From New York City
Getting out of bed this morning with sore feet and an aching back didn’t bode particularly well. But I tried to think of it as a sort of happy hangover from my first day hanging out with the pastry staff at Bubby’s, and I headed out again from the West Village to embark on my second day. The fact that I’m back in my rented room now, waiting for the double dose of Ibuprofen to kick in, tells you that 1) it’s sometimes a load of bullshit when people tell you that you’ll feel much better after a good night’s rest, and 2) I’m quite an old dog to be slogging around in a restaurant kitchen. Getting my feet up feels about as good as anything I can think of right now, so I’ve propped one on either side of the laptop as I write. (You think I’m kidding?)
Despite the aching feet, hip joints, back, and neck, and the sore hands, I’m happy letting the snapshots of the day click by in my head: Eating a house-made day-old blueberry muffin and sipping coffee at 7 a.m. while I watch Leslie, the newly minted pastry assistant, make a new batch of apple turnovers; bringing out my best friend, the apple corer/peeler, for another 200 apples; gritting my teeth a little as I squeezed the juice of a lemon into the apple pie mix and felt it course through the various little slits I’ve opened in my hands in the last couple days; learning to convert tablespoons into cups; perching on a battered chair in a back hallway of the restaurant, sweaty and tired at 3 p.m., savoring a plate of carnitas corn-tortilla soft tacos with pickled onions and black beans that the guys on the line cooked up for me; chopping chocolate for pecan-chocolate pies; Latin pop music rolling out of the radio all day long.
I started my day peeling pears. I can honestly say that life has never before called on me to peel a pear. But today I had to experiment with the best way: from the narrow, neck-like end to the larger, hips-like end? Or vice-versa? Not to mention that once you’ve got some of the skin off, the fruit gets maddeningly slippery, so whichever way you choose, its challenging. Ricardo favors the neck-to-hips approach, so that’s what I did. Peeled em, cut the ends off, and sliced em in half lengthwise. Then used a teaspoon to core them, and sliced them crosswise. Mixed them with fresh cranberries and spices, and topped them with brown-sugar-based crumble for a hell of a gorgeous pie. One day I will actually have to taste one of these pies.
One of the coolest parts of my day was having Ricardo push me down the road another step on the Mile High Apple Pie front. Yesterday, you might recall, I was surprised to be left solo to roll out the pie crusts, and again to finish them for baking. Today, Ricardo just walked up and said: “You make the Mile-High Apple Pies for me? You remember how? Four, please.” I was
hardly fairly confident I could do this. Especially since I had already peeled and cored massive bowls of apples; maybe, I tried to convince myself, I had already done the hardest part.
Since Bubby’s does things the old-fashioned way, it often means taking single-pie amounts and scaling them up for the number you need. This quickly gets you into conversion territory. It’s one thing to multiply 1 teaspoon by 4. Yeah, that’s right: you get 4 teaspoons. And some of you who are good with measuring spoons might also know that this also equals 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon. But when you have to take 4 tablespoons and convert them to 16, would you measure out 16 separate tablespoons full? The hell you would! What a pain! You’d want to know if there was some easier way to go, like a weight or volume measure.
In this case, I was dealing with butter. Home cooks will know that scaling up or down is easy with a pound of butter that comes in four sticks. Each stick is 8 tablespoons, and is wrapped in paper that marks each tablespoonful. Simple. No such luck here, though. Bubby’s gets its butter in 55-pound cubes. Sometimes you have to go hack chunks off and weigh them on the scale to make sure you’ve got the amount you want. I got to take the easy route, since the kitchen keeps a big bowl of semi-melted better hanging around for those many melted-butter situations one encounters in a day’s work. So the question I faced was: how much do I slather into a cup measure to equal 16 tablespoons? (Don’t lie to me: how many of you know this off the tops of your heads? I spend way too much time baking at home, and I didn’t know this.) Answer: 1 cup. I remembered to measure all the sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, lemon juice and butter into a heap on top of the apples and let them sit there until the pies were ready to be filled. (If I had tossed it all together and let it sit, the mixture would have gotten too soupy.)
You’ll remember my first daunting brush yesterday with rolling out pie dough unattended. That experience made all the difference today, as I rolled out eight crusts. I whacked them down with the heel of my hand, and rolled them into nice uniform circles, liberally sprinkling flour everywhere (and I mean everywhere) to make sure nothing stuck and ripped. I got a nice thinness, too, if I do say so myself. I unfolded four of them into pie tins and stuck them in the walk-in fridge to chill while I did the final toss on the apple filling. Brought them back out a while later to heap the filling in; it wasn’t as easy as you might guess to put 10 cups of apples in each one. It took a bit of gentle pressing and shaping to mound them up without a landslide. Then came the final and funnest (yes, funnest) part: finishing the pies. I draped the top crust over each mound of apples, trimmed the dough a bit where it was too long, and folded the bottom circle of dough up and over the top one, rolling the two into a rope all the way around. Then one more trip around, doing the good old pinch pattern, and the pies were set to go. Ricardo liked the result. So I proceeded to the final step: splashing a little icewater over them and shaking small handfuls of sugar on top. Into the walk-in they went, to chill until baking. When I left work late that afternoon, they were browning in the convection oven. Satisfying!!
After the lunch rush, Ron (the owner; remember him?) came through the kitchen and checked in with Ricardo. Among other things was this tidbit, accompanied by a thumb-jerk in my direction: “So, is she being a pain in the ass, or is she helpful?” I got the “helpful” vote, so that was encouraging. 🙂
Looking to tomorrow: if the pie gods smile on me, I might be able to trade some of my apple-peeling-and-coring time for some time learning nut- and cookie-dough crusts. We’ve got Peanut Butter Chocolate on the menu at the moment, too, so I’d like to get a whack at that one.
Okay, guys, gotta sign off. Indian food’s on the way, and I gotta do some deep hip-joint stretches assigned to me by a trademark & copyright lawyer. (As with the chef’s jacket, there is a story there, but it’s not for the telling now) Wishing you pie-dreams from the Big Apple Pie.