Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Peanut Toffee

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was pretty quiet, which was good because all three of us got sick, one after the other – always a great way to spend one’s vacation. We have this week left to try to get as many things crossed off our to-do list as possible. We’re not holding our breath that they’ll all get done, but we’ll do our best.

In the meantime, here’s a quick little toffee recipe to help you combat those mid-winter blahs. I doubled the recipe, which I would not recommend, because the toffee sets so quickly it’s hard to get both batches flattened out on the pans fast enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put it aside for a bit.

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In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water.

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Attach a candy thermometer to the side and heat that over medium until it reads 300°F. Try to avoid stirring as much as possible, and if you do, don’t use a metal spoon – wood or silicone will prevent premature crystallization.

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Next to the pot, place a little container of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and another of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. You’ll need to have those handy at short notice later on.

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While you’re keeping an eye on the sugar, crush up about 1 1/2 cups pretzel twists.I also had some salted peanuts on hand so I crushed and dumped those in as well – probably about 3/4 cup salted peanuts.

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And gather up 1 cup chocolate chips. I mixed mine with some dark chocolate for flavour.

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When your sugar has caramelized and gotten to the hard crack stage (that’s 300°F), remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Try to resist screaming as it fizzes up and gets all terrifying. I promise that will pass.

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EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Toss in the pretzels and peanuts and stir the toffee quickly.

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Then tip it out onto your parchment sheet and flatten it down as much as you can before it starts to set.

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Sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee and let it stand for a few minutes while the chocolate melts.

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Then smooth out the melted chocolate with a spatula.

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Sprinkle the top of the chocolate with fleur de sel and let harden in the refrigerator for about an hour.

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Once it’s hardened, break it up into chunks and eat it all by yourself! share it with your friends and family.

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Fakin’ It

I’ve been to some of those houses where the whole place gets decorated for the season. You know, the ones where the hand towels get replaced with ones that have snowflakes on them, the soaps and candles waft peppermint everywhere and you can’t avoid the reindeer cushions. If I’m describing your house, then what are you doing reading my crap blog? Go be awesome somewhere else.

I DO decorate for the holidays, but I don’t have the storage space or the money (or the inclination, really) to have separate household accents for each season.

But the other day I was staring at two paper snowflakes I had cut out for a project that didn’t end up happening. I had tossed them on the tray on our coffee table and they’d gotten tangled in the leaves of my jade plant terrarium. I was staring at them while I absent-mindedly picked part of a label off my water glass. The label piece had gotten stuck to the glass when I put an empty jar in the dishwasher.

EUREKA? Paper. Water. Glass. Adhesion.

So I wet the snowflakes and applied them directly to the glass itself, making myself a little snowy vase. It’s not a permanent thing. Once it’s dry you can nudge it off. But it sticks if you don’t disturb it. Tissue paper works even better.

I can see myself wetting tissue paper with LongJohn in future years and creating a winter snowscape on our front window …

Happy Windfall Handpies

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There’s this tree in the green space where I walk with Gren and LongJohn in the mornings. It’s a beautiful old apple tree. I know it’s old because the apples on it are tiny and REALLY sour. But that doesn’t stop people from picking them – no sir. All the apples within a reasonable reach have been removed, so I scoured through the windfall after a recent storm and brought home about 15 or so more or less unscarred apples (because as you know I can’t resist stealing fruit from public places). I wanted to make turnovers, or handpies.

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Holy Hannah are strollers ever handy for carrying crap. And babies, I suppose.

This is the first bit of baking I’ve done while solo in the house with an active and demanding baby on my hands, so it was a challenge to test both my rusty cooking skills and my son’s patience threshold. All in all, it worked out for the most part. I also cheated and used puff pastry but can you really blame me?

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We didn’t cut the lawn for a long time and the long grass killed our mower. So now we REALLY need to cut the grass.

First, you need to peel the apples. I used about 15 of these tiny sour things but if you’re using regular apples maybe 3 large apples would suffice. Actually, before you peel the apples, you need to install the baby in his swing chair with Raffi for company. This will buy you about fifteen minutes.

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It takes a while to peel 15 tiny misshapen apples.

