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Archive for 2013-01-20

You Are The Apple Of My Pie: Catherine's Cakes & Pies


          Lately, the weather has been giving people something to talk about. What with the winds gushing about and temperatures dropping to a cold state of atmosphere, forcing people to put on layers of clothing to keep themselves warm and snug in the middle of January. It has tested my degree of tolerance as to whether or not I could keep up with even colder climates, but I think that my constant quivering and chattering teeth is a testament to my inability to withstand even cooler seasons. However, the change in weather isn't the only thing worth talking about these days. Chito Benito of Catherine's Cakes & Pies and his homemade Apple Pie has just started to make huge waves in the world of desserts. But before reveal more about my newest top pick,  allow me to talk a little bit about how I was able to discover the best apple pie to date.

           One of my favorite desserts is apple pie. In fact, it's the first thing I look for while skimming through the menu of restaurants and cafes. I have tried several of the commercially-sold apple pies, but not one has captured the essence of what I believe is the ultimate pie. The lack of palatable apple pie choices led me to making my own version and was nontheless delighted with its outcome. However, I don't always have the leisure of baking my own apple pie, especially when I struck with sudden hankerings for this "best eaten while warm" dessert. Thankfully enough, I was able to chance upon an article on Southern Living Magazine, which featured homebaker Chito Benito and photograph capturing a lovely spread of just some of his desserts such as the Blueberry Cheesecake (this is something I will definitely have to try soon!), Chocolate Cheesecake with Cherry Brandy and Pineapple Streusel Pie. Next thing I new, there was a lovely apple green box sitting on my dining table. Of course, you didn't think I would just let it lay there and torment me with thoughts of layered apples bathed in cinnamon and caramelized sugar enveloped in a crunchy golden brown crust, did you? 

             Catherine's Cakes & Pies, which was named after Chito's youngest daughter, started with a friendly competition between Chito, his wife and the making of a nutty dessert - the walnut pie, "She made some mistakes in baking and I told her that she should have done it another way. So I made my version and it turned out much better. Seeing the marked improvement, it challenged me to see how much more I can improve it by tweaking the recipe here and there. Then we came up with our very first product  - the walnut pie." It took 4 years in the making as Chito went through a trial and error process, relying on the remarks and judgment made by friends and relatives, who were more than willing to taste test the revised recipes. Because of that, Chito decided to introduce and market his products to the public with a more confident and optimistic state of mind. 

               What really captured my attention whilst reading the feature on Souther Living Magazine was the epithet "The Best Apple Pie In The South!" Seeing as how I have been quite luckless with my search for the perfect apple pie, I wanted to see for myself if this title stood true to its claim...and it did. Of course, I didn't just randomly wake-up screaming in the middle of the night and arrive at an epiphany. I did what any apple pie lover do - I savored every inch of my slice and ate everything to the last crumb.

             There are certain things I considered before I deemed this apple pie the best one I've tasted. First, the crust - I like my crust flaky and sometimes crumbly, crumbly enough for me to feel my teeth making an effort (but not too much) to bite into it. This one had an element of surprise added to its already interesting feel in the mouth - walnuts! There were so many different textures and we're only talking about the crust. It was a delightful mix between crunchy, flaky and crumbly, truly one of the best crusts to enclose a pie with. 

                Second, the filling. Now, I'm very particular about what goes in between the two layers of crust. Sometimes, the apples are either too chunky, hard, over the top with the sugar content or the mixture itself is runny. This one had a wonderful consistency and was glorious in all aspects. The apple cinnamon and sugar mixture was thick enough to hold its own and you most certainly won't find yourself wishing there was more fruit in this pie as each slice is packed with evenly-sliced apples! My uncle Tony called it "the best apple pie" he's ever tasted compared to all the variants he has tried mainly because it is "not too sweet". 

               Third, its appearance. Some apple pies look sloppy, others try too hard by masking its taste with different layers of syrup and scoops of ice cream but with minimal flavor beneath it all. With this one is particular, its golden brown exterior, chunks of walnut peaking out on the surface and patches of syrup oozing from gaps in the crust truly spell out the phrase "quintessential homemade apple pie" to me. A great pie not only tastes good, but it also has to be visually appealing. 

              Four, eating it a la mode. Whenever I eat apple pie, I don't usually top it with ice cream because I do believe that its good on its own as sometimes, it distracts my taste buds (yes, they have a mind of their own too) from appreciating the different flavors crammed into one generous slice. However, I am able to enjoy this both ways. Upon opening a box of Catherine's Apple Pie, you'll see a note stuck to the bottom with instructions on the best way to enjoy it, and that is by warming it in the oven and topping it with a hefty serving of vanilla ice cream scooped atop such a sublime European dessert. Apple pie IS best eaten warm, and a great way to enhance its flavor is by turning it into a dual-temperature treat and pairing it with something cool to create a bit of incongruity.

See what I mean by each slice overflowing with apples? It's almost as if Chito considers  skimping on ingredients a crime. 

            A lot of detail and structure, I feel, has a lot to do with Chito's Engineering background, "I think my engineering background helps me find out-of-the-box solutions to some baking problems that I encounter. I once thought of a process to improve my lola's karioka recipe. Now, my mother makes it based on my recipe and all our relatives agree that it's much better than before." Although even prior to all of this started, Chito never even had any formal training except for assisiting his sister whenever she baked during his childhood days, "That's all the training I got. She's the one who took formal classes. I had some interest in baking but never really thought of making a career out of it. I was always very meticulous and exact. So my mom always asked me to read the instructions of cooking equipment that she bought and to teach our cook how to use it. I guess all these helps me learn some cooking/baking techniques." I suppose it was only a matter of tap before Chito's innate desire to bake was tapped!

            Although there are already so many different versions of apple pie in the market, Chito believes he can make his way through and rise above them all, "It's the people who are looking for the best products and are willing to pay just a little bit more for it. We like to think of ourselves as the "Apple" of apple pies. Apple (Mac) went into the mobile phone business which was already crowded with so many manufacturers. They made an excellent phone which raised the bar so high, that they ended up with no competitors, since no one else was on the same level." That's what we'd like to achieve." I believe this pay is already well on its way to attaining just that and will find itself in the kitchens of all apple-pie enthusiasts! Even those who aren't fans of this fruit-themed dessert will think twice. 

Price list of other products from Catherines Cakes & Pies.

           Something to look forward to in the future? Chito Benito's take on Banoffee Pie - I am certain this will become another hit. Also, plans of opening a store is in the works but nothing definite at the moment. It's a great way to start the year for Catherine's Cakes & Pastries as they are making its way up the dessert ladder and have already made me a huge fan of their baking. Visit their Facebook page to check out their other homemade goodies! Orders can be made through phone, email or private messaging. Please refer to the details below or on their Facebook page. 

What are you waiting for? Get your own fix of THE BEST APPLE PIE IN THE SOUTH! :) 

Catherine's Cakes & Pies
Piccadilly St. Hillsborough Village
T: 659-2591
C: 0917-840-9598