It’s Easy as Pie
Tonight I am having dinner with friends and I was asked to bring dessert. Since my friends are making home made chicken chili and corn bread, I figured I’d step up to the plate and make my famous apple pie, crust and all.
Did I just say home made pie crust? I sure did.
People are intimidated by making pie crust, I’m not sure why. My grandmother taught me how to do it when I was just a kid, and I’ve been baking pies ever since.
Practice makes perfect, it really does.
Start with a Good Recipe
I like Ken’s All-American Double Crust recipe better than any other I’ve ever used. It’s pretty much just like what Granny used to make, the perfect blend of butter and veggie shortening. I really don’t need to follow the instructions, I just use it to remind me of the increments of the ingredients. And as you can see, I use less water.
Step by Step Pie Crust
Many people prefer the food processor for making pie crust dough, but I love my stand mixer. I’ve used it for years and I must say that it’s MUCH better than making dough by hand, cutting the butter in with criss-crossed knives like Granny did! NO thank you.
I start by adding the flour to the mixing bowl, then I throw in the sugar and the salt and turn it on a slow mix setting.
Once the dry ingredients are blended, I take the butter out of the fridge and cut it into small slivers with a paring knife, dropping directly into the churning mixer.
I keep my vegetable shortening in the fridge, and I purchase it in sticks versus the tub. I’ll never use a full tub before it spoils, so best to purchase in smaller quantities. Same process with the shortening and the paring knife as the butter, again dropping it directly into the blending mixer bowl.
On slow speed, I watch the mixer make smaller pieces of the butter and veggie shortening as it intersperses with the flour mixture . When the pieces are evenly distributed I begin to add the ice water. For me, ice water consists of a full glass of cubes with a little water added and swirled around to make it very cold. I dribble the water (fingers over it to keep the ice from falling into the mixer. Been there, done that) into the churning mixture a very small amount at a time and waiting a few seconds in between to watch the consistency of the dough. Once the dough starts to cling together no more water is needed. Let the mixer pull the dough together until it is in the very beginning stages of becoming a ball, but not longer. Remember, chilled and chunky. You don’t want to overwork the dough at any point.
Take the dough out of the mixer and divide it into two equal sized balls. Wrap the dough balls in wax paper and throw them in the refrigerator for the time it takes you to prepare the apples — at least 10 minutes. Note: you can freeze pie crust for up to six months if you want to make one in advance for next time while you are in the groove.
Preparing the Apples
While the dough chills, it’s time to prepare the apples. The idea behind refrigerating the dough is that you never want the butter and veggie shortening to melt completely into the flour, keeping it chilled and chunky is key.
Preparing the apples is an art, and the heart of making a successful pie filling. The idea is to keep the slices as thin as you can and to season them just right.
I have a Chef’n serrated peeler that fits over my index finger — I love it. Just be careful, it will peel your knuckles just as easily! This tool helps me zip through the peeling job. I peel my apples into the sink, but DO NOT ever put peels down your disposal, they will cling to the sides and clog it up. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way. After the peeling is completed, I scoop the peels out of the sink and put them into the kitchen trash can.
I use a moderately dull paring knife to cut and core my apples so that I don’t cut and core my fingers in the process. After I cut the apple completely around and through, I twist the knife to “crack” the apple into two halves.
I then take the two halves and quarter them. From the quarters I cut out the cores and the skin bits on the top and bottom.
They key to slicing the quarters into slivers, is to get them as thin as you can. Thin slivers will cook more thoroughly than thick pieces, because Granny Smith apples are very crisp. I prefer Granny’s because they are so firm, they do not turn to mush in the baking process. These apples are also tart, which helps to offset the sugar and spices added to the pie filling.
Again I’m sure that some would argue that using a mandoline slicer wold be a time saver, but this chef just does not have enough storage space for so many bulky appliances! The slicing would be more streamlined, and the slivers would be paper thin, however the danger of removing fingers in the process is a serious consideration for this torn paper artist.
Practice, practice, with the paring knife.
Tips and Tricks
Aside from peeling and coring your apples into the sink and then scooping that mess into the trash (this avoids a stiff lower back from working over the trash can, as well as a clogged garbage disposal.) my other favorite trick is to slice my apples into a plastic bag. I use the bag as sort of a giant Shake-n-Bake situation for the spices and the sugar.
Just don’t forget to remove the sales receipt.
Here’s where it gets a little sketchy. I don’t measure the spices. I just shake them into the bag and give a visual inspection. I can tell you that I use more cinnamon than anything and less cloves than anything, the others are in the middle. If you pressed me for the increments it would probably go like this:
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 Cup of white sugar
I disperse the spices directly over the apples and into the bag. I add a cup of sugar and then shake it all up until the apples are completely coated with the sugar and spice mixture. Set the bag aside while you roll out the pie crust. I typically put it in the sink, because inevitably there is a hole in the bag and the stickiness leaks out and makes a mess. This is no problem to clean up in the sink.
