Friday, November 20, 2009

The Apple of My Pie

I have not been making apple pie very long, but I have learned a lot in the time I have been baking it. In fact, next week will probably break my record of "most pie made in one time" by a long shot. Em and I are traveling back to Connecticut to have Thanksgiving with her parents, a somewhat annual tradition. This means a lot of pie. Apple, first and foremost. John (Em's dad) makes some of the best apple pie this world has ever seen, and I'm willing to put money on that. He makes pie for pretty much any occasion, because, hey, who doesn’t like pie?

Apple pie is really to separate entities, the crust and the filling. For the crust, I have become a huge fan of the Cook's Illustrated "add vodka" pie crust. As a scientist this greatly appeals to me. Water in crust causes gluten formation, which leads to a chewy and not pleasant crust. Well, vodka is only 40% water, so by adding this in addition to water you are under-hydrating the dough, allowing for an easier roll out. When the pie bakes (for quite some time), about 95-98% of the alcohol will burn off, leaving you with a wonderfully flaky crust. Also, as I previously stated in a post, using lard or shortening is important. Its fat structure allows for a better crust, where butter brings mostly flavor. Don't be afraid! I did back down a little on the fat because I feel it makes the pie slightly greasy, but not much.

For the filling, make sure to acquire a good type of apple. Granny Smith, Northern Spy, or Golden Delicious are all very good pie apples. Try to cut them into uniform slices to allow for even baking. And eat some of it. This will tell you how much sugar you will need to add (I have learned that making apple pie is really more of an art than a recipe). John and I differ slightly in our method of preparing the filling. I like to mix the apples with the sugar mixture before placing them in the crust (I feel it makes the pie more evenly distributed), he prefers to layer the apples and sprinkle the sugar mixture as he goes. Either way is good.

Crust

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2/3 cup cold lard or vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Add 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, 15 seconds. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. Using a spatula to mix, fold dough by pressing down on dough until slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two roughly even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Filling

6-8 apples (Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or a mix), approximately 3-4 pounds
2/3-2/4 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of apples)
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons cream or milk
Additional sugar or cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425°F and arrange rack to lower part of the oven.

Peel and core apples. Slice into even slices approximately ¼ inch thick. Place apples in a large bowl with enough water to cover and about 2 tablespoons lemon juice (prevents browning). In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Drain apples well (I recommend patting them dry with a kitchen towel) and transfer to a large bowl. Add sugar mixture and coat apples well.

Roll out one pie crust disk on a lightly floured surface and arrange in a 9 inch pie dish. Arrange apples in circular layers, mounding slightly more in the middle. (Alternatively, layer apples with the sugar mixture if you don’t want to mix it ahead of time.)

Dot the butter on the top of the apples. Roll out the other crust, making it slightly larger than the first (you want a little bit of overhang). Brush the edges of the bottom crust with milk (helps adhesion). Fold the top crust in half and make two small cuts for vents. Arrange top crust over pie. Using a paring knife, cut the excess crust so that about ½-1 inch is left hanging below the lip of the pie. Using your thumb, pinch together the edges of the dough, sealing the bottom and top crust. Tuck the crimped edges back underneath the crust (essentially rolling it into itself so it is even with the pan edge) and flute with fingers or fork. This gives you that pretty pie crust look.

Brush the top with milk or cream (I find egg causes too much browning, but you can use egg white). Sprinkle sugar or cinnamon sugar over top

Bake for 50 minutes or until the pie is deep golden brown and the apples are bubbling (might have to go a few extra minutes). Let cool for 3-4 hours before slicing.

4 comments:

My Man's Belly November 20, 2009 at 2:05 PM  

I love to see the lumpy bumpy crust that tops a homemade apple pie. This one sounds terrific!

Vegetable Matter November 20, 2009 at 2:39 PM  

Never heard of vodka crust, but it makes sense. We'll try your crust for our next pie.

Miranda November 20, 2009 at 2:50 PM  

mmmh. This does look like the absolute perfect apple pie. Thank you for sharing it before the holidays.

Jessie November 22, 2009 at 1:54 PM  

yummy apple pie, perfect for thanksgiving

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