Thursday, December 2, 2010

Apple Pie

My grandma was known for her pies. She never made cakes that I can remember. She did have some tasty cookie recipes, but if there was one recipe that said “Grandma” it was pie. She made pumpkin pies, custard pies, strawberry rhubarb pies, and of course, apple pies. I remember afternoons spent helping her make crusts, and using the leftover scraps to make our own little desserts (that usually tasted pretty bad). As a child, I had no idea that my Grandma wasn't just having fun. She was doing real work. Hard work! Apple pie is one of those things that seems so simple, and yet it’s so hard to make. And that’s the kind of challenge I can’t pass up.

This recipe is a mish mash of a few different recipes. I took the crust and modified the filling from Smitten Kitchen, and the crumbly top from Very Culinary. It has a lot of steps and is definitely a full day of baking, so I would save this for a weekend or holiday when you have plenty of time.

The Crust
My grandmother always used Crisco (vegetable shortening) in her crusts, and a lot of people swear by it. But I went for an all butter crust. I halved the recipe at Smitten since I was only making a bottom crust. If you are making a top and bottom, double it.
1 ¼  cups flour
½  tablespoon sugar
½  teaspoon salt
1 sticks unsalted butter, very cold
½ cup cold water, with ice cubes

The very cold butter is a must, so don’t take it out of the fridge until you are ready to use it. I actually cut mine into cubes and then put it back in the fridge to let it harden again. Whisk together the dry ingredients and then add in the butter cut into small cubes. This part calls for a pastry blender, which I don’t have, but will be getting after attempting to make this without one. You can just get your hands in there and try to break up the butter and incorporate the flour, but a pastry blender makes it so much easier. And they are cheap—around $5-$15 depending on where you go. When the butter is the size of tiny peas, drip in about a third of the water (no cubes). Use a rubber spatula or your hands to bring the flour and butter together into a dough. You may use more of the water, but add it very slowly (by the tablespoon, preferably) and don’t use too much. Once the dough is… well… doughy, form it into a small ball, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the fridge for two hours.

When you’re done, it’s time to roll out the dough. I’m going to let you read Smitten’s tutorial on it since she explains it so well. Just remember to be patient and go slow.

The Filling
I modified this recipe from Smitten based on the ingredients, her comments, and the fact that I was adding a sugary top, so I didn’t want so much sugar in the filling. I used gala apples, but you can use granny smith or macintosh, or whatever you prefer.
Gala Apples (about 6-8 medium)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Peel and cut up the apples, keeping the slices as uniform as possible. Cut the apples into fours, and then each fourth into fours. Use your common sense here as far as the amount of apples goes. If it seems like way too many, it probably is. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together, then mix them all into the apples, making sure they are all covered. Pour them into the bottom crust.

The Topping
I like a crumble top so much better than a regular dough top. I just think it brings the right sweetness and flavor to the whole thing. I modified this crumble top from a crumble bar recipe, again, halving it because I didn’t need as much. I also opted not to use the egg it called for, and didn’t miss it.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Mix the dry ingredients together well, then add the butter on top and incorporate it the same way you did with the dough (again, a pastry blender would help here). When the butter pieces are pea sized, you can sprinkle it on top of the apples, making sure the whole thing is evenly covered.

To cook your pie, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with a lipped baking sheet on the bottom most rack. To be honest, I’m not sure why you do this, but it was in the instructions, so I did it. When you’re ready to put in the pie, turn it down to 425 and bake for about 20-25 minutes. You want the topping to get a little golden brown, but not burn. Then turn the oven down to 375 and cook for 30-35 minutes more.

Overall, this turned out pretty tasty for my first recent try. A couple things I’d do differently… I made the mistake of cooking a little less than the recipe called for and the apples were a touch too crisp for my liking. I also like a juicier filling, so I might add a few tablespoons of milk or butter the next time. Finally, I had to roll the dough out twice because I got the size wrong the first time, which I think made it a little chewier, so if you can get it right the first time, good on you!

Well, there it is. Like I said, it’s not a simple recipe, but it’s pretty impressive and tastes great. And who knows, someday maybe you’ll be the pie lady in your family.

(Click here for printable recipe)

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