I’ve got some serious season-envy going on right now. All y’all pulling out your cozy sweaters and boots and scarves, and I’m over here sweating from 15 minutes in the car without A/C with the windows down. It was 91 degrees at 6:00 pm, people. NOT FALL.
But apparently sweater/boot/scarf season is also pie season, and that’s something I can get behind right away. Since Brandon and I have the same birthday, and he doesn’t like cake or chocolate, if I bake something for our birthday, it’s usually a pie. When I have the energy, I love making pies. I’ve got a great crust recipe and I’ve nailed down the technique (though it’s been a while, so I’m probably rusty). My crust isn’t super flaky, but it’s slightly sweet and buttery and baked all the way through, unlike so many pies you get at restaurants. This may be because it doesn’t tend to burn even if it’s left in the oven for over an hour. I’ll let it get nice and golden-brown before I take it out.
I’ve been baking pies since the year we got married, thanks to the great Williams-Sonoma pie cookbook we got with a wedding gift card, but I didn’t try making a lattice-top until a few years ago. Turns out, it’s not hard at all! It keeps you from having to cut vents in the top of the pie (which I always forgot to do until the last minute), and it looks so pretty. I might try the overlapping-shapes-cut-from-pie-crust top crust sometime this year if I decide to get fancy.
I used to bake a pie probably once a month. A lot of my reasons admittedly stemmed from vanity – when you’re the only one in your group of friends who makes pie crust from scratch, you get big kudos for making a middle-of-the-road pie. But the other side of it is that I just love my pie crust, and I think it elevates traditional pie fillings and turns them into something special.
I’m hoping I continue to return to health over the weekend, because I am really dying for pie right now. I can’t decide if I want to bake a traditional apple, or if I should save that for a few weeks from now. Anybody got any suggestions for fruit-based pie fillings that come together easily (no blanching of peaches in order to peel their paper-thin skins, is what I’m saying)?
And before you ask, yes, I’m including my apple pie recipe here, complete with detailed (very detailed) instructions.. Let me know if you make it – take a photo and tag me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!
(You will need to make two crusts total, so have double the ingredient amounts below on hand, but make each crust separately. I have found that mixing the doubled ingredients makes the crust a lot tougher, for some reason. Yes, it’s more work, but it tastes so much better if you make the crusts individually.)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 lb (one stick) very cold UNsalted butter – put the butter in the freezer for 30 minutes before making the pie to make sure it stays firm
3-8 tablespoons very cold water (a glass of ice water works great)
Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Slice the very cold butter into 1/4-inch slices, then cut each slice into 9-12 cubes (2-3 slices in one direction across the slice, then 2-3 slices in the other direction). Drop these small butter cubes into the flour mixture.
(The butter needs to be very cold because you don’t want those small pieces to melt until they are being baked. This makes a lighter, flakier crust. If you were to melt the butter, the crust would be super chewy and not nearly as tasty.)
Using a pastry blender (the hand-held tool with a curved wire bottom), cut the pieces of butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is mostly uniform and the largest pieces are less than half the size of the small butter cubes. If you can see the yellow of the butter anywhere, you need to cut those pieces in more thoroughly. Use a rocking motion back and forth with the pastry-blender hand, and turn the bowl a quarter-turn very few ‘rocks’ with your other hand.
Add very cold water. Start with 3 tablespoons and stir with a large spoon. You will probably need another 4-5 tablespoons, depending on your altitude, and how soft your butter was. You’re going to have to abandon the spoon pretty soon and squish it together with your hands. As it starts to stick together, try to form it into a ball. Once it starts forming a ball, sprinkle water around the remaining dry pieces and roll the ball in the moistened bits, then try to work them into the ball. Don’t work it too much, or the crust will get tough, but work it enough until your dough-ball is fairly smooth on the outside and doesn’t fall apart when you set it down.
