Monday, November 26, 2012

K's Caramel Apple Pie: How to be good at small talk

I've been realizing in recent weeks that I do not excel at small talk.  In fact, I stink at it.  I'm missing a little bit of the concentration level or the talent for engaging people in a conversation, especially when I don't know them well.  I love chit chatting with my close friends, and usually within 15 seconds I'm off on some tangent that definitely doesn't qualify at all as small talk (usually education or the plight of curriculum in the state of CA) but to ask people questions about their daily life and to get to know them; I just am not good at.  Part of it is due to my own inherent introvert tendencies and the other part, I think is lack of practice.

However, this weekend, I watched a master of small talk take things to the next level and execute the act of getting to know someone to an art form.  He is a trained interrogator (being in law enforcement) and his years of asking questions and engaging criminals takes small talk to new heights.   He took someone he didn't know well at all (who happens to be my best friend) and proceeded to take her very complicated job as a top level manager and dissect her job into the smallest detail.  Afterwards Friend was quite shocked and said, "I don't think my husband even knows exactly what I do." Post interview, KK revealed that his number one tactic at getting people (and criminals and gangsters) to open up is to be interested in the details.  THE DETAILS.  By asking all sorts of minuscule questions (including one where he asked my friend to describe the position of the desks in her office) and being interested in the answer, people open up and say things that you just don't expect.  Bear in mind, that I listened in on this interview, and in almost 20 years of knowing this friend, I learned new things during this conversation that I would not have expected.

Now this is all somewhat foreign to me, as I realize that I'm not good at focusing on the small details of a conversation.  I've always prided myself on "cutting to the chase" as it will, but I also find myself shying away from situations where I'm supposed to make small talk, mostly because I tell myself I don't like it.  Maybe I just don't try hard enough.  Maybe my level of interest at unwrapping someone isn't at the level it needs to be at.  I'll only say that watching KK peel away layers of my best friend's job was interesting and fascinating to me and it made me want to be better at getting to know people.

In the end, I've mostly filed away what KK did and I'll continue to mull on it and think about it.  But I've been practicing the engaging of people I don't know well and trying to talk to them.  I spoke to our garbage man the other day, asking him why the truck didn't have the automatic arm and if he had plans for the rest of the week.  We spoke about 2 minutes, back and forth (this while I had groceries in my arm, and he was shouting across the street as he tossed the trashcans into the truck) and at the end of it, I discovered that the regular drives on my route complained about our area as having too much work, so he was called in to relieve some of that burden.  As he said, "I'm not the lazy type to sit back and want someone else to do my work - I just get out there and do it" and I found myself respecting his work ethic, watching his smile, and appreciating the sense of duty to his job.

I'm calling this pie after KK because it just so happens that his two daughters LOVED it. They gobbled it down as it were, and enjoyed every last bite.

Make the caramel first, so you can have it ready to go and set aside (even do it the day before), and then do the pie crusts.  I love this recipe for pie crust because it doesn't need to be chilled which means that your pie making time reduces.

Caramel Apple Pie
Makes 9 inch pie, serving 8 to 10 people

1 cup sugar
¾ cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (½ stick of butter)

While cake is baking, make caramel.  Have both butter and cream, measured and ready to go.  In a heavy bottom sauce pan (bigger is better - go for a 2 or 3 quart saucepan) add sugar and heat over medium high heat.  The sugar will begin to melt and caramelize.  As this happens, slowly drag sugar to the center of the pan and swirl the pan around so as to not burn the sugar.  Allow all the sugar crystals to melt, using patience and diligence to watch and check the caramel.  As soon as the sugar is all melted and is dark amber in color (Dave Leibovitz says like the color of a dirty copper penny) add butter all at once and whisk vigorously incorporating it into the sugar syrup.    After butter is all melted remove from heat.  Add cream and whisk  until the caramel is a delicious mixture, all uniform in texture.  Transfer caramel to a jar.  (You’ll use a cup for the pie itself, and have about ½ cup remaining to drizzle over the pie after it’s done.)

Pastry (adapted from Williams-Sonoma)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 to 8 Tbs. ice water

To make the dough in a stand mixer, fit the mixer with the flat beater, and stir together the flour, sugar and salt in the mixer bowl. Add the butter and toss with a fork to coat with the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas. Add the water and mix on low speed just until the dough pulls together.

Transfer the dough to a work surface, divide evenly into two, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk. (Although many dough recipes call for chilling the dough at this point, this dough should be rolled out immediately for the best results.) Take one ball and lightly flour the work surface, then flatten the disk with 6 to 8 gentle taps of the rolling pin. Lift the dough and give it a quarter turn. Lightly dust the top of the dough or the rolling pin with flour as needed, then roll out into a round at least 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick.  Lay crust into 9 inch pie pan.  leave overhang of pie crust on until later.

Set aside second ball until needed.

Apple Filling and Construction
4 lbs of Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup of caramel sauce (recipe above)

1 egg white, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 400.

Using a mandoline slicer or a sharp knife and your very good knife skills, carefully slice the apple into thin slices, about ¼ inch thick.  The more evenly thinly sliced the apples, the better the overall texture as there will be no air pockets. Drizzle lemon juice, sprinkle flour and cinnamon, and evenly toss the entire mixture together.

Carefully lay apples, as close together, filling the pie dish.  The goal is to have few air pockets and a dense of apple layers.  Pour 1 cup of caramel sauce over apples once they are in the dish.  Roll out the second pie dough and place it over the top of the apples and the pie crust.  Trim overhang of pie crust edges with scissors or knife and pinch together dough in order to create a seal between top and bottom crusts.  Make slashes or cut outs in the top of pie in order for steam to escape and brush top pastry with egg white.  Sprinkle sugar all over top of pie.

Set pie dish on top of cookie sheet (you’ll thank me for this later when your pie doesn’t leak all over your oven) and place in center of oven.  Bake 35 to 45 minutes, until top of pie is golden and the juices are bubbly and delicious.

Set pie aside and allow to cool, juices to thicken, about 1 hour.  Serve with a scoop of ice cream, and additional caramel sauce to drizzle on top.

Printable recipe

Super lightweight and sharp Japanese Mandoline which I love (and makes great apple slices)

My choice of pie dish - looks beautiful and bakes up pies gorgeously


GraceLee said...

i love when I know who you are talking was good to see you at pdc's wedding. our whole table was good at "small talk".

InsideOut Elle said...

Dang that looks so good!

And very interesting observation re: details. I'm not very good at small talk either, though I try and listen, I feel like all my small talk convos tend to stall after 1-2 minutes... Reading this makes me realize that I may not be asking enough in-depth questions so the other person doesn't feel like I am really listening...

Anyway, great food for thought...

Rosie @ Blueberry Kitchen said...

Your pie sounds divine, I love the look of the caramel drizzle! I am terrible at small talk as well, so it was really interesting to read this.

Shaziane Codrington said...

Hm. I always considered small talk to be about...other stuff...that I don't care about. I love unwrapping people. But the people I'm around don't like being unwrapped. People are always asking why I want to, 'does it matter' the onlookers ask, 'why' asks the person to whom I'm speaking, and then they may disregard, or answer in a way that still questions.

The point here though is that this post made me realize that I am good at small talk. My curiosity would not have it any other way.


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