SUGAR AND SPICE
Mock Apple Pies: Puttin’ on the Ritz
An Apple Pie With No Apples? Absurd!By Marissa Cheng
Sometime during the night, some sneaky person ate the last of the mock apple pie. The pie was part of an experiment I was conducting this past weekend. Mock apple pie is a regular pie-type deal, except that its interior consists of crumbled Ritz crackers soaked with a syrup made of sugar, water, lemon juice, lemon zest, and cinnamon. In the 1930s, it was a cheap substitute for real apple pie. Today, it’s more about the idea that it’s the pie spices that people identify with apple pie, not the taste of the actual apples.
Despite all protests from my friends, I devised my experiment. While teaching a cooking class this IAP, I came across Jeffrey Steingarten’s recipe for apple pie, which contained no spices, but added vanilla, in an attempt to return apple pie to the apples. I thus decided to make three pies: the mock apple pie, the spiceless pie, and a regular apple pie. The pie crust was the same for all three pies, and, as a side note, was absolutely beautiful to behold.
The three pies took the better part of the day to prepare, assemble, and bake. Taste testing began in the late evening, by various friends responding to the general offer of free freshly-baked pie. While most people agreed that the mock apple pie didn’t particularly taste like apple pie, they also either hated it or loved it. I liked the mock apple pie. It was a little sweet, and I think I may have used far too much lemon zest (one friend commented that it tasted like lemon pie), but the saltiness of the Ritz crackers was nice with the sugar syrup. You could taste the Ritz crackers, but not feel them in your mouth -- the sugar syrup completely transformed the crackers.
On the matter of the spiceless apple pie, I think I may have liked the mock apple pie more than this one. The taste of the apples was very nice; the pie smelled like fresh cider while baking in the oven. However, the vanilla didn’t go so well with the apples. Save the vanilla for the ice cream on the side. And the normal apple pie was, well, normal.
My verdict: I hate to say it, but I might make the mock apple pie again. It’s not something that I’ll automatically reach for, nor is it an even vaguely suitable substitute for real apple pie, but it’s quick to make, tastes pretty good, and is certainly a conversation starter.
Finally, here are a few pointers for when you make your first apple pie (see accompanying recipes). First, taste the sugar syrup. If you don’t want to eat the sugar syrup, you won’t want to eat the pie. If your pie is too sweet, add some vanilla ice cream and suddenly it’ll get a lot better. Lastly, shape the Ritz crackers into something that looks like the top of an apple pie -- an apple pie with a completely flat top looks suspiciously fake.