly be ready. Stir in the lemons zest. I would love one of those microplane gadgets for zesting but I had to make do with a normal zester and a sharp knife to chop it up as fine as I could. Mix in the liquid with a knife and bring everything together. The dough will be very soft and delicate but with care can be handled if you don't want to wait while it chills.
  2. Draw round a 1 pint pie tin on a piece of greaseproof parchment then turn it over ready to arrange the numbers on.
  3. Break off about a third of the pastry and set side, covered.
     Roll out the larger piece on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, lifting the edges of the dough every few rolls to prevent sticking and to allow it to relax. (You aren't allowed to relax while rolling out, just the pastry!) It needs to be about 3mm thick. Not much more or it won't cook properly. Line the pie dish and cut off the excess flush with the edge of the tin. Cover the dish with a plastic bag and chill it in the fridge.
  4. Gather up the pastry trimmings and squidge together with the smaller piece of pastry set aside earlier. Roll out the the same thickness as before. If you are doing a normal crust, set the oven to 200C/180C fan with a baking tray inside and prepare the filling now. If you want to attempt the numbers arrangement, use cutters to cut out the digits, you could use this reference here. Arrange them on the template starting with the 3 in the centre and rotate the numbers outwards until you get to the line you drew on the sheet all the way round the circle. Using roughly 2cm high cutters I got to ...4825342. As you are arranging them, stick them together with a dab of milk or water on the edges. I had a saucer of milk ready for this along with one of flour to dip the cutters into before each use. I also had a spoon to hand to use the handle to poke out the larger areas from the cutters and a cocktail stick for the finer areas. Once the circle is full, place the sheet in the fridge to firm up. Now preheat the oven as above and prepare the filling.
  5.  Peel and core the apples then slice thinly. Mine were about 3mm thick. Let's just ignore the odd shaped slices where I wasn't paying enough attention. Toss in a bowl with the cornflour, ground ginger and sugar until well coated. Chop or grate the piece of stem ginger as finely as you can then mix into the filling mix. Remove the lined pie tin from the fridge and transfer the whole lot to it, arranging the slices as best as is possible so the top layer is flat and doesn't come above the top of the tin. 
  6. If you are doing the normal pie crust, wet the edges of the pastry lining, lift the rolled out piece onto the top of the filled pie,press down to seal around the edges of the tin and trim off the excess. You could make jam tarts with these trimmings if you wished - I ended up mixing bramble berry and strawberry jams for mine which is surprisingly nice. Crimp the edges and cut a steam hole in the pie top to stop the pastry from going soggy during baking. Decorate with pastry leaves stuck down with a dab of water if you wish.
  7. For the numbers crust, remove the sheet from the fridge. There is no easy way to explain how to get it off the paper onto the pie - you may have to find your own way. I had intended to slide it off the paper onto the pie but it just wouldn't do that. In the end I placed another sheet of greaseproof on top, flipped it over onto a flat tray, peeled off the original template sheet, held my fingers over the pie filling, flipped the pie onto the numbers then flipped the whole lot back the right way up. Finally I pressed the number round the edge down onto the pie base and replaced the ones that had fell off during flipping and breathed a sigh of relief before popping it into the oven on the heated baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 40 mins ish for the normal crust and about 30 mins ish for the numbers crust. Turn the pie around half way through cooking and have a foil hot ready to place over the top if it looks like it is browning too quickly. Once baked, rest the pie out of the oven for 5-10 mins before serving with something nice. Double cream, custard, ice-cream, clotted cream, whipped cream, whisky cream...Hmm, now there's a thought.
Happy baking!

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