As Easy As 3.1415…….
I know, I know. Bad joke. But I just couldn’t resist! For those of you not laughing, the number referred to in the title is “Pi”–a constant for finding the area and circumference of a circle. But enough of that! Back to baking!
As we enter into the holiday season, it seems to bring out the inner chef in us all. Family gatherings and extravagant meals inspire even the most novice cook to “go for it” in the kitchen taking on the challenge to make everything from scratch—even dessert! And what says the holidays more than a freshly baked pie? Well, I guess I could think of a dozen or so other things too! But to get us started in the holiday/feasting season, let’s tackle the quintessential apple pie.
First of all, there’s the crust–a component just as important as the filling itself. Simple in ingredients, its main components are flour, fat and ice water. A crust has to be durable enough to hold the filling, yet tender and delicate enough to be eaten with a fork. Different fats used in the crust will affect the tenderness and the flakiness (believe it or not these are two very different attributes). Tenderness is achieved with butter–think of a melt in your mouth shortbread made with all butter and a hint of flour : ) Butter tends to coat the flour particles in your mix and the result is tenderness. Shortening, on the other hand, tends to create thin layers and contributes to more flakiness. Some people don’t like to use shortening, but a combination of the two can give you the results of flakiness and tenderness–the best of both worlds!!
When it comes to the flour and water, you don’t want a flour that is high in protein (see “Flour Power“!). All purpose is fine. You can even blend in some lower protein cake or pastry flour if you want. The minimum amount of ice water should be added. Most recipes give you a range of water to add since different flours will absorb a different amount of liquid. You should add the liquid little by little so you don’t add too much. The final dough should be moist, but not sticky.
This pie crust recipe is a very good multi purpose recipe. It also has an egg and the addition of some vinegar. The egg adds some structure and richness and the vinegar will help with the flakiness.
Next we have the filling. Since we have the All American apple pie here in this post, we start with apples. Pick the apples of your choice and a lot of them. It is good to fill your crust well with apples since they may cook down a bit in the baking, depending on the variety chosen. There are several varieties out there today that are good for cooking. A few of them are: northern spy, cortland, rome beauty, winesap, granny smith and braeburn. Since apples vary in tartness (and therefore sweetness), choose the level of flavor you want. It is always nice to use a mix of your favorite apples. Then, the sky is the limit on spices, flavoring and sweetness! Now go bake a pie! And if you want to figure out the area of that circular pie…well, I recommend baking. Much more fun!
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup+2T shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold and cut up into pieces
1T vinegar (white or apple cider)
ice water, about 7T
**Since we want to keep the fat in small pieces, we want the dough to stay as cold as possible. This is the reason for the ice water. If you feel like your mixture is too warm, chill it down briefly. Alternately, chill all the ingredients (flour included) to give you a larger window for making your dough.**
Combine the flour and salt. Cut the shortening in to the flour mix to break it down into smaller pieces. Add the cold butter and cut it in until all the fat is about the size of small rocks or large lima beans.
Combine the egg, vinegar and most of the ice water. Add this to the flour mixture and quickly mix with a fork. If the mixture is very dry, add some more water, little by little, until the dough is almost coming together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a time or two to bring the dough together.
3 pounds of tart baking apples, about 6-8 large
about 1/2 cup sugar (part brown sugar if desired)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, fresh grated if possible
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
3-4 Tablespoons of butter, cut up
Peel, core and chop apples into small pieces. Add everything else except the butter and mix well to evenly distribute the ingredients and evenly coat the apples. Allow mixture to sit if possible to macerate in the seasoning.
Meanwhile, roll out 1/2 the pie crust onto a well floured surface to about 1/4-1/8 inch thin, moving the crust often so it does not stick. If the crust feels too soft, put it back in the refrigerator to chill briefly. You don’t want to work the dough too much because this makes the crust tough. Once the crust is the desired thickness, use your rolling pin to roll the crust up and transfer it to a 9 inch pie plate. Trim the edges to leave just a small overhang. Fill the shell with the prepared apples.
Dot the top with the butter pieces. Take the remaining pie dough and repeat the rolling to make the top crust. At this point, you can cut out small shapes to vent the top crust or just simple cut slits once you place it on top. Use the rolling pin again to transfer the top crust to the pie plate. Be sure the crust is up against the apple filling to avoid air pockets in the pie. Crimp the edges together to seal the crust. If you think the dough is not sealing (ie if you have some excess flour on your crust) brush in between the top and bottom crust with a touch of water to help it stick. Cut slits if desired or moisten the back of the cut outs to re-attach to the crust. Chill the pie very well. You can even chill it overnight. Use your extra pie dough scraps to make mini free form galettes or mini pies! Shown here are the bottoms of some mini tagines I have that I am using for pie plates!
Preheat your oven to 400 F. Remove your well chilled pie from the refrigerator. Brush the top with some milk or well beaten egg (this will give a more golden crust). Then sprinkle with sugar or sugar in the raw. Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350F and bake until golden brown and the filling is visibly bubbly, about 50-60 minutes.
Tips From A Cook
*if you don’t want to use a top crust, make a crumble topping! See Tea Time at end of post for a crumble recipe. Top the pie with crumbs and proceed. If the top is browning quickly in your oven, cover the pie with foil and uncover at the end to finish cooking if necessary
*Be creative with your seasoning! Cardamom is a favorite addition when I have it
*Make the pie crust ahead of time and freeze it in two pieces so you can just defrost when needed. It can also be used for savory pies too.
Relax…it’s just baking!