I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Charleston for a conference. The weather was perfect: sunny days, clear and warm nights, low humidity, and no rain. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate it enough, because upon returning to California I haven’t seen the sun since. Now it is chilly, breezy, misty, and altogether autumn-like. Luckily our new apartment has built-in heaters that appear to have on-switches (unlike our old apartment), so I look forward to having a heated apartment this winter. And until the chill becomes unbearable, and thus heater-worthy, I’ve enjoyed turning the oven on as often as possible (always with the excuse of baking something of course).
I used to have a thing for pies. By “thing” I mean I loved them more than all other sweet and delicious baked goods on the planet. Part of this was because I didn’t know how to bake cakes, and with the discovery of a certain beer-infused chocolate cake and a fantastic chocolate dessert cookbook I forgot about pies almost entirely. But not completely. I am constantly looking for that perfect, flaky, buttery pie crust, and sweet or savory toppings/fillings to make it all worthwhile. After returning from Charleston, I found a bag of discounted apples in the fridge (the apples with little blemishes that drop their price from 3$/pound to 1$/pound), and all of a sudden had a bizarre urge to find the best pie crust recipe in my cookbook collection and attempt a rustic, aka free-form, tart. The recipe for the crust is adapted from The Commonsense Kitchen, and while it may look a bit strange with the addition of fresh-squeezed orange juice (from the original recipe), let me assure you that this is the best crust I’ve ever made, and I’m currently planning a whole slew of pies and tarts to have an excuse to try it again. The orange juice has no effect on the taste of the crust, other than to make it taste slightly sweet, but apparently the acidity helps the crust come out just right.
Perfect Butter Pie Crust
(Enough for one crust to make a rustic tart)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 stick cold butter (from the fridge, not the freezer)
3-5 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
Start by combining the flours, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into thin slices and add them to the flour mixture. Use your hands to quickly incorporate the butter into the flour, leaving most of the butter in pea-sized pieces. It is good to do this quickly so that the butter doesn’t become too soft. The pea-sized pieces of butter will help the crust be flaky when it’s baked. Sprinkle in as much orange juice as necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make the dough just come together; it should not be sticky! Gather the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Press down on the dough to make a disk of dough about 1 inch thick, and let sit in the fridge for an hour or more to chill and let the dough relax (which makes it easier to roll out). When you’re ready to bake the tart, roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8 inches between the plastic wrap and a piece of parchment paper. Put the dough on the baking surface (an ungreased glass pie dish for me) and fill with delicious things like an apple tart filling (recipe below). Then fold the corners up over the sides of the filling and bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Apple Tart Filling
(Enough for one rustic apple tart)
2-4 apples, cut into thin slivers
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of nutmeg and cloves, or cinnamon
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Pour the apple filling into the pie crust described above, leaving an inch around the edge to fold the dough up over the filling.