Pies, Tarts and Crumbles

Brown Butter Sage Caramel Apple Galette

So.

I wrote this post just a few weeks ago––drafted it quickly, but couldn’t quite bring myself to tie up all of my rambling and finish it off. And now here we are, at once just a number of days and what feels like a legitimate lifetime away from where I was (where we were, where the world was) when I was sitting on my couch in Philadephia typing away. And now I’m left with this post, this essay or journal entry or whatever you want to call it, which feels wholly irrelevant and inconsequential given the severity and universal invasiveness of the current pandemic; and yet, all the same, this collection of words feels like a piece of history, a scrap of the past, that is worth salvaging, because the thoughts and emotions that it documents were (are) all very much real.

So I’ve decided to publish it, to let it live, but not before I preface by sending my love to each person reading right now. Stay home, stay well, stay connected, stay compassionate––and stay busy, by any means you can.


This post has been a long time coming––on multiple accounts. For one, I haven’t written since July (July!). And then there’s the fact that this recipe was developed in the spirit of Thanksgiving––or of fall, at the very least.

I don’t have an excuse, besides the obvious: juggling school and friends and family and that weird form of pseudo-adulting, of living alone but not alone, of existing in that weird state of limbo between kid at home and grown-up person in the world, has meant that things like this––like recipe development and personal food photography projects and taking the time to sit down and write––have too easily fallen by the wayside. My world is syllabi and Google Calendar invites and Slack messages, and it is fast-paced and exciting and stressful and wonderful, but it doesn’t leave much room for, well, anything else. Or at least, I haven’t quite figured out how to set aside that time for myself, that time to create and reflect in a way that is utterly untied to anyone or anything else.

I’d like to think I’m getting better, at least. This year, I’ve been living in an apartment with three friends. And while campus is a quick walk across the street away, our window faces the opposite direction and makes me feel like maybe (maybe) I exist here not just as a student but as a person, too. A person who lives in Philadelphia (for most of the year, at least), who bakes Bon Appétit recipes as fast as they’re published and who cooks dinner for herself almost every night no matter how late her classes end; a person who has friends over for dumplings and wine and a movie, a person who actually Swiffers, a person who sips coffee while eating the cranberry pecan toast she picked up from her farmer’s market run.

I wrote last year––during my freshman year, while I was living with a roommate on campus––about the concept of home. And clearly that process of figuring out just what home really is has been on my mind a lot ever since then, so much so that I’ve somehow subconsciously decided to explore the topic through multiple art pieces, made for multiple projects in multiple courses I’ve taken during my time here.

This place, this apartment, is certainly more of a home than my dorm room ever was, ever could be, really. There’s something about stepping through the front door––there is a comforting constancy to this space, to the certainty of what I’m coming home to, no matter where I’ve just been or what state I’m in.

It’s strangely emotional to read this all now. My college courses have officially moved online for the rest of the semester, as have school and work for the rest of my family. We’ve packed up our Brooklyn apartment and moved out east for the foreseeable future as we ride out this storm together, and so that concept of home is taking on new meanings as I feel oddly displaced even among the familiar.

I’ve been on spring break for the past two weeks, and have been filling my days with social media and text messages and movies and books, and with cooking––mostly with cooking, actually. This week, I decided to do a live baking demo of my favorite scone recipe on Instagram and was honestly taken aback by the response I received: I had nearly ten people follow along and bake with me as I went, with more to follow in the coming days and plenty others tuning in and watching from the sidelines. It’s a series I hope to continue––a way to bring people together in a way that is so sensory it *almost* feels physical.

You’ll be hearing a lot more from me in the coming days, weeks, perhaps months. In the meantime, here’s a recipe that’s incredibly doable and just project-y enough (we’re not talking croissants or even a full-blown pie here). Make it if you’d like. Or, if you don’t have the ingredients on-hand, use it as inspiration and change up the type of fruit, use that puff pastry sitting in the bottom of your freezer––whatever works.

Anyway, I think that’s where I’ll leave it for now. Keep in touch (I’d love to know what you’re cooking, baking, doing), join me for baking sessions (I’ll be keeping my personal and baking Instagram accounts up to date with info about that), browse the archives for some fun projects and easy one-bowl numbers, reach out with questions (about substitutions, for example!), and stay well.

Brown Butter Sage Caramel Apple Galette

Pie crust adapted from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen

Makes one galette

Ingredients

For the crust (makes enough for 2 9-inch pie crusts; halve if you’d like, or save one for another time):

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 2 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 cup of cold water
  • 1/4 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1 cup of ice

For the apples:

  • 3-4 medium baking apples (I like a mix of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp)
  • 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Sage caramel (see below)
  • 1 egg whisked with 1 teaspoon of water
  • Coarse sugar for sprinkling

For the sage caramel:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4-5 sage leaves, torn into large pieces
  • 6-7 sage leaves

Directions:

For the crust:

  1. Combine flour, sugar, salt and sage in a large bowl.
  2. Add the butter and coat the cubes in the flour mixture, using a spatula.
  3. Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, cut the butter into the flour until most of the butter pieces are small, about the size of peas, with a few larger clumps.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the water, cider vinegar, and ice. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of this over the flour/butter mixture, and stir together using a spatula. Keep adding in the water mixture 2 tablespoons at a time (and get your hands in there to make sure everything is being incorporated) until you can get the dough to form a ball, with some dry crumbs remaining. You can add some more water to the dry bits if they need it, and then press everything together.
  5. Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill it in the fridge for at least half an hour (preferably more) before rolling it out.

For the caramel:

  1. Add the cream and 4 torn sage leaves into a small saucepan and bring nearly to a boil. Turn off the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Fish out the sage leaves and chill.
  2. Add sage and butter to a small saucepan and brown the butter over medium heat, then pour into a bowl and cool completely.
  3. To make the caramel sauce, begin by combining sugar and water over medium low heat. Cook this until the sugar is dissolved (the mixture will be more clear). Add in a stick of butter and cook over medium high heat, bringing the mixture to a slow boil. Keep cooking until the sauce is a dark golden, copper color, whisking occasionally. Now remove from heat and CAREFULLY drizzle in some cream, whisking as you go. The sauce will steam and bubble up. Whisk one more time and set aside to cool.

For the apples and assembly:

  1. Peel and core the apples, then slice them in half top to bottom. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife, cut thin slices–somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 of an inch thick.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the apple slices, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. Lightly flour a surface. Take the pastry out of the fridge and use a rolling pin to roll it out to a circle that is somewhere between 1/4″ and 1/8″ in thickness (it should be about 14″ in diameter).
  4. Sprinkle the pastry with 1 tablespoon of flour and drizzle with a couple spoonfuls of caramel. Arrange the apple slices on top, leaving a 1.5″ border of dough. Pour over caramel, then fold over the edges of the pastry, pressing gently to seal. Chill for 15 minutes and heat the oven to 425 F.
  5. Brush the galette with egg wash and sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until deep golden and bubbly. Let cool on a wire rack.
  6. Slice the galette, top with whipped cream and enjoy!

Happy nibbling,

Alaina

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Ann Levine
    March 21, 2020 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for a get-to-it-and-do-it post that inspires baking as a healing activity. Your words capture two worlds at once — and the ever-changing nature of both. First, the poignant and gradual transition from one life stage to another and second, the way we can be surprisingly upended by events beyond our control. I am happy you reflect on these things so you manage to grow and accept all the new experiences you encounter along the way.

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