You can chill the dough at this point and make another crust, or you can go ahead and roll the first crust out. If your kitchen is very warm, it might be good to chill it a bit, but otherwise, it’s fine to roll it out on a lightly-floured surface immediately. Start by pressing the dough into a flat circle with your hands, then turn it over and rotate it a quarter turn before rolling. Use the heaviest rolling pin you can (mine, another wedding gift, is partly marble). Roll it in several directions, first stretching it in one direction, then the other, turning the dough over and rotating it a quarter turn every 5-6 rolls. It’s okay if it’s not a perfect circle when you get it to the desired thickness (1/4 to 1/8 of an inch) – just make sure it’s big enough that your pie pan, turned upside down over the dough, fits with a few inches to spare on all sides.
Fold the dough in half and transfer it to the pie pan, then open it back up, pressing the dough into the edges of the pan. (This recipe is not for a deep-dish apple pie – I use the boring Pyrex glass pie pan for all my pies.) Press the pie up the edges of the pan. You want them to hang over as much as possible, because your top crust will cut to size, be smaller, and this bottom crust will need to fold over the top. Save any dough scraps. Or pop them in your mouth.
At this point you can either make the second crust or make the pie filling, whatever works best. I’d leave the crust-in-the-pan out, because you want it to be flexible when you put the top crust on it.
Apple pie filling:
4-6 Braeburn or Gala apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (not necessary to peel them unless you really want to – I never do, and I never notice the peels)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
(You’ll notice there’s no brown sugar in this filling, which is, I think, part of what makes it so good. This won’t taste like the baked apples you get as a side dish at a low-end steak restaurant. It’s rich and apple-y, rather than cinnamon-forward.)
Mix all dry ingredients together, then put 1/4 of the mixture at the bottom of a large bowl. As you chop each apple, add the apples to the bowl, then sprinkle more of the dry mixture on top. Continue adding apples and dry mixture until all apples and dry mixture are in the bowl. Stir until every piece of apple is thoroughly coated with the sugar mixture. Some pieces will probably start to be a little sticky. If you can let the apple mixture sit out for a little while, the filling will come together even more, and it’ll start to make a syrup. If you let it sit, though, stir it well before filling the bottom pie crust.
If you have more apple mixture than you can fit in your pie pan (you want the top to be level with or a little below the top edges of the pan), save them in the bowl; you may have some extra crust that you could put on top of a small dish of the remaining apples to bake alongside the main pie.
Make the top crust according to the instructions above, then cut out a circle the same size as your pie pan.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Cut up the butter into 4-6 small pieces and place them evenly around the top of the apples in the pie pan, then transfer the top crust dough circle to the top of the pie. (I’m not providing lattice instructions [you can look it up online, it’s not hard] – you’d still make an entire top crust, but you’d have to cut the top crust into strips and weave them across before sealing the edges.) Fold the overhanging edges of the bottom crust over the top and squeeze it with your fingers to meld the two pieces of dough together. You can plug any holes with your leftover dough scraps, but try to fuse them with the existing pie as well as you can. After you’ve sealed the edges, you can use a pretty edging pattern (fork tines, crimping with fingers, etc.) if you’d like, or you can trim the whole pie to make a neat circle.
Cut slits in the top crust with a sharp knife. You can get creative if you’re fairly dexterous – I made the Texas A&M logo one time, but other than that, I usually keep it simple and just cut the slits into a star shape.
Bake the pie at 375 for 50 minutes. Put a foil-covered cookie sheet under the pie in case any of it bubbles over (this does sometimes happen to me, and trust me, apple-sugar juice burning on the bottom of your oven is not a smell you want to linger in your kitchen). After 50 minutes, check the pie. If the edges are getting dark brown but the center crust is still raw-looking, put a pie guard around the edges or cover all the edges with foil, and put the pie back in the oven. My apple pies usually take between 65 and 75 minutes to fully bake, but I do have to check them every 5-10 minutes after the first 50-minute check.
When the pie is done (when the crust is golden brown all over, including on the bottom, if you have a glass pan – I mean, it should be golden-brown on the bottom anyway, but if you don’t have a glass pan you won’t be able to tell), take it out and put it on a cooling rack. If you can stand it, don’t cut into it for a few hours – the filling needs to set.
(For reference, this photo is of a completely raw pie crust. It’s a lattice, but I couldn’t find another raw pie photo on my roll. No part of the crust should look like this when your pie is done!)
I enjoy this pie best cold, to be honest, but it’s great warmed back up and served with vanilla ice cream too, of course.