Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pie Making with Rachel Caygill of Bankers Hill

We're heading into holiday pie-making season so when pastry chef Rachel Caygill invited me to her house, where she was hosting a group called the San Diego Food Bloggers for a pie-making class, I had to go. See, Rachel is the superb pastry chef at Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant, where her husband Scott is the chef de cuisine. I love to go there with my friend Tina Luu, also an extraordinary pastry chef and someone who never orders one dessert off the menu but all of them. So, I've tasted many of Rachel's creations, including her pies. And I wanted to learn her secrets.

Now, this is really going to be more of a pictorial post because so much of pie making is technique and watching Rachel take us through creating the crust for an apple pie was fascinating. But, it's not easy. It involves a lot of physical effort. Rachel throws her whole body into the rolling process. But the results -- a rich crispy and flaky crust encasing a bright apple filling layered in spices -- is so worth the effort. I've also got a number of tips from her that I'm including with the photos. Her apple pie recipe will follow below.

So the first thing you'll notice is that instead of mixing the flour and butter in a food processor to break up the butter, Rachel is rolling slices of it into the flour. Gluten doesn't form until you add water so no worries about over working it. The flour is a half-and-half combo of all purpose and cake flours. After a lot of trial and error over the years, she's settled on a 3-2-1 ratio of flour, fat, and liquid, with a teaspoon of salt per pound of flour. 

Still a little chunky. Then she cuts in lard. Her ratio is 3-to-1 butter/lard.

Rachel then makes a hole in the middle of the flour/fat for a well she fills with water (similar to making pasta).

This gets tricky because the water wants to escape. But use a scraper to pull the flour into the water (and to retrieve the errant water) to form a loose dough.
Rachel pats the dough into a square and then starts rolling to incorporate the ingredients.

Keep the dough moving to prevent sticking and put your whole body into it. It'll grow long. Use the scraper pick up the ends and fold it back into a square and roll it again. You'll do this two to three times.

She's not seeking perfection here, just for the ingredients to begin to come together. For now, the aim is to shape what looks like a loaf.

And, here's the beginning of the loaf.
This goes into the refrigerator to chill and rest for 20 minutes. Or, you can freeze it for later (defrost overnight in the fridge).

The now rested and chilled dough is ready to be rolled out. Rachel cut off a chunk to make the first crust. You can see layers of unincorporated fat. This will help make for a crispy crust. Rachel helps ease the rolling process by pushing the dough out with the heels of her hand. Again, full body work.

Rachel admits she can't roll the dough into a circle -- and doesn't even try. But she says to roll from the middle, keep the dough moving, and flip it over to keep it from sticking.

Rachel rolls the dough onto the rolling pin and eases it over the pie plate. (She uses oversized pie plates that she finds at places like Target.) It's best to have lots of overlap for trimming and rolling the edges.

In goes the filling.

Next comes the top crust and the beginning of crimping the edges. Rachel trims the overhang with scissors. See how the edges of the crust layers align and she folds them together, under, and then down into the side of the pie plate.
Like that. With well-floured hands, she pushes the dough between two fingers for this crimping effect.
Rachel brushes the top with an eggwash, followed by a generous sprinkling of granulated superfine sugar she stores in an airtight container thick with fragrant vanilla beans. Make slits in the top crust to create vents (and separate the vent sides a little to let the air escape so the liquid from cooking apples evaporates. Then bake low and slow -- say, 375˚ for half an hour, then lower the temp to 325˚ for another hour (but this depends on your oven; you may need to start at 400˚). Her reasoning is that it helps the juices evaporate and prevents the top crust from burning. So you get a golden, crispy crust on top, avoid a soggy bottom crust, and create a firm filling.
Cool under pressure with a gorgeous apple pie.
Remember low and slow keeps the filling intact, as you can see here.
A slice of heaven... 
Apple Pie
by Rachel Caygill*
(Printable recipe here)

Rachel Caygill loves cardamom and includes the floral spice in her apple pie filling, blended with cinnamon, ginger, clove, allspice and nutmeg mixed with sweet and tart apples -- in this case Granny Smiths and Fujis. And the crust? Well, the top crackled between my teeth and I loved the thick crisp sides that had been crimped to perfection. This is the pie you want to serve at your Thanksgiving dinner.

*The ingredients and amounts are Rachel's. The instructions are mine based on her directions during the class.

Pie Crust Ingredients
(for two crusts)

15 ounces flour (half all purpose, half cake)
10 ounces fat (7.5 ounces butter, 2.5 ounces lard)
5 ounces water
1 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Combine the flour and salt. Spread the flour mixture on the counter or a cold marble tile and cut the butter into it. Then roll the butter into the flour. Use a scraper to chop up some of the flour and roll a little more to incorporate. Then cut the lard into the mixture.

Make a well in the flour/fat mixture and add the water into the middle. Scrape the flour/fat into the water to create loose dough. When the dough is formed, roll it out into an rectangle, then fold into thirds and roll again. Repeat once more if necessary and shape into a loaf. Refrigerate for 20 minutes and make pie filling.

Preheat the oven to 375˚. Cut the dough roughly in half -- one part should be a little larger for the bottom crust. Roll out that piece large enough to fill the pie plate with a couple of inches overhang. Gently place the dough into the pie plate, then add filling. Roll out the top crust large enough to hang over the the filling and bottom crust overhang. Trim the edges of the crust to even out. Then holding the edges of both crusts, fold under together and tuck into the pie plate. Crimp the edges between two fingers.

Make the eggwash by mixing together the yolk and milk. Brush onto the top crust. Sprinkle the sugar on top. Then slice vents into the top crust and spread the edges slightly. Bake at 375˚ for half an hour, then lower the temperature to 325˚ and bake for another hour until the crust is brown and thick juices run out.

Apple Filling Ingredients

2 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (use a combination of sweet and tart varieties)
6 ounces sour cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
8 ounces dark brown sugar
4 ounces granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped -- or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest from half an orange
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Combine all ingredients in large bowl, then add on top of bottom crust.

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  1. What a beautiful post Caron! Thanks so much for writing this and for taking all of these awesome pictures too :)

  2. This truly was the best pie ever.

  3. I am SO bummed that I had to miss this demo (had my college reunion the same weekend) - thanks so much for sharing the photos. This pie looks masterful. Can't wait to finally get to Bankers Hill to finally taste one myself. :-)

  4. I've been apple picking in Julian the last two falls and, subsequently, turning out some mighty fine pies. Judging by the photos and ingredients, Rachel's recipe it appears, takes the cake (or pie, as it were). Word has it it's her favorite dessert on Banker's Hill's menu (even above the coveted butterscotch pudding). Beautiful post, Caron.

  5. Love the low and slow tip, going to try that next time. My crusts have been burning lately. Tried a new Dorie Greenspan trick with my last pie - scattered a couple of tablespoons of ground graham cracker in the crust before pouring in the apples. Helped the filling stay more in tact.

  6. Indra, I know your baking experience probably rivals Rachel's so I would take any of your hints to heart, too, especially if they come from Dorie! ;)

  7. Caron, what fantastic step-by-step instructions as the pastry goddess worked her magic. Thanks, and thanks to Rachel for sharing your secrets! Must share... ;)

  8. Caron- Thanks soo much for capturing this day / recipe soo perfectly. :)

  9. I like this recipe a lot, it is one of my favourites. I`ve tried it this morning and it was very good, thanks for sharing.