As usual, when I feel weak in an area of cooking, I turn to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated. They are the “how” and “why it works” people. So, I suspect you will agree that a person nutty enough to name their blog after a dessert probably ought to know how to do it, right? Who can’t make a killer apple pie? Well, until yesterday, I hadn’t. I’ve made some passable apple pies. I’ve made some awesome apple crisps. I’ve made some rustic apple tart thingies. They are great because they are kind of ugly on purpose…which I love. But, an awesome apple pie…not so much.
Apple pie is the basis. It is the number one classic pie in my mind. It is grandma and flags and all that great stuff.
Excuse me if I go off on a tangent for a moment. Speaking of grandmas…I went to an estate sale last week. It killed me because every person walked right by a collection of hand sewn aprons. For eight dollars I walked out of this sweet little gingerbread house with two of the loveliest little aprons you have ever seen. And it made me so sad. This world is tooooo fast. It is so fast, and this little sweet woman just faded out of the world and all of these little jewels were left to be fumbled through and crumpled and tossed aside. It killed me. So go visit your grandma.
Anyway, back to how happy I am again about the BEST PIE I HAVE EVER MADE!!!! It is absolutely, completely, (almost) verbatim from The Best Recipe Cookbook. And the secret ingredient that makes it all work, lemon zest.
One thing to think about before you begin. I have always blamed myself for ugly pie crusts. During this experiment I had an “aha” moment when it occurred to me that my air vent in my kitchen blows directly on my kitchen island. So, when the heater is on, my kitchen island counter stays fairly warm. This was completely monkey-ing with my ability to roll out a nice crust. Everything was getting sticky and difficult very quickly. I solved this by moving to another spot. I also tried putting ice cubes in a plastic bag and leaving them on the counter for a while before I started rolling. This works too. If you do this, just make sure there isn’t a lot of moisture on your counter before you actually lay down the dough.
Onward and upward…
Crusts (for two, nine inch crusts):
2 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
8 tablespoons Crisco (yes, the white shortening), chilled
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
2 pounds Granny Smith Apples (4 ish)]
2 pounds McIntosh Apples (4 ish)
¾ cup sugar (plus 1 tablespoon for dusting)
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon zest from one lemon
¼ teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Mix the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into the flour with 5 one-second pulses. Add shortening and pulse until flour resembles coarse corn meal. The butter bits should be no larger than peas. Put it in a mixing bowl and sprinkle the water on top of the dough. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the water until the dough sticks together, adding up to another 2 tablespoons of water, if needed. Divide the dough into two portions and flatten each into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to two days…yay!!!).
Take one disk out of the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place the rack in the middle position.
Roll one disk into a 12 inch circle. Transfer it to the pie plate. I do this by rolling up the dough on my pin and then unrolling it over the pie plate. I have had very good luck with this method. Press the dough gently into place and leave the overhang. Avoid stretching the dough to fit.
Peel the apples, and slice them into ½ inch slices. I cut them into smaller chunks so that the individual pieces are about 1 inch square, approximately. Toss with the sugar, lemon juice, zest, salt and spices. May I suggest that you wash your hands and just dig in there to mix it. Otherwise you will have apple chucks flying everywhere and not achieve a good dispersal of the sugar. Put the fruit, including juices, into the shell and mound slightly in the center.
Roll out the second disk and place it over the filling. Trim the edges to about a ½ inch overhang, and then tuck the top under the bottom lip and press so that you can get a good seal. I then press my edges with a fork, but you should do it however you like so that it makes you smile. Above all, you should be smiling at this point.
Cut a few slits on the top. It is suggested by the geniuses who originated this recipe that you can put this in the freezer for about 10 minutes if the crust has gotten too soft at this point. I believe this all relates to how the butter explodes with flavor and goodness while the pie is baking, but I’m not yet skilled enough to explain that bit to you.
Before you put the pie in the oven, brush it with slightly beaten egg whites and sprinkle the remaining sugar on the top. Bake at 425 for 25 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and continue baking until the crust is a deep golden color. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for at least 4 hours if you have the self control.
Two final thoughts: There is a nifty silicon hoop you can buy to protect your pie edges. I found it was absolutely necessary for the last 15 minutes. You can also fashion one out of foil, of course. But my edges were getting pretty “golden” there at the end. Also, this is ridiculously good when served with Blue Bell’s Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream.