cicadas and the interesting ::::
I remember climbing lots of trees when a child. The most frequented was our large low-branched willow tree in our backyard. Visible over the crest of our bi-level home, its branches were most animated in the summer, its leathery leaves making hush-hush sounds in the wind. I roosted often in that tree, noticing birds, various butterflies, and the sharply buzzing cicadas, too quick to study closely. My father would point out some of the wildlife, encouraging gentle looks (i.e., not haphazard smashing). I made it my mission one summer to catch as many cicadas as possible with my homemade butterfly net, ready to pin them on a board for long-term display. When caught, I shuffled a cicada into a old empty coffee can, sealed it tightly, and shook it to stun it for two reasons: to look at the cicada closely without fear that it would fly away; and to eventually have it die. My goal was to emulate the entomologists’ insect boxes I had seen gleaming in the dimly-lit halls of the university where my dad worked. I’d make my own insect box, every resident a cicada, ready to educate the adults in the neighborhood that they were NOT locusts. Locusts did not make these sounds. (So many adults insisted they were locusts. I could only ingratiate myself for so long before the truth had to come out of my mouth. And with visual aids.)
The problem was I never did get the insect pins. The cicadas wintered in the coffee can, in the basement, drying up and falling apart, looking like a creepy set of Legos.
Dessicated and spent, moldy and crackly, they were thrown away eventually.
I moved onto the ephemeral wooly bear caterpillars when I could find them, but not exacting them on any creepy pinning display. And really hated it when they pooped on me. The furry cuteness was attractive and always drew attention from neighborhood kids. They were not, however, in the same caste as the cicadas: the glasslike wings, strident whir, and the life cycle of the cicadas (seventeen years?!) were far more interesting.
This is also far more interesting: I’ve moved from the ho-hum flat pie crusts to cutout crusts. Think of these cutout crusts like those glass-like wings: they are delicate, mesmerizing, and give life to that pie.
First inspired by the nommy nom blog’s pie cutout crusts, I decided I needed to try it over the standard lattice. Honestly, it’s so much more fun to assemble. And mistakes are easily covered. This is a wonderful dessert topped with ice cream on a warm summer night, listening to the vanishing buzz of lively cicadas.
Happy Birthday, Dad. Have a pie! Maybe I’ll make one this summer with a killifish cutout topcrust and not a speck of berries!
One year ago: balsamic chicken with pomegranate molasses glaze
Two years ago: turkey empanadas
Three years ago: menu planning – a reprise in 2012
Four years ago: bacon beer yeast bread
Adapted from my past pie crust recipe and from http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/apple-pie.html for the pie filling. The flower design was inspired by the lovely http://nommynom.com/2013/03/
- FOR THE ALL-BUTTER CRUST: 2½ cups all-purpose white flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour (or can use all all-purpose flour)
- 4 T sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 20 tablespoons butter, cold (2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons)
- About ¾ cup cold water, or less
- 1½ teaspoons white vinegar
- a few sprinkles of dry breadcrumbs for the crust bottom, to prevent sogginess
- FOR THE FILLING:
- just less than 4 pounds (about 1.7 kg) apples, peeled, cored, and each half sliced into tenths --I like a combination of tart Granny Smith and lychee-reminiscent Gala [This will fit mounded in a standard 9-inch pie plate or more modestly in a deep dish pan of the same diameter. If you want less mounding in a standard pan, use 2½ pounds (just over 1 kg) and adjust the sugars to taste.]*
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon powdered ginger
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3½ tablespoons cornstarch (If using the adjusted 2½ pounds of apples instead, reduce the cornstarch to 2 tablespoons.)
- 100 g (a generous handful) fresh red currants (or thawed if frozen)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1½ tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
- One beaten egg, for egg wash
- Sugar, for sprinkling before baking
- THE WHIPPED CREAM PREP: ½ pint whipping cream
- ¼ teaspoon violet aroma/extract
- A couple of tablespoons of sugar
- MAKE THE CRUST: Pulse flours, sugar, salt, and butter to pea sized in food processor, or use your fingers.
- Add water and vinegar gradually, to moisten. Mix a bit more so dough comes together. It may be crumbly: that's okay. Gather and chill for 45 minutes.
- Roll to a 10x10 square, fold into thirds as if folding a letter, then roll again. Fold again into thirds perpendicular to what you folded prior. Roll gently, cut in half, shape into two disks, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- MAKE THE FILLING: Meanwhile, in a heavy medium to large sized pot, cook apples, brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and cornstarch. Cook at low to medium heat, covered and stirring occasionally, until apples soften to fork-tender and juices become thickened and glossy, about 20 minutes. Add in the red currants, lemon juice, and zest just before finishing. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- CUTOUTS & ASSEMBLY: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Retrieve the fabulous buttery crust from the fridge and set up your workspace. Roll out one disk to about a 11 to 12 inch diameter. I do this between two pieces of parchment paper sprinkled with flour so as to make the transfer into a pie pan very easy. Transfer your dough to the pie pan in your chosen method, gently press into the pan, and trim the dough skirt from the pie pan edge. You can use these rolled out dregs for the next step so don't crush them up. Put the pie pan in the fridge while you work on the next step.
- Roll out about two thirds to all of the remainder of your dough in addition to the scraps from the last step.** You can go a little bit thinner on dough rolling here given you will have overlapping flowers for the top crust. If the dough is too thick, it won't cook as evenly with the piecrust edges.
- Cut out as many flowers as you can, using three different sizes for variation. I used the Ateco 12 cutter set with leaves, teardrops, and flowers in the photos above. This is basically a free choice on how you want to decorate and assemble. Having the extra pie dough gives you more freedom to experiment.
- If your apples seem more juicy rather than glossy, sprinkle unflavored breadcrumbs at the bottom of your piecrust to keep it from getting soggy.
- Pour filling into the prepared piecrust.
- Dot filling with butter.
- The fun part: Attach the cut out leaves on the piecrust edge with egg wash. Randomly place the flower shapes on top of the filled piecrust, starting with the largest. Brush flowers with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake for 25 minutes, checking for over-browning areas. The crust edges will be more brown than the middle crust of flowers; cover these edges with some foil, place back in the oven and bake until flower topcrust is not raw, about 12 more minutes, or until your flowers are golden.
- Allow pie to almost completely cool before serving with violet-scented sweetened whipped cream. To prepare cream, whip to semi-stiff peaks, whip in violet flavor and sugar to taste.
- Admire your awesome creation. Be impressed with yourself. I AM.
- Leftovers? Really?? Pie keeps well wrapped in the fridge for a few days.
** There will be leftover piecrust to use for other projects or decorations for the crust, if you decide to make different designs than mine. If you decide to roll out all of the dough, you can cut as many flowers and leaves as you want, not use them all, and save them in the freezer for another time. In a pinch, you can make a pie with a store-bought pie crust for the bottom, and add on your pre-cut flowers and look like a superstar.