Saturday, September 29, 2012

Miles and Miles of Pies: Final Trial

This weekend I went through my final practice battle... a drill, if you will, in the quest to bake a legitimate contender in that most honorable of contests: The Topsfield Fair Apple Pie contest. 
I think we've got it. Slicing the apples thinner and a touch more sugar seems to have improved the filling. The crust has been slightly improved by adding pork lard to the fat mixture... though in the showtime pie we're going with a touch less lard and a touch more vegetable shortening. 
Here was today's attempt:
Successful crust
Crust and filling
Next entry, we'll be bringing you a little play by play of action at the Topsfield Fair this Friday. Wish us luck!!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Miles and Miles of Pies: Update

Today we've had another opportunity for a practice pie in preparation for the apple pie competition at the Topsfield Fair. Assuming that the apples hold up (dangerous assumption alert), I think we've found our ideal filling combination. Mutsus and Honecrisps make for a delicious tart and sweet flavor with a texture that still has wonderful integrity and retains that beautiful chunky apple pie shape. Stay tuned...only a few weeks to go...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Martha's Vineyard: Back Door Donuts

End of summer on Martha's Vineyard
God damn it. Summer's almost over! In fact, since it's post Labor Day, the grind has already kicked back up to overdrive and I'm kind of winded. But let's really revisit this summer. It's been beautiful. The weather in New England has been practically flawless, and considering some of the hardships that places elsewhere in the country have suffered, I am very thankful. During summers here, no matter who you are, what you make, and where you might live, I think you owe it to yourself to spend at least one weekend either down the Cape or on one of our awesome islands. Since we personally are not made of money, I'll share our stellar tip: Go after Labor Day. The week or weekend after is almost always just as nice weatherwise, and frankly, it's a fraction of the price. If you can get a reservation for the ferry, and find parking, when you get out to Block Island, Nantucket, or Martha's Vineyard, you can almost always stroll off the boat toward town and the nearest tourist information booth, and ask them if any of the inns have a cheap room available for a night or two. I've had success each and every time. Just a tip.
Outside of the Capricorn House
So, as I mentioned, you really owe it to yourself to soak in some cool breezes, warm sunshine and fun waves each summer. Otherwise, I don't know how I personally would get through months like January, February and March. This year, we spent a lovely long weekend on Martha's Vineyard, staying at a cute little inn called the Capricorn House in Oak Bluffs. We had time to bike like fiends down the winding roads and beachside straights, check out some serious surf produced by the remenants of dying tropical storms safely yawning off the coast, and drink a beer or three at any one of the formidable little restaurants.
Back Door Donuts!
But there is something you do need to do as an eater if you visit the Vineyard. And that something is Back Door Donuts. Literally the back door to Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery, around about 7:30 pm, just after early leisurely dinners are getting out, you'll start to see flip flop clad vacationers line up for warm, out of the fryer fluffy treats. It's worth waiting in the line without question as the payoff is a sweet, unpretentious delight of a tradition that one might not expect on an island that serves as a getaway for some of New England's wealthiest.
Apple Fritter
So what do you order? If you've never been here and are only going to get one thing, I think I have to steer you toward the apple fritter. This apple fritter is a goliath of fluffy, yeasty donut dough, honey coating, and succulent caramelized apple chunks. It's sticky fingers and sharing to be sure. It may be my favorite donut of all time, as you tear apart each chunk of dough, with just enough juicy, cooked down apple pieces, and all that honey glaze. I love it.
Honey Glazed
If you're not quite up for the huge apple fritter, go with the classic honey glazed donut. It will leave you satisfied with that same sticky honey coating flaking off as you enjoy the airy light dough of the donut. It's not quite the discintegrating decadence of an out of the fryer, still hot Krispy Kreme, but who cares. This is just different. It's a New England, slightly larger, still warm wonderful dessert for late at night.
The last recommendation I might give if you're in the mood for something more decadent, but not the apple fritter, is the Boston Cream (no photo, sorry). Ours arrived gently oozing that sweet, smooth custardy pudding filling, and lovingly dipped top of hot, chocolatey, rich ganache. You've also got that same fluffy actual donut to serve as a vehicle for all of the delicious filling and wonderful chocolate on top.
The menu
How much can you really wax poetic about a donut? I don't know. There's got to be a limit. It's a donut for heaven's sake. Once you go too far, as many fancy restaurants in my opinion have done, it ceases to be a charming, easy going treat. But the tradition of Back Door Donuts keeps it real by staying simple, delicious, and truly a stop that must be made each evening spent on Martha's Vineyard.

Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery's Back Door

5 Post Office Sq
Oak Bluffs, MA 02557

Monday, September 3, 2012

Miles and Miles of Pies

As you may have noticed, we are on a brief hiatus from cooking lately. Why? Because I've been baking pie...after pie...after pie. I even burned the hell out of my finger today. (Indeed this war is not without battle scars.) But there is a point and I am getting to it. This year, we'll be documenting the journey to the Topsfield Fair with lots of pie practice for their annual apple pie competition. Like a fool, I entered, and hope to avoid embarrassing myself (high probability of serious what were you thinking moment). But we'll have some pie pictures in the next few weeks, and documentation regarding what varieties of apples we're using. 
The recipe for the crust is exactly as we've posted in a previous entry titled "Doing Battle: Apple Pie."The filling recipe is also the same, but today we're using some different kinds of apples to see if we can find a more ideal varietal for baking a pie. So, for this trial:
  •  Gravenstein apples - known as the national apple of Denmark and very good for cider and apple sauce (hopefully doesn't turn to mush). This apple is also used in the production of apple brandy in areas of Austria. We purchased our apples from Russell Orchards in Ipswich.
  • Starkey apples - A variety from Maine that you don't see very often, and the interweb says that they're usually an early winter apple... so it was bizarre when they showed up at the Dewey Square Farmers Market at the Kimball Fruit Farm stand in late August. But what the hell, they looked pretty and bright red, and it's another opportunity to try a different apple. When eaten raw, the Starkeys were sweet and mildly reminiscent of Red Delicious (again hopefully doesn't turn to mush).
  • Honeycrisp - We know lots and lots about these apples. I love them. Purchased again from the Kimball Fruit Farm Stand at Dewey Square.
Here's the finished pie for today:

And a slice photo (complete with angels singing and beams of light from heaven):

Judgement: I think that this combination of apples was a winner. So long as the cooking time is around 45 minutes, you're good to go, there was no mush to be found. Also, the sweetness is just right. Each apple had a little bit of a nutty and firm texture, still with a touch of earlier season tartness. I think that we might still try other varietals before go time in October, but if there are any Gravensteins or Starkeys still to be fine, they'll come in handy. Also, that crust recipe is still good as gold. One change is that I did let the bottom crust cool a little bit before assembling the top half... because I am sick and tired of burning my damn fingers. But it didn't seem to make any difference in the crispness or wonderful flaky texture of that buttery crust.
Stay tuned... more pies to come (unless I crack - highly likely).