As American as Birthday Pie (flaky apple pie)
It’s been a while since I was able to undertake a crazy baking project. So when a rare free evening opened up, I sprung on the chance to go for broke. Especially when I realized that my free night was falling right before a labmate’s birthday. Jacques moved to the States only a couple of months ago from, as is consistent with his fictionalized name, French Belgium. With his birthday approaching, Jacques elaborated on the treats and attention he usually demands from friends and co-workers on his special day, quick to point out that he wouldn’t be asking the same of us. That is, at least not this year, so soon after he met us.
Jacques was without a doubt joking, but I’ve been eyeing apple pie recipes for a while now and things just came together. I was going to get my big baking evening and Jacques was going to get an elaborate birthday dessert, gosh darnit. Yes, I’ll take any excuse to bake.
I won’t pretend that this recipe is super quick or painless, but I will yell from a mountain top about how amazing it tasted. The crust flaked up so much that it looked like phyllo dough and the apples were spiced to perfection, maintaining just enough of their integrity to look pretty and offer the slightest hint of a crunch, before melting away in your mouth. All in all, it’s worth the extra effort.
Everyone who ate it agreed. The list of happy tasters included Amanda, since I brought the final slice to her, wrapped in tin foil, when we met at a restaurant last week. While the establishment’s other customers may have given us bewildered looks, I’m pretty sure that was only out of jealousy. If not, I’m okay with looking tacky in public for a pie this heavenly.
All-American Apple Pie
I’m going to present this recipe as two separate parts – one for the filling and pie crust. The pie crust can be used for any sweet pie – whether lattice, single- or double-crust. So many recipes mention fallen lattices with apple pie, so I’ve decided to reserve those for summer blueberry pies.
As far as timing goes, this is how I managed. Two nights before pie day, I prepared the dough and placed it in the fridge overnight. The night before Pie Day, I first prepared the pie filling. That was set aside while I rolled out the dough and, finally, I assembled the pie. Like this recipe, the pie assembly night will be a long one, but it will be so so worth it. Most of the recipe text is more tip than instruction, so even the most amateur cook should be able to succeed in making a pie worthy of any setting.
Apple Pie Filling
Adapted from multiple sources, but mostly King Arthur’s Flour
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled
4 Macintosh apples, peeled (you should have a total of 3.5lbs of apples)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup boiled cider (cranberry or apple, optional)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
If you have an apple corer, core and slice your apples that way. Otherwise, cut apples into four wedges and remove core using a paring knife. Cut each wedge into 1/8 inch wedges. You should end up with 8 cups of sliced apples. In a large bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. This will keep your apple slices from turning brown. If using, add boiled cider. Mix well.
Mix dry ingredients together in a medium bowl and then add to apples. Thoroughly combine.
All-Butter, Flaky Pie Crust:
Taken from Smitten Kitchen; I’ve never bothered playing around with this one because it always comes out perfect. Recipe good for one double-crust, or two single-crust pies.
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, kept very cold
1 cup ice cold water
As Deb elaborates in her crust bible, this crust is all about keeping everything cold. For every minute the ingredients spend in your fridge, you’ll get one flakiness-unit more of deliciousness in the end product. You may want to make some space in your freezer before starting this project.
Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Place the butter back in the fridge. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Throw the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes.
Use a pastry blender (or your hands) to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. You don’t need to work too hard here, just until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
Add 1/2 cup of the cold water. Mix the water into the dough with a wooden spoon. Keep adding water one tablespoon at a time until dough starts coming together. You shouldn’t need the full cup of water, only enough to bring the dough into a ball.
Divide the dough into two pieces. My pieces were both right about 15 ounces.
Pat the dough down into round flats, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and throw them in the fridge. You have two options here. You can wait 30 minutes or overnight. I find letting the dough rest overnight makes the pie-baking process a little less crazy. Alternatively, you can freeze the dough for a week or two and thaw in the fridge overnight before using. If letting the dough cool for anytime longer than 30 minutes, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling; also, be sure to wrap twice in plastic wrap to keep fridge/freezer odors out.
Make sure your pie filling is ready or pretty-darn-close-to-ready by the time you start rolling out the dough. Use a rolling pin and a well-floured surface to roll out your dough to a 13-inch circle. After every couple of strokes, lift dough up off of surface with a pastry scraper (or your hands) to make sure it’s not sticking.
Transfer the bottom crust to your 9-inch buttered pie tin. I usually lightly fold it into thirds (like a letter) to make the transfer easier. Cut off the edges of the crust and save scraps. Throw pie tin in the fridge while you make any last minute filling preparations and roll out the other half of dough to an 11-inch circle.
Retrieve pie tin. If your filling is especially runny (like apple pie filling), take King Arthur’s tip and add a small amount (about a tablespoon) of panko bread crumbs to the bottom crust. This is by no means necessary, but makes the bottom crust less soggy.
Add filling. For apple pie, I took King Arthur’s suggestion and added 2 tablespoons of cut-up butter on top of the filling. Add top pie crust. Use your fingers to create a seal between the top and bottom crusts, trimming any extra pie crust. For a touch of fancy, use your thumbs and forefinger to crimp the edges. Slice through the top crust however suits your fancy. This lets the hot steam escape the crust without creating massive bubbles in the crust.
Now, what does the waste-averse cook do with the dough scraps? First, you can use some to decorate the top of your pie crust. Here I took a tiny cookie cutter and made dough stars for the top of the crust. I still had a lot of leftover dough, as well as extra filling, so I was able to make one of my favorites – personal ramekin pie. Especially when you’re baking for an event, it’s nice to be able to get some idea of how the pie will turn out without breaking into the pie before the big moment. Throw some dough at the bottom of a ramekin and add the filling. I made a top crust too this time, but I actually find it’s better to leave personal pies open-face.
Wash the crust with milk or cream and then throw it all in the freezer for thirty minutes. During this time, preheat your oven.
Back to apple pie-specific instructions, preheat oven to 425˚F. Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the oven. It’s much easier to throw out parchment paper than to clean up pie drippings from the bottom of your oven. Bake pie for 20 minutes at 425˚F and then reduce temperature to 375˚F and let pie bake for an additional 40 minutes.
Let pie cool on baking sheet for at least 4 hours. Pie can be kept for two days at room temperature. If you absolutely must assemble pie longer than two days in advance, it’s best to freeze pie unbaked and thaw overnight in the fridge before baking as above.