Saturday, March 10, 2012

Apple Fried Pies

It's been a few years since my first fried pie making experience. I've eaten fried pies since then--most recently I had a DELICIOUS one filled with bacon, apple, gruyere and walnut, made by my friend Dale in Knoxville. But despite their relative ease in assembly paired with a whole lotta tastiness in a little portable pocket, I haven't dipped any fruit-filled pastry into hot oil since that 2009 Baltimore winter cook-out. 

I knew it was time, though, when Tarts by Tarts was preparing a Southern-inspired menu for our table at the DC Square Dance. Fried pies are iconically Southern, with Texas and Georgia being cited as epicenters in several of the recipes I consulted. They are also a self-contained individual serving (you could share, but I'd want my own), portable (slip it in your pocket and snack when you're not swingin'!), and impressively scrumptious. I mean you take already one of the best desserts in the world and then FRY it?! Wowee.

This time I combined recipes from Ken Haedrich's Pie: 300 Tried and True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie and Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies. Both called for a vegetable shortening-based crust, as did many of the other recipes I saw on the interwebs. Homesick Texan calls for lard, which I'm sure is just perfect, but I didn't have any on hand and was baking for customers, so wanted to keep the pies vegetarian. I cringe a little at the use of vegetable shortening in crust, but I was worried about a butter crust holding up and being able to withstand frying temperatures. I have since seen some fried pie recipes that use a butter crust, so I'd like to try that next time.

I also used dried fruit, which many fried pie recipes call for, because it packs a lot of flavor into a small area. This worked well with the apples, and I didn't miss using fresh ones, though I will definitely be making these Homesick Texan fried pies with fresh blueberries come summer.

Apple Fried Pies

For crust:
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1 egg, beaten
6-8 Tblsp. cold water

For filling:
10 ounces (about 3 cups) dried apple rings
1/2 c. orange juice
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

About 2 c. canola oil for frying 

For crust:
1. Add flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to mix. Add the shortening and cut into the flour mixture by pulsing the food processor until  mixture becomes the consistency of cornmeal and peas. 
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together egg and 6 Tblsp. of cold water. Slowly drizzle half of the liquid mixture into the food processor, pulsing to combine with flour. Slowly drizzle in the rest of the liquid, stopping when the dough starts to form large clumps. 
3. Once the dough is able to come together, form into a ball and remove from the food processor. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for at least one hour.

For filling:
1. Place dried apples in a large bowl. Add 6 cups of cold water. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 4 hours or overnight to allow apples to rehydrate. (I let them sit overnight).
2. Put the soaked apples and water into a large stock pot. Add orange juice, sugar, lemon, cinnamon and nutmeg and stir until combined. Over high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer. Stir occasionally so the mixture does not burn on the bottom. Cook until the mixture becomes a thick syrup and the apples have slightly broken down (this takes about 45 minutes). Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher for a soft and syrupy but still chunky filling. Let cool.

To assemble and fry:
1. Remove pie dough from the fridge and roll out onto a lightly flour-dusted surface about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 5-5 1/2 in circle cutter (I used the top of a large jar), cut circles out of the dough. 
2. Before completely assembling the pies, pour at least 2 cups of canola oil (or 4 inches deep) into a deep and heavy saucepan. Insert a candy thermometer into the oil. Slowly heat on medium-low until the temperature reads 350 degrees F.
3. Place about 2 Tblsp. of the apple filling in the center of each circle (It is better to under-stuff than over-stuff). Moisten the edge of the pastry circle with your finger, then fold over the dough to form a half moon shape. Press the edges together and flute with a fork to seal completely.
4. At this point your oil should be hot enough to fry. When the oil temperature reaches 350 degrees, gently lower one pie at a time into the heated oil and cook until golden brown (about 2 minutes per side).  Using a slotted spatula, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with the remaining pies.
5. When all pies are fried, dust them with powdered sugar. Serving them hot and fresh is preferable, but they also taste great at room temperature and will keep for a day or two. 

There's something so good and so classic about these pies that it makes them hard to write about as the pertinent adjectives feel trite or overwrought. I'd also say that unlike other fried foods, these pies still taste great after a day or two, at room temperature or re-heated in the oven. I also ended up using the leftover filling with some leftover pie crust and baking a few extra hand pies a few days later. I still have some filling a-chilling in the fridge and was thinking of stuffing them into doughnuts...?

And don't be intimidated by the frying process (I definitely was at first!)--these pies are quite forgiving, and as long as you use a thermometer to keep your oil around 350 degrees F, you should be just fine. 

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