Not my actual pie, but it looks like this, crammed full of apples. Yum!
So my friend Nicole wrote from California for advice on making an apple pie to bring to Thanksgiving dinner with her boyfriend’s family. You know, how to impress his mom?
I’m no pie expert, since I am easily intimidated by crust (or intimidated by cleaning the food processor afterwards), but I love to make apple crisp and other crisps, so I do have a fair amount of experience with the guts of the pie—making and eating it. Which is what she is looking for anyway, since she confessed to me that her little friend Mr. Pillsbury would be making the crust. Way to delegate, Nicole!
But I do have an excellent apple pie recipe, including crust, and the few times I have made this I am left thinking I am something of a pie expert. Try it, you’ll feel the same way! While it seems like a bit of a nuisance to cook the apples first it makes a HUGE difference. Remember, think to yourself WWMD? (What would Martha do?)
Best Ever New England Apple Pie
Part 1: Flaky Pastry Dough
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. white sugar or 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup solid shortening OR 1/2 cup shortening and 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
Break the shortening into large chunks; if using butter, cut it into small pieces, then add it to the flour mixture. Cut the fat into the dry ingredients by chopping vigorously with a pastry blender or by cutting in opposite directions with 2 knives, one held in each hand. (I use a food processor and get good results as well.) As you work, periodically stir dry flour up from the bottom of the bowl and scrape clinging fat off the pastry blender or knives. When you are through, some of the fat should remain in pea-sized pieces; the rest should be reduced to the consistency of coarse crumbs or cornmeal. The mixture should seem dry and powdery and not pasty or greasy. Then drizzle over the flour and fat (doesn’t that sound yummy?)mixture:
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. ice water
Using the rubber spatula, cut with the blade side until the mixture looks evenly moistened and begins to form small balls. Press down on the dough with the flat side of the spatula. If the balls of dough stick together, you have added enough water; if they do not, drizzle over the top:
1 to 2 Tbsp. ice water
Cut in the water, again using the blade of the spatula, then press with your hand until the dough coheres. The dough should look rough, not smooth. Divide the dough in half, press each half into a round flat disk, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and preferably for several hours, or for up to 2 days before rolling. The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to six months; thaw completely before rolling. (I would forget about it and discover the rock-solid ball of flour and fat in my freezer years later.)
Part 2: Apple Pie Filling
Because raw apples shrink a great deal during baking, apple pies tend to develop a gap between the top crust and fruit, causing the top crust to crumble when the pie is sliced. In this recipe, the filling is precooked and thus preshrunk, eliminating the gap and producing a beautifully full, compact pie that slices like a charm. Precooking also allows you to cover the pie with a lattice top if you choose. On the other hand, since the filling requires no thickener, the pie has a lovely fruity taste.
Gala and Fuji are good choices, as well as Newton Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, Winesap, Northern Spy and Jonathan. Granny Smiths are not recommended; although crisp when raw, they turn mushy when baked in a pie with both a top and a bottom crust.
Roll half the dough into a 13-inch round, fit it into a 9-inch pie pan, and trim the overhanging dough to 3/4 inch all around. Refrigerate. Roll the other half into a 12-inch round for the top crust and refrigerate it.
Peel, core and slice three pounds of apples (six to eight medium-large) a little thicker than 1/4 inch. In a very wide skillet or pot, heat over high heat until sizzling and fragrant; 3 tablespoons unsalted butter. Add the apples and toss until glazed with the butter. Reduce the heat to medium, cover tightly and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are softened on the outside but still slightly crunchy, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tsp. Calvados apple brandy or dark rum, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. allspice, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg and 1/8 tsp. salt. Increase the heat to high and cook the apples at a rapid boil until the juices become thick and syrupy, about three minutes. Immediately spread the apples in a thin layer on a baking sheet and let them cool to room temperature.
Position rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Pour the apple mixture into the bottom crust. Brush the overhanging edge of the bottom crust with cold water. Cover with the top crust or lattice, then seal the edge, trim, and crimp or flute. If using a closed top crust, cut steam vents. (At this point, I like to sprinkle the top crust with a little cinnamon and sugar—your choice.). Bake until the crust is richly browned and the filling has begun to bubble, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack, three to four hours. If you wish to serve the pie warm, place it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. The pie is best if eaten promptly, but it can be kept at room temperature for two to three days. And no, the apples aren’t reduced to mush after being cooked and baked, I don’t know why, but it works!