I rarely make pies. Outside of culinary school, I don’t think I’ve made more than a couple of pies on my own. Partly because most of what I bake I take into work and pies are harder to serve to random people stopping by our communal kitchen on my work floor. But mostly because I had built up pie making in my head as something hard to do and I chicken out and make cookies or brownies instead. I’ve had a couple of unsuccessful attempts at pie crust and it was sufficiently discouraging for me to keep pie-making on the back burner. I’ve read all the tips and tricks about making a successful pie crust: start with well-chilled ingredients, handle the dough as little as possible, use all shortening for the flakiest crust, all butter for the most flavorful crust and half butter/half shortening for a good compromise of flavor and flakiness. I even have a baking book devoted solely to PIE and also have the aforementioned 3 pie tins but I have yet to add pies to my normal baking repertoire. Don’t ask me why I’m so sufficiently prepared with these things to bake pies with when I hardly ever do. I’m just a baking hoarder.
But part of this baking challenge is about using what I already have and that includes both cookbooks and baking implements. Tackling a pie seemed like a good way to use both. My favorite pie is hands-down the all-American apple pie. I rarely eat any other kind of pie so that was a natural choice to make. I cracked open my Pie cookbook since it seemed like a baking book devoted solely to pies would be good for a pie novice like me. Once I got over being overwhelmed by all the different choices of crusts and fillings, I found the directions pretty straight-forward so I forged ahead. I chose the Basic Flaky Pie Pastry recipe (basic = good when you’re a novice) and the Cooked Fruit Apple Pie filling recipe. I was tempted to make the Caramel Pecan Apple pie recipe but since I felt I just had my training wheels on with pie-making, I didn’t want to overreach on this first effort. Walk before you run.
Let me just say the directions were not only easy to follow but were true to their word – my pie crust actually turned out really well! The dough was easy to handle and it came out with the right amount of flakiness and flavor that I was hoping for. Wow. I did chill the mixing bowl, rolling pin, water, butter and shortening beforehand and after I mixed the dough, I chilled that too. Ironically, it was my filling that I wasn’t too wild about. I was so concerned about the crust that I hadn’t given much thought to the filling. I used half Golden Delicious apples and half Granny Smith since I was used to baking with Granny Smiths for apple cobblers. Mistake. The recipe tips even say NOT to use any other apples but Golden Delicious since they won’t hold up as well in the cooking stage. He was right and I was wrong. The Granny Smiths got too soft and mushy while the Golden Delicious was still firm, almost too firm, but I couldn’t cook them much longer without turning the grannies into applesauce. The filling was also a bit bland – next time I’d add a little more lemon juice and cinnamon. The recipe doesn’t say to brush with egg wash but after 10-15 minutes of baking time, the crust was browning but didn’t look like it was on its way to a beautiful brown color so I cracked open an egg, whisked it and brushed it over the top crust. After that it browned beautifully golden.
Overall I was pretty pleased with this pie. I mean, Marie Callendar’s and Bakers Square have nothing to fear from me or anything but I know how to make it better for next time and I feel sufficiently confident that a good pie crust is doable with the right recipe. This baking excursion showed me that making pies isn’t hard, it’s just time consuming given the amount of chilling that needs to take place. I’d still only make pies on a weekend or when I have a day off since this isn’t something I can whip up one night after work. Ken Haedrich does suggest you can always make up batches of pie dough ahead of time, portion them out into crust sizes, put them in the freezer and just take them out to thaw when you need them. I’ll have to try that since I know this won’t be the last time I’m going to make apple pie. Have to give those pie tins more of a workout.
NOTE: My notes and what I did differently to the recipe as highlighted in blue within the recipe.
Basic Flaky Pie Pastry
For a single crust
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
¼ cup cold water
For a double crust
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces
½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
½ cup cold water
1. (I chilled all ingredients and baking implements thoroughly first) To make by hand: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Toss well, by hand, to mix. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and toss to mix. Using 2 knives, cut or rub the butter into the flour until it is broken into pieces the size of small peas. Add the shortening and continue to cut until all of the fat is cut into small pieces. Sprinkle half of the water over the mixture. Toss well with a fork to dampen the mixture. Add the remaining water, 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons at a time, and continue to toss and mix, pulling the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl on the upstroke and gentle pressing down on the downstroke. Dough made by hand often needs a bit more water. If necessary, add water 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time until the pastry can be packed.
2. Using your hands, pack the pastry into a ball (or 2 balls if you are making a double crust). If you’re making a double crust, make one ball slightly larger than the other; this will be your bottom crust. Knead each ball once or twice, then flatten the balls into ¾” thick disks on a floured work surface. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight before rolling.
Cooked-Fruit Apple Pie
1 recipe Basic Flaky Pie Pastry, Double Crust, refrigerated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 cups peeled, cored, and thickly sliced (about 1/3-inch thick) Golden Delicious apples (do not substitute other apples)
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (additional teaspoon wouldn't hurt)
½ cup dark raisins (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (can use up to 1/2 teaspoon if desired)
1. If you haven’t already, prepare the pastry and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.
2. On a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper, roll the larger portion of the pastry into a 12-inch circle with a floured rolling pin. Invert the pastry over a 9-inch standard pie pan, center and peel off the paper. Gently tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, and let the overhang drape over the edge. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. It's okay if you see lumps of butter and/or shortening in the dough.
3. Melt the butter in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples and cool, stirring very often, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add most of the sugar, reserving a tablespoon or two, and continue to cook, still stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes. As the apples cool, mix the remaining sugar with the cornstarch. Stir this mixture into the apples and cook for another minute. The apples should have shrunk by now but they should still have some of their crunch. Transfer the apples to a large, shallow casserole. Stir in the lemon juice, raisins and cinnamon. Spread the filling evenly in the casserole and let cool thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 400˚F when it’s almost there.
4. Turn the cooked filling into the chilled pie shell and smooth the top with your hands. Roll the other half of the pastry into a 10-inch circle on a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper. Moisten the outer edge of the pie shell with a pastry brush. Invert the top pastry over the filling, center and peel off the paper. Press the top and bottom pastries together along the dampened edge. Using the back of a butter knife, trim the pastry flush with the edge of the pan. With the back of a fork, press the tines all along the edge to seal. Poke several steam vents in the top of the pie with the fork. Brush with egg wash (1 lightly whisked egg - it's okay if you don't use all the egg, just make sure you cover the top).
5. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until nicely browned, 40 to 45 minutes. Rotate the pie 180˚ halfway through the baking, so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. You should not experience any trouble with the pie bubbling over, but just in case, slide a large aluminum foil-lined baking sheet onto the rack below. My pie bubbled over very slightly so I advise either baking on a cookie sheet or putting sheets of aluminum foil on the lower oven rack.
6. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.