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Avoid the wormy ones.

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Chop the apples up roughly and sprinkle the pieces with lemon juice, both to keep them from going brown and to add some tartness to the mix (not that you really need tartness with sour apples). Wrap them up and set them aside.

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Next, whisk together 3 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/2 cup water.

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Tip your apple pieces into a pan with some liberal dashes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and some sugar. Use about 2 teaspoons sugar for each regular apple – for the sour ones I went a bit more generous and added about 6 tablespoons for the whole lot.

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Re-install your baby in a new location with new focal points. You’ve got another fifteen minutes or so.

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Cook the apples on medium heat until they’re bubbly and the liquid is starting to cook down.

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Tip in the cornstarch mixture (you may need to re-whisk it because it’s not a solution and the cornstarch will likely be sticking firmly to the bottom of your dish).

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Stir quickly in and watch the juices thicken.

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Remove from the heat and spread in a thin layer on a plate to cool. Attempt to put your baby down for his nap.

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After failing to put your baby down for his nap (strange how a logical argument does not work on a three-month-old), grab some thawed puff pastry (this stuff comes in a box with two rolled out squares in it) and use a rolling pin to gently expand the sheet. You want the pastry a little thinner than it comes standard.

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Cut the square into 9 equal(ish) pieces.

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Place a dollop of the cooled apple goo on each square.

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Mmm, cooled goo …

Carefully peel the pastry off the paper and fold it over itself to form a triangle. Pinch the seams closed.

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Puff pastry objects to being handled so roughly so they look a little demented.

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Give your baby a different toy to punch. Encourage him to yell obscenities at the toy (I don’t speak baby so that’s what I’m assuming he’s doing) to buy yourself some more time.

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On the second sheet, I didn’t roll the pastry out as much, and it was easier to remove it from the paper. They looked less demented.

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Crack and beat an egg and brush each of the pastries with a bit of egg goo. Set them on a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet.

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Bake your pastries for about 20-25 minutes at 375°F and eat them as soon as they’re cool enough to hold in your hand. The demented ones stayed together better than the non-demented ones – just keep that in mind.

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Non-demented …
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Demented …

Enjoy!

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Spidermageddon

Apple Clafoutis

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the entire spider population of the world. I’m happy to live and let live with my “spiderbro” friends. But ever since we moved into the new house, we’ve been completely overrun with spiders. They’re just the common North American house spider, and they mean no harm, but each room contains at least a dozen. There are no other bugs in the house, so we assume that they’re just eating each other to survive.

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Mostly they just build little nests, fight, and mate with each other. Sometimes there’s serious drama that occurs in the corner of the shower or the living room ceiling.

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Recently, I was reading in bed and found one crawling up my arm – I squished it accidentally because I thought it was the dog touching me with his wet nose. And then I thought about whether I wanted these creatures crawling around the new baby and I got all skeeved out …

So Spidermageddon happened. I took my vacuum and sucked up all the cobwebs, tiny nests — spiders too — that I could find. Some spiders hid behind objects but I managed to winkle all of them out eventually.

Then, before they could come back, I whipped up a quick and natural spider repellent. Spiders not only walk with their front feet but they eat with them too, so anything strong-smelling that they’re walking through gets in their mouths and they really don’t like that. So any pungent essential oil will do – I picked some that are particularly strong.

Grab a reusable spray bottle and tip in about 5 drops each of your essential oils: here I used lavender, peppermint, and citronella (I figured the citronella would repel the OTHER bugs should they come out to play this summer). Add in as well a dash of dish detergent – the soap will help to disperse the oils better than if you didn’t use it.

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You can also add a splash of white vinegar. The acetic acid is an irritant to spiders and other bugs, but it may also discolour the surface of what you spray it on so be warned. I was using it on the walls and windowsills so I wasn’t worried.

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Fill the rest of the spray bottle with warm water, give it a little shake, and spray away!

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Make sure to cover all the spaces where you found spiders in the past, like ceiling corners (they like pale or white surfaces to attract mates), and places they might enter the house, like windowsills and sashes.  I went through two bottles of the stuff in order to get all the rooms in the house.

