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Apple pie: alternatives to "pie spice"


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To me apple pie just is not right without some cinnamon.  My thought is that the real problem is the store-bought apple pie.  There really is not one here that makes one well (nor the bakeries) - there is one that is/was tolerable but it just changed hands and I think it will not be good anymore.  There was a place that opened here years ago called Mom's - really!  I went in with high expectations and bought an apple pie.  I was suspicious when I saw industrial type barrels of something in the back of the store.  Brought the pie home, cut a piece, and tasted it.  Horrible!  Could taste the sulfur preservative first, then the insipid sauce with a sort of artificial cinnamon flavor came next.  The worse thing was the apples though - sort of crunchy and mushy at the same time.  They were sort of like what you might think packing peanuts would be like in a pie - the cellulose ones.  I went back (which I rarely do) and told them how bad it was.  No refund, only a credit - never used.  The place closed in a few more weeks.  I looked into the back on the return visit and saw that those barrels were 'pie filling' - no refrigeration needed! 

 

Anyway - MY mom's apple pie is the ideal for me.  Good pie apples, peeled and cut up, and tossed with some flour, a good amount of sugar, a lemon juiced over it all, a bit of cinnamon - maybe a couple other spices (I am not really sure - but probably not usually).  The apples piled high, the crust placed on the top, coated with a little sugar (and cinnamon?) and baked.  No sauce or glaze is used, it makes this itself.  Yum! She froze some too - unbaked (I think) and baked them later - these were just as good.

 

I was traveling through Nebraska last year and stopped at a grocery store - and saw 'Made in Nebraska' pies - frozen.  The looked really good.  Bought an apple and gooseberry pie - put it in the back of my vehicle - (it was below zero so would keep).  When I baked these they were fantastic.  I am pretty sure they were Village Piemaker .  It's not very close to me so I did not save the label - but it almost makes me want to do another road trip or at least divert a future trip to hit the area...

 

That being said however, I am up for other spices or flavorings and new interpretations.  I am thinking orange zest, ginger, and cardamom - grains of paradise as well? Maybe orange blossom water and a bit of vanilla.   I also think that the apples themselves are really important.  I don't think there is 'A' best apple - they will all do different things when baked, and it's probably what you like. I think there are some losers for a pie - red delicious for instance.  I prefer the tart apples best.  I think my mom used Johnathans, as that's what was available - but I seem to recall her mentioning others.  She and my dad picked them at orchards - and later when she was not as mobile, she bought them at the orchards or apple fairs already picked.   Anyway - apples are really diverse in flavor, texture, etc. and will really change the pie.

Edited by loki (log)
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Sichuan pepper? Can't say I've tried it but, I mean, the thought makes me want to totter off into the dark and buy some apples.

An Asian restaurant here (the family is multi-national - Chinese, Thai and Burmese) serves an apple turnover that is spiced with Sichuan pepper (toasted before grinding) and with a lovely Creme Anglaise on the side. 

I asked about it and was told one of the chefs, an "uncle" is originally from Beijing and his mother prepared a pork roast with an apple sauce spiced with the pepper.  The idea of what most Americans consider dessert was lacking in their regular menu so he developed these turnovers which are in a crispy crust similar to egg rolls - pan fried but not at all greasy. 

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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An Asian restaurant here (the family is multi-national - Chinese, Thai and Burmese) serves an apple turnover that is spiced with Sichuan pepper (toasted before grinding) and with a lovely Creme Anglaise on the side. 

I asked about it and was told one of the chefs, an "uncle" is originally from Beijing and his mother prepared a pork roast with an apple sauce spiced with the pepper.  The idea of what most Americans consider dessert was lacking in their regular menu so he developed these turnovers which are in a crispy crust similar to egg rolls - pan fried but not at all greasy. 

 

Chinese 5-spice might be interesting too.  I think I'll try that next time.

 

I've used chai masala spice and it worked out really nicely.

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To me apple pie just is not right without some cinnamon.

This reminds me of something that happened on my first trip to Belgium. We were bicycling through the country, and stopped at a campground outside of Brugge for a few days. Our first morning there, as we walked the 3.5 km (or so) from our campground into the city, we walked past a bakery and swung inside to get some more breakfast, which we ate in the very American, un-Belgian way of munching while we walked. I don't remember what my husband got, but I got a pastry called an appelflap, which was like a turnover made with puff pastry. It was delicious, and the bit of powdered sugar dusted on the outside was as good as a scarlet A to mark my transgression, but after the first bite I nearly stood still because something didn't taste right. After my second bite, I figured it out: there was no cinnamon (or any other spice) in the pastry. The bakery had cinnamon rolls available, so that obviously wasn't the issue. But as an American, my brain has come to expect cinnamon with apple in pastry. When the cinnamon is missing, it's a bit of a surprise, based on my cultural expectations. But that doesn't mean it's wrong to do it another way, or that it won't be good. (Also see the Ritz cracker "mock apple pie" with a filling including crackers, lemon juice, and cinnamon. I bet it doesn't work to most Americans without the cinnamon!)

 

The short story: do what you like, and what makes you happy. After all, is there a such thing as a bad apple pie, if it's well-made with love?

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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Personally I think the pie crust is more critical than the spices, and I prefer a very buttery crust made with almond meal.

Many people have mentioned caramel, but you can also caramelise apples and use that - works well.  Cook loads of apples with butter and brown sugar and eventually you get apple caramel - brilliant.  Nuts and glace ginger would be worth trying too.

A more subtle approach is to leave the apples un-spiced, and flavour the custard or cream you serve it with.  A splash of rosewater in custard or cream is different enough to be noticed but so mild it probably won't offend anyone.

I worked with  a woman who put grated cheddar in her crust, eliminating some of the fat.  I like to cook my apples with some butter and brown sugar and some cider.  That way I can fit more apples into the crust as they are wilted.  My mom also cut half her apples pole to pole after coring and peeling them then cut half the opposite way after coring.  She said it let her fit more of those macintoshes into her cust.

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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  • 3 weeks later...

I love combining apples, cinnamon, AND vanilla in a pie, each enhances and deepens the other wonderfully; the vanilla does get rid of the slight bitterness that cinnamon tends to have, and gives a wonderful aroma and taste.  I use freshly scraped vanilla bean seeds, and purchase the vanilla beans online at http://www.Beanilla.com for best results; the beans tends to be fresher (moist, slightly sticky, and vacuum-sealed in their packaging), and the prices are reasonable.  I do not get the same taste at all with just vanilla extract.  If using an extra buttery crust that is a bit salty, small flecks of thyme sprinkled over the top of the apple pie would be delicious!

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  • 3 weeks later...
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