The time the sugar, spice, and fruit mixture sits aside, it will begin macerating, creating a syrupy sweet sauce.
Roll With It
The rolling out of the crust is what people seem to fear the most. Have no fear, do some deep yoga breathing and just roll with it. You do want to try to get it right the first time, because remember that the idea is to keep that butter and veggie shortening in chilled chunks. The more you handle the dough, the warmer it gets. Chilled chunks = flaky crust.
Flakey is good when it comes to crust.
I no longer have a rolling pin, somehow it got lost in the recent shuffle of my life. I was tempted to buy a new one, but when I lived in London we got by with a wine bottle, and so I’ve enjoyed reminiscing. Recently I was in an antique store Napa, CA and saw glass rolling pins! So, it seems my wine bottle is not so far fetched after all.
I have a silicone rolling mat I put over the table that gives me a clean, non-stick surface to roll the dough on. I like this because I can wipe it down easily and it keeps the mess on my polka-dotted kitchen table to a minimum. If you don’t have such kitchen gadgetry, you can work directly onto a clean, dry surface.
I roll the dough outward from the center, moving the rolling pin around to keep an even thickness and to push the shape of the dough to form a circle. Add a little flour on the mat and gently spin the rolled dough around to distribute a little flour underneath it. The goal is to get the dough large enough to fit into the pie pan, so shoot for a circle with a diameter that is about three inches larger than the pan. This accounts for the height of the edges and some overhang for crimping.
Since I am taking the pie to dinner with friends and bringing my A-Game, I’m using my extra fancy Emile Henry ruffled pie dish. This look makes for a special presentation. It may prove impossible to extract a piece of pie out of this dish without making a mess, but it’s form over function people!
It’s better to look good, than to feel good. (if you are missing this pop culture reference, click here, or if you just want to relive some of Billy Crystal’s mad humor.)
Once the dough is rolled into the proper sized circle, gently fold it in half onto itself so that it may be transferred to the pie pan. Slide the pie pan close to the dough and carefully make the move.
Once you move the folded dough from the table into the dish, quickly unfold it and make sure it’s centered. Press the dough gently into the sides pan and leave the excess to overhang the edges.
Filling the Well
It’s time to transfer the Shake-n-Bake bag of sticky sweet fruit into the pan. Pour the apples into the prepared pan, gently packing them down to fill all the spaces in between the slivered pieces. The apples shrink down during baking, packing them will eliminate a lot of extra space between the apples and the crust.
Roll the top crust in the same process as the bottom, folding it in half and transferring it on top of the fruit filing. Remove the excess dough hanging over the edges, crimping it into the ruffled edges with your index finger (see image). Don’t throw away the extra dough!
We have plans for that.
Topping it All Off
Whip up an egg white until it’s foamy and light (see image), in order to spread it easily over the top crust and edges. This will create a crunchy, golden glazed surface. I spread the egg white with a silicone brush and then shake sugar onto it before I put it in the oven. I put the pie in the sink (again with the sink) when I vigorously shake the sugar, so that the over-spray is not all over my table or the counter. This way I can just rinse the excess down the drain.
This is Where the Magic Happens
Baking blends all the flavors, creates crispy textures, and makes for apple pie goodness. Your pie needs to be in the center rack of the oven an hour at 350º I suggest putting a baking sheet on the rack under it to catch any sticky drippy overflow and keep the bottom of your oven clean.
Another good tool is the pie crust edge protector. Let’s be real, recipe books suggest you shield the edges from overcooking/burning with tin foil. Really? Have you ever tried to do that? Frustrating, to say the least. One side is on, the other side falls off. You squeeze the foil in an attempt to get it to stay, and you mess up your lovely fluted edge! I love this pie crust ring for the job.
So, apple pie magic takes an hour in the oven. Today I took the dogs for a walk while the pie cooked. The weather was sunny and the sky was blue, it was a nice day for a walk. We dilly-dallied enough in our travels that my timer was going off when I came into the door of my apartment.
And it’s Perfect!
So, after an hour your filing should be bubbling and the crust golden brown. Take the pie out of the oven and let it cool on a baking rack. Slightly warm is a good way to serve your pie à la mode with vanilla bean ice cream. Your friends and family will all be impressed as all get out with your Bad Ass Betty Crocker Self.
Trust me, I know from experience.
Remember that excess crust? I roll it out and use cookie cutters to make some very yummy treats. Bake them at 350º until every so slightly brown on the edges. I use a silicone baking sheet on my cookie trays so that I never have to worry about anything sticking. (Not just cookies, veggies and meats too,)
Waste not, want not. As Granny used to say.
And I’m Off!
I’m off to my friends for dinner.
I’ll let you know how the pie goes over.
Thank you for being
a part of my