Mark’s SoCo Apple Pie for Kuff’s Birthday

Thanks to a prolonged bout with strep throat, I missed Charles Kuffner’s February birthday. No worries! We’ll celebrate the one-month anniversary of his birthday instead!

I took photo after photo of the dang apples, but ultimately, was frustrated by the fact that six is the perfect number for the pie, but not the perfect number to photograph. How I wished for 7, or even 9, to get a better shot.

Let’s be frank. I bake better than I shoot pictures. And really, if you had to choose, wouldn’t you choose baked goods over pictures of baked goods?

Anyway, since I simply could not bring myself to inflict the kerpumple on the world (see YouTube if you really want to know), I’ve opted to make a most excellent apple pie, Chef Mark’s Southern Comfort Apple Pie, from Rebecca Rather’s Pastry Queen.

Rather worked at Mark’s American Cuisine, a delightful Houston restaurant housed in an old church which, in between being a church and a delightful restaurant, was a head shop where I bought some killer feather earrings in middle school. [This link to Mark’s website takes you to an internal page in their site so you don’t have to deal with the music on the Flash home page. At least they offer a quick link off that page and a link to the mobile site, but still. Music on the landing page, people? In 2011?]

I have tweaked the recipe slightly. First, I’m using my Tartine flaky pie/tart dough for the crust. Second, instead of buying a bottle of SoCo to go with the other novelty bottles I’ve got in the liquor cabinet, I’m using Calvados, French apple brandy from Normandy. For this pie, I’ve used Flor de Caña rum, multiple brands of bourbon including Rebel Yell and Southern Comfort, straight brandy, and Calvados.

They all do the trick, adding a deeper flavor that cuts (a bit) the sweetness, so use what you are likely to drink another time. The alcohol cooks off, so the pie is safe for children or teetotalers. You do have to get your nose right up close to the pan as the sugar-liquor mixture is bubbling away like mad to be able to tell when the alcohol has burned off. If you inhale and your nose stings from the alcohol, it hasn’t burned off yet.

Without further ado, the pie-making process:

Saute the apples in hot, foaming butter. A whole stick of it. Turn them fairly regularly in case you have hot spots and so that they saute instead of steaming.

Once you add the cinnamon sugar, stir for just a bit more before removing the apples with a slotted spoon to rest on a baking sheet. I use a slotted spoon and a spatula to keep from slinging hot sugar all over the place.

Pour in the bourbon, or brandy, or booze of your choice. As you stir, make sure you scrape all of the sugar from the sides of tha pan so it all gets melted together in gooey goodness. Really get your nose down close when you sniff to test whether the alcohol has burned off. Do not try to stir while you sniff. Learned that lesson the hard way!

When you make true caramel, the ‘add the cream’ stage usually involves dangerous bubbling geysers of hot sugar and exploding cream. (Or maybe I’m not doing it right.) Perhaps because of the apple bits and pectin, although I can’t back that up scientifically, adding the cream in this recipe is nowhere near as dangerous.

The viscosity of this is just amazing. As you stir, you sometimes get really huge, almost iridescent bubbles. You can tell how sticky and wonderful this will taste. Resist the urge to taste, however, as it is, fundamentally, boiling sugar.

You mix the apples back into the pan before you transfer them—carefully and NOT with a slotted spoon this time—into the chilled pie crust. Use the deepest pie pan you have. It is actually worth it to buy a deep-dish pan. The basic Pyrex won’t do the trick. You want to gloop in as much of the caramel as you can, and unless your pie plate is deep, it will bubble out while cooking. Be prepared, and place a baking sheet on the shelf below the pie.

I add the topping very slowly, by hand, trying to drop little bits down into every crevice. The little butter bits are key.

Voilà! You can see where it bubbled over, and also where the browned tips of pecan and apple were just about to cross over into burned. I watch this pie carefully in the last 15 minutes of baking just to be sure it doesn’t get scorched on top.

Chef Mark’s Southern Comfort Apple Pie
Rebecca Rather, The Pastry Queen

1/2 c. toasted pecan pieces
1/3 c. sugar
3 TBS. dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Toast the pecans in a 350° oven or over medium-high heat in a sauté pan. Be careful, as they go from toasty-good to burned quickly. In a food processor, process both sugars, the cinnamon, salt and flour for about 1 minute. Add butter; pulse 10 to 15 times, until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the pecans. Refrigerate the topping, covered, until ready to use.

Apple Filling
5 to 6 medium-size tart apples, such as Braeburn, Cortland or Winesap
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 TBS. ground cinnamon
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. Southern Comfort liqueur (or bourbon, or Calvados, etc.)
1/2 c. heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375° and roll your pie crust into the deepest pie pan you have. Keep it chilling until you are ready to fill and bake.

Peel and slice the apples, removing any seeds or hard bits of core. Aim for a uniform size.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it starts to foam, add the apples and sauté for 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle it on the apples, and reduce the heat under the skillet to medium-low. Simmer the apples for about 1 minute.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the apples from the skillet to a large baking sheet, and arrange them in a single layer. (If you heap them in a pile, the hot apples will steam and get soggy.)

Pour the SoCo or other alcohol into the butter-sugar mixture in the skillet once the apples are gone. Simmer the mixture over medium heat at least 5 minutes, until the alcohol burns off.

Add the cream, and continue cooking about 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick as pourable caramel. Return the apples to the skillet, turn off the heat, and stir to coat.

Spoon the apple filling into the unbaked pie crust, and sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is brown. Serve the pie warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream or caramel sauce.

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