Sunday, January 08, 2012

secrets of apple pie from scratch

This is awkward for me to admit, but my standard for good apple pie is a vague memory of the fried apple pies McDonald's had when I was a child. The ones they sell now aren't nearly the same. I'm pretty sure the old ones were fried in lard, because this was pre 1984/animal-farms-are-bad/it's-a-brave-new-world of-corn-oil days.

Anyhoo, in my mind apple pie filling should have a perfect balance of sweet/tart/spicy; it should be juicy, but not runny or gummy, and the crust should have a flaky top and a cooky-chewy underside.

Keeping in mind that pie-baking is more art than science, so your mileage may vary. 

4 granny smith apples
2 large braeburn apples
juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cups brown sugar
3/4 tsp Penzey's Cake Spice*
pinch salt
dab butter

Peel & core apples, and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Mix together all filling ingredients in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven. Cover and cook on LOW heat, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes, or until the apples are soft enough to pierce with a fork. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl or pan to cool. Stir occasionally while cooling. There will be a lot of run-off juices but don't worry; you need those.

Pie crust:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour. (see measuring note)
1/3 c unsalted butter, cold, cut in small pieces
1/3 c lard, cold (or use all butter)**
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs sugar
1/3 cup ice water
(optional) egg white

Preheat oven to 400ยบ F.

Note on measuring flour. Like many know-it-all cooks, I ignored the advice to fluff up my flour and spoon it into the measuring cup. This is good advice and should not be ignored. If you scoop with the measuring cup, the flour gets compacted and you end up with more than is actually needed. Then your baked goods come out dry and don't rise as well.

So, lightly scoop flour into measuring cups, level with knife, and add to mixing bowl. Add other dry ingredients and mix a few times with fingers. Add fats in small pieces. Put both hands in the bowl and mash the fats and flour together with your fingers, squeezing and rubbing the mixture between your palms until it is semi-homogenized. Lard is softer than butter and will combine faster. It's ok if you still have a few smallish chunks of butter in the mix, as long as all the flour is incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. 

Next, drizzle in approx. 1/3 cup very cold water (Add in small amounts; I usually need less than the full 1/3 cup). Work it in with your fingers. The dough will wad together and get sticky. When it all holds together, put a generous dusting of flour on your work surface and turn the dough out onto it.

Lightly pat the dough into a thick disc, lightly pat some flour on top and fold it over a couple of times. Pat more flour over the dough and the board if necessary. Fold over a couple more times, but don't squash it and don't knead it. Just gently pat out and fold. Use your hands to roll the dough into a loose fat cylinder and twist to divide in half. 

Have your pie plate handy, and line a dinner plate with a piece of parchment paper. Make room in your fridge for these items (they can be stacked if necessary). Chilling is a big deal with pie crust but I never saw the point in chilling a wad of dough that just got re-warmed by the time I was done rolling it out and fiddling with it. So now I roll it and THEN chill. Goes much faster. (Note: make sure your pie plate can handle the transition from fridge to oven!)

Roll out half the dough until very thin and/or big enough to fill the pie plate bottom. Lay the bottom crust in the pie plate and stick in the fridge to chill. Roll out the top crust and lay it out on the parchment paper. Sling that in the fridge for 5-10 minutes.

When your crust is chilled and your apple filling is room-temperature, pour the filling (and juices!) in the pie plate and lay the top crust on. Trim off any excess and pinch the crusts together all around the edge. This crust will shrink a bit, so the pie will hold together better and look prettier if the edges are crimped.

If you want, brush the top crust with a little egg white & water beat together, then sprinkle with sugar. This makes a lovely, brown sugary crispy top.

Place pie in center of oven and put a drip pan or foil-covered cookie sheet on the rack below, because this WILL boil over. Bake for 35-45 minutes. I know that's quite a spread but I suspect my oven is less hot than many peoples'. The top should be a nice dark brown. The sugar will brown a lot so don't be alarmed if it looks a little dark.


*Penzey's Cake Spice is a blend of cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cloves. I know, I don't like cloves either, but in tiny amounts they add an aromatic bitterness that balances the other flavors. You can order it here.

**I am rather smug that I can get freshly rendered lard from the butcher near me. It's awesome for frying, and it really makes a difference in the lightness and flakiness of biscuits and pie crusts. It can be difficult to find but I recommend trying it if you get the chance. The partially-hydrogenated stuff in the grocery store (assuming you can even find THAT) has a similar texture but the taste tends to be slightly metallic.

1 comment:

Alien Life Form said...

I am so happy to hear your apple pie standard is also the old McDonald's fried pies. Those hold the same space in my heart as the pizza and italian ice's from New York. Yum.