Tribute to the Pie Queen

9 Oct

My best friend at Northeastern U. was an incredible baker. You’d walk into her dormitory suite and be enveloped in the warm scent of apples, cinnamon, and buttery pastry. She was undoubtedly one of the most generous people I have ever met in my life, and never once hesitated to take care of those around her. My freshman year of college, I would be her kitchen helper when she made dinner for our friends once a week. Every week was a different theme; from Italian and Southern favorites to a night of American classics that ended in an epic powdered sugar fight. Outside of my family, she is the one person who truly inspired me to see cooking in that light. She’s one of the reasons I almost never bake anything without intending to give some of it away.

Eight years ago today I solo-baked my first layer cake and it was for her. My decorating skills were even less, um, elegant than they are now and I used M&Ms to spell out her name on top of the icing. We watched a Red Sox v. Yankees playoff game, drank, ate, and laughed our heads off with the rest of our friends the entire evening. That night is more vivid in my mind than almost any other from that year living on Columbus Avenue. I adored those friends, especially the skinny guy with the sandy blonde curls and bright yellow “Firefighters for Kerry” shirt who asked me out four days later. Who knew I’d be calling him my husband someday?

Every year when that first autumn chill hits my bones, I think of my friend and the incredible apple pie she would make for us at a moment’s notice. That inaugural Fall day was most certainly yesterday. Saturday was warm with puffy clouds in the sky and then BAM: 50 degrees and overcast on Sunday.

I only had two apples in the refrigerator. Damn. Pie was not to be, but all was not lost. A lonely package of thawed phyllo dough called out to me and the next thing I knew I was making origami folds with the paper thin sheets slicked with butter. It might not be pie, but the little pockets of goodness were certainly easy to transport and share with colleagues.

I think she’d be proud of me.

Apple Turnovers with Hazelnuts and Almonds

Okay, take a deep breath. You are going to tear several sheets of phyllo dough. Don’t worry about it. Either patch it with a dab of butter or just grab a fresh sheet from the box. To keep your phyllo pliable while you work with it, keep what you aren’t currently working with and covered with a damp towel.

  • 2 large apples. I used Rome apples this time and enjoyed them a lot.
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting finished pastry.
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 20 sheets phyllo dough (14 inches x 9 inches), thawed, unrolled and covered with a damp cloth.
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts and almonds

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.

Core, peel, and chop the apples. This kitchen toy is pretty awesome. I keep it around for when I make apple rings to dry or preserve. A $10 investment that will save you a massive amount of time unless you are Hiroyuki Sakai:

Combine the apples, sugar, cinnamon, flour, and chopped nuts (if using) and set aside.

Now you are going to assemble and fold the dough exactly as you would do with the American flag. Here is a very clear video of the folding process. You don’t need to do the final fold at the edge and can finish with your original triangle pattern:

Place one sheet of phyllo dough on a clean work surface and brush one half with butter. Fold the sheet in half lengthwise and then repeat the process of buttering and folding. You’ll have a long strip of dough.

Take about one tablespoon of the apple filling and put it at one end of the phyllo strip. Then, fold the edge over the filling at a 90 degree angle to form a triangle shape. Continue folding into triangles the whole way down the strip of dough. Place the finished turnover seam side down on a baking sheet.

Repeat the process until you run out of either dough or filling. If you are being really neat and meticulous about it, you could probably get two dozen turnovers out of this recipe.

Brush the finished turnovers with melted butter, sprinkle on some extra cinnamon and sugar, and then bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown at the edges and on the bottom. Move them to a cooling rack. Unlike pie, you can eat them right away without the fear of oozing pie goo being left in the pan and not on your plate.

So, an autumn tribute to the Pie Queen, who taught me that generosity is the greatest gift in the world and always made me feel that no matter how cold the Boston winters were, there would always be a place to go to be warm all over. Thank you, my friend.

Ciao for now,


One Response to “Tribute to the Pie Queen”

  1. Kristin October 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    This is the best birthday present I couldn’t dream of asking for. Thank you so much Neen.

    I’m still cooking and baking up a storm and feeding people whenever I can. I make a lot of breads and cookies now but the pies still make an appearance. My kids appreciate mommie’s treats.

    Thank you again 🙂 I’ll have to remember to drop you some recipes out of my archives.

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