My co-workers are really into celebrating birthdays; or, at least, they are really into eating free cake. The office rule is that when it’s your birthday, you get to pick the cake and subject everyone else to your tastes. In the last couple of years, there has been a troubling development. Instead of cake, people are requesting fruit and cheese platters, mixed nuts, bagel breakfasts, cookies and raspberry mousse-filled marzipan frogs. It’s distressing, this rejection of the birthday cake. Birthday cakes are so festive, so nostalgic. I can eat a bagel any day of the week, but I need an occasion to eat three layers of moist loveliness coated in butter cream.
So, you can only imagine my reaction when Anne’s response to my inquiry, “What kind of cake do you want for your birthday this year?” was: “I’d actually really like some apple turnovers.” It seems that the anti-birthday cake sentiment has invaded my home, but what was I going to do? True love only comes around once, people.
Of course, this was not the first time Anne had mentioned her love of the apple turnover to me. Even picky eaters, it turns out, have food memories, and I think this one is some conflation of Pepperidge Farm and an unauthorized trip with her babysitter to McDonald’s. So, I’d had this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated kicking around for a while. I was attracted to the streamlined puff pastry method (food processor? yes, please) but a little wigged out by the instructions for the filling — grated apples? Doesn’t that just seem like it’s going to be weird?
Turns out, who am I to question Cook’s Illustrated? The turnovers were seriously awesome. The pastry is beautiful — all buttery and clean tasting as it shatters under the pressure of your bite. And the apple filling is perfect — nicely cooked and not too sweet. And so orderly; it just fits itself right in that little puff pastry triangle and stays put.
I’m just going to say it: it’s like the old-school (circa 1983) McDonald’s apple pies that you secretly loved, on steroids.
I’m not going to lie — this recipe is a little bit of a project. Cook’s bills the dough as “Quick Puff Pastry,” which it is, compared to the traditional process of beating butter into submission and then folding it into a square of dough a zillion times. But honestly, when it looks like this outside, what else am I going to do but bake? And, hey, a birthday only comes around once a year.
From Baking Illustrated, by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated
For the “Quick” Puff Pastry:
3 cups AP flour
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces
9 tablespoons ice water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add one quarter of the butter pieces and process until the butter is in dime-sized pieces, about four to six 1-second pulses. Add the remaining butter and process just until the butter pieces are coated with flour, about two 1 second pulses.
Combine the ice water and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add half the liquid to the flour-butter mixture and pulse briefly, until just combined. Keep adding the liquid, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough will clump together in your hand. Turn the dough out onto a work surface. The dough will be dry and shaggy.
Starting at the part of the dough that is farthest from you, fraisage the dough. This is done by pressing down on the dough with the heel of your hand and pushing away using short, brisk strokes. Using a bench scraper, gather the dough together into a rough rectangle and repeat the fraisage process one more time. Using the bench scraper, and then your hands, pat the dough into an 8”x4” rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured piece of parchment. Roll the dough out to a 15” x 10” rectangle and then fold the dough in thirds, lengthwise. Starting from the narrow end, loosely roll the dough in thirds again, and press it into a 6” x 5” rectangle. Repeat the rolling and folding process one more time. If the dough becomes to sticky before the second folding, chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. When you’ve rolled and folded the dough twice, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours. (I know this looks tricky, but if you mosey on over to my Flickr page, you will see more photos that will take you through the dough step by step.)
For the Apple Turnovers:
4 – 5 Granny Smith apples (2 lbs)
1 ½ cups sugar
3 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Cinnamon Sugar Topping
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 20” x 15” rectangle. (Depending upon how long you’ve chilled the dough, it may be very firm and difficult to work with. Let it warm up a bit on the counter – about 10 minutes, and try giving it a whack with the side of your rolling pin to get it started.) Trim and cut the dough into twelve 5” squares and divide the squares of dough between the two baking sheets. Refrigerate the squares while you make the filling.
Peel the apples and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. (If you have the grater attachment for your food processor, feel free to use it here.) Combine the grated apples, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a medium bowl.
Remove one tray of dough from the refrigerator. Working with one square at a time, place a square on a work surface. (I know what you’re thinking, “Why can’t I just leave it on the sheet?” Because apple juices are going to come out while you’re shaping the turnovers, and you don’t want all that extra moisture on the baking sheet.) Place 2 tablespoons of the filling, squeezed of excess liquid, in the center of the dough. Using a pastry brush or your finger, moisten two adjoining edges of the square with some of the apple liquid. Fold the top portion of the dough over the bottom, making sure to overlap the bottom portion by ¼”. Crimp the edges of the turnover with a fork, and transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with all the squares and then chill the turnovers for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. (If you chill them longer than an hour, cover them with plastic wrap.)
Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 375º. Remove the turnovers from the refrigerator and brush the tops lightly with water. Sprinkle the turnovers evenly with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake the turnovers until golden brown, 30 – 35 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking. Let the turnovers cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 12 turnovers.