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A week later I find the occasional spider, who gets deported and then the spot re-sprayed, but we no longer feel outnumbered in the house. I consider it a success!

Brazilian Lemonade

It’s not summer yet, but you’ll be glad to have this in your arsenal when those long hot days finally roll around. The Minion and I discovered this amazing beverage while we were tooling around Salt Lake City and ended up having dinner at a Brazilian grill. The funniest part about it is that it contains no lemons whatsoever. But that is what it’s called.

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The traditional method follows the rule of threes: 3 limes, 3 cups water, 3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk, and 3 tablespoons sugar, but you can play with it as much as you like to come up with something that suits. I like it with a hint of mint added, myself.

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Take your 3 limes, washed and scrubbed, and slice off the stem and leaf bits at the top and bottom, then quarter them. If you have a really good blender, traditionalists will chuck the limes in whole, but my blender is not that great, so I quarter them. I found wedges were better than cutting rings, as the rings tended to get stuck around the blade at the bottom.

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Fill your blender with 3 cups water and chuck those limes in.

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Next, add in 3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. I thought at first I could leave out the sugar but it’s necessary. The milk is just not sweet enough. Feel free to use any sugar substitute you like, of course.

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Now this looks way less appetizing, I’m sure. If you want to add some mint, tip in some fresh leaves at this point.

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Blend for about thirty seconds, until you have this frothy goodness.

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Strain out all the solids and compost those. Your compost bin will smell amazing.

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What you’re left with is a pale green milky liquid and a bit of froth.

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Serve over a glassful of ice and enjoy how refreshing it is.

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Want a dairy-free version? Not a problem. Tip a can of coconut milk into the blender and top it up with water to equal three cups. You will need to double the sugar to six tablespoons to compensate. The result is a slightly creamier version, and I can’t decide which I like more.

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In terms of longevity, this beverage is meant to be served immediately (possibly with some white rum mixed in), but I couldn’t drink both batches by myself that quickly so I tossed them in the fridge. The one of the left is the one I made with coconut milk, and you can see that over time it separates quite a bit. That said, a quick stir and it’s back to emulsified goodness, with no alteration in flavour.

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Wipe it Up!

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I clean my bathroom(s) once a week, and I do a pretty good job. But it takes a while to do, and I know that in a few months I am not going to have the time and energy to do as thorough a job every time. So I’m preparing in advance for laziness. These DIY bathroom wipes are a nice quick way to tidy up your bathroom on the fly and a much cheaper version of the ones you buy in the store. Experiment with the cleaning mixtures that float your boat, because everyone’s different and everyone has different things they want to clean up in their bathroom, like hairspray or toothpaste or, in my case, dog hair (there are some links to other versions below).

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To make a handy dispenser for these lovely quick and disposable wipes, I turned to the Art of Doing Stuff for inspiration. Start with a milk or juice carton, the kind that has the little screw top in it, and a roll of shop towels. You can go with regular paper towels, but pick something like Brawny and go for the extra strong – shop towels are designed to hold together well when wet and you need these things to hold up to being wet for, like, ever. You can pick up shop towels at pretty much any hardware store.

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Clean out the juice/milk carton and measure the roll of towel so that it comes up to the part in the carton where the cardboard starts to bend. Use a serrated knife or saw to cut through the towels at that point. It’s going to take a little while so be patient.

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Now you have a roll of shop towels that has roughly a third of it cut off. Feel free to use the wee roll to clean up really tiny paint spills (which is what I plan to use it for – I only make wee paint spills when I paint).

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On the bigger roll, start working the inner cardboard tube free of the towel and pull it out.

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Once you’ve done that, pull out the corner of the towel that starts in the middle of the tube. The roll of towels will dispense much easier if you go from the centre as opposed to from the outside. There’s less resistance in the middle.

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Now shove that whole roll into your carton. Your dispenser is ready!

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As for the mix, you have a bunch of options (again, see below for different mixes, or make your own). Here I used a combination of about 2 cups warm water, 2 tablespoons baking soda, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, 3 tablespoons Castille soap, and then about 15 drops each tea tree, rosemary, and grapefruit essential oils.

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Give it a good stir.

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Then pour it carefully over your towels. You’ll need to let that sit for a bit to get thoroughly saturated.

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You can pull the little loose end of your paper towel through the spout of the carton and use a set of binder clips to seal the top of the carton. Don’t forget to screw the lid back on to keep things from drying out.

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It’s not super pretty but you could paint it or paper it or something. I’m keeping this in the bathroom closet so I’m not too fussed about what it looks like, but you can do with it what you will, or find a prettier container. I just liked the ease with which this one came together.

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After use, the towels can be handily dropped into my bathroom compost bin – in our city the compost handles tissue and paper towel so it makes sense to have one in the bathroom where we dispose with most of our Kleenex and Qtips and the like.

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If you would prefer a non-disposable version, then that’s easy, too. Find a nice pretty jar that you can handle having in your bathroom, maybe on the counter, and find some cheap washcloths. I picked these up at XS Cargo before they went out of business – they’re crap as washcloths but handy for wiping and dusting things. The jar is an old one I have from IKEA that is currently without a purpose.

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Roll or fold the towels (or cut up old t-shirts or rags and use those instead) and shove them in the jar.

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Make up a batch of your cleaning mixture and pour it slowly over the cloths until they’re all nicely saturated. This jar was pretty big so I doubled my previous mix and it was a goodly amount.

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The convenience of the cloths is if you flub your mixture and add too much soap (which I may have done for the cloth version), you can rinse out the cloth afterwards and rinse off your soapy surfaces. Then the cloth can be wrung out and tossed in the laundry hamper (which is conveniently located right outside the bathroom door).

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More links for inspiration:

Pop Sugar: DIY Bathroom Wipes

One Good Thing: DIY Disinfecting Bathroom Wipes

DIY Natural: Homemade Natural Cleaning Wipes that Disinfect

Live Simply: DIY Cleaning Wipes (Reusable and Disinfecting)

Apple Galette – Fancy Cheating

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For the first time in I don’t know how long, it wasn’t up to me to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. I’d been traveling for two weeks straight and I simply didn’t have the time. I did, however, volunteer to make a dessert for the meal, and I decided on something autumnal but at the same time not too heavy: an apple galette, which I adapted from this Jacques Pépin recipe. The best part about galettes? They look SUPER fancy and elegant and they’re hella easy. So it’s almost like cheating. And I made the pastry and cut the apples the day before so it got even easier.

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Dump 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice cold butter (cut into small pieces) into the bowl of a food processor.

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Pulse for about 5 seconds, until you have some rough crumbs. Drizzle in 1/3 cup ice water and pulse again for another 10 seconds, until the dough starts to come together.

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Scoop it out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a small disc. Wrap up tight and refrigerate until chilled. I left it in overnight.

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Next, grab yourself 4 apples of your choice and give them a good scrubbing. You can peel them if you want but I like the colour that leaving the skin on brings to a dish. And yes, I know there are six apples in the picture, not four.

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Halve, then quarter the apples and remove the core. Slice them into crescents about 1/4″ thick.

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If you want to do the apples the day before, you totally can. I layered my slices in a plastic container and sprinkled each layer liberally with lime juice (this prevents browning and adds a nice level of tartness to the finished dessert). Then I covered them with plastic wrap and sealed the container. They were fresh as daisies the next day.

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When you’re ready to git ‘er done, preheat your oven to 400°F and lightly flour a clean work surface. Roll the pastry dough out until it’s about 14″ in diameter. You can free-form this galette by laying it on a baking sheet, but I have a very shallow tart pan that is ideal for making sure nothing gets away on me. Lay your dough into your dish (you will be folding over the edges, but if the edges are super extreme feel free to trim them).

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Slap on one layer of apple slices, arranged however you like – I did concentric circles. Drizzle that layer with about 1 tablespoon honey.

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Do another layer, or until you run out of apple slices. Then sprinkle the top with a mixture of 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Cut 1 tablespoon butter into tiny pieces and distribute those evenly over the top.

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Fold the edges of the dough over the top of the apples.

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Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is nicely browned and the apples are cooked through. Keep an eye on things and remove the pie if things are starting to burn. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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