The Berkshires are woven into my life like pastry leaves. At various times I’ve worked, schooled, gardened, baked, raised children, raked leaves, planted pumpkins and pondered life here. I’ve picked many, many apples in this hilly corner of New England. The old family farmhouse we bought 22 years ago has an orchard with 17 apple trees. They originally served up aesthetic blossoms and crab apples fit for cows as it was a dairy farm in the late 1800’s. Over our years, we peppered in new Fujis, Cameos and Granny Smiths, and now I have blossoms in the spring and spectacular baking apples in the fall.
My dad’s favorite: Apple Pie. Husband’s favorite: Apple Pie. The late Barbara, husband’s mom’s favorite: Tarte Tatin. Trust that I have honed my skills in the apple-and-pastry disciplines. For a classic apple pie, an all-butter crust is the one you want. From now on, if you ever see the word “margarine” in a recipe, you will run away. Power down, close the notebook, hold that cookbook under new suspicion. I consider margarine an evil corporate hologram of butter which does nothing for flavor or texture except screw them up.
Occasionally you’ll hear the argument that margarine gives a product lower cholesterol. No, no, no. Better just to eat baked apples without the pastry, isn’t it? Shortening, that’s another matter. It is hydrogenated fat (or trans-fat) which means it has been whipped fat up with extra molecules to keep it stable at room temperature. Some think it makes pie dough easier to work with if you blend it with butter, which I have considered in many a taste test. Here’s the truth: OK, it does make the pie dough a little easier to work with – less fragile and sensitive to temperature. But that is not worth what you lose: flavor. Shortening also cheapens the natural texture of a flaky pie dough – gone. The mouth-feel is overtaken by a freighted, greasy aftertaste. And then this other problem: shortening will kill you. The chemically-altered fat clogs your arteries and contributes to heart disease and the nutritional and medical communities consider it the devil of fats. When I need it, I use a less-processed, natural version, Spectrum, which works like the devil (Crisco) but is less evil. Sort of.
But enough about fats. Let us turn to those crisp autumn apples. It is best to blend varieties – a few for tart flavor, a few for softness, and few to hit those sugary-sweet candy notes. Consider a blend of Braeburns, Granny Smiths, Fujis, Cameos or Pippins. I often season the apples with cinnamon, lemon, and brown sugar, steam them for just a few minutes, then thicken the juice with a little cornstarch or arrowroot. This keeps them from under-baking, especially for a big pie.*
Need some step-by-step directions on how to make a pie dough and how to flute the edges? Click here. Allow time for the dough to chill before you roll it out, then again before you fill it. Interested in making a lattice crust like the one at the top of this post? Click here.
CLASSIC APPLE PIE IN FLAKY ALL-BUTTER CRUST
YIELD: Yield: One 9-inch pie
ACTIVE TIME: 45 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 3 1/2 hours, plus cooling time
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for rolling
1 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and frozen for 15 minutes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, chilled
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole milk
3 1/2 pounds Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Pippin, Granny Smith, Fuji, or Cameo apples; best if you have a mix to at least 2 varieties.
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
9-inch pie pan
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Add butter and pulse until coarse, pea-sized crumbs appear, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add vinegar and 1/4 cup ice water and process until the dough just holds together, about 30 seconds. Squeeze a small amount of dough between your fingers and if it is very crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time (2 tablespoons maximum). Do not over process.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and push together into a rough ball. Knead a few times to combine, then divide into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc with smooth edges (no cracks), cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to overnight).
Preheat the oven to 425°F with one rack on the bottom rung and one rack in the center of oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack to preheat.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disc of dough into a 13-inch round. Roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin, and then unfurl it into the 9-inch pie pan. Gently lift and settle the dough into the pan. Trim the excess dough using scissors, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, and transfer to the refrigerator. On a floured piece of parchment, roll out the second disc of dough to the same size as the first and refrigerate both crusts for 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk and set aside. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4-inch thick wedges. Place apples in a large bowl and mix with 1/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and lemon. Fill the dough-lined pan with the apple mixture, packing apple slices as tightly as possible. (*Or steam them for a more consistent texture, as mentioned above.)
Brush the rim with egg and milk mixture, reserving the excess. Top with the second dough round and press over apples to minimize excess space between apples and crust. Press the top and bottom crusts together and trim the top crust to a 1-inch edge around pan. Tuck top edge under bottom edge and crimp or decorate as desired. Cut five vents in the top crust for steam. Refrigerate pie for 30 minutes to set the crimp.
Brush top crust with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Place pie on the preheated rimmed baking sheet and bake until the crust begins to turn golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate sheet, move to center rack, and reduce oven to 350°F. Continue baking until the crust is golden brown and you can see the thickened juices bubbling, 40 to 50 minutes more. Cool on a rack 3 to 4 hours to allow juices to set before slicing.
The pie dough can be made up to 3 days in advance and chilled, or frozen for up to 3 months; thaw before using. The baked pie will keep, loosely covered with aluminum foil, at room temperature for up to 2 day.
The above recipe is courtesy of my friends at Epicurious, always my first stop for recipe research.
For the caramel sauce:
2 cups sugar
3 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. corn syrup
2 Tbs. butter
¼ cup heavy cream
½ tsp. kosher salt
4 large Golden Delicious Apples, Honeycrisp or Fuji apples (peeled, cored and cut into uniform, lengthwise slices at least 1/4″ thick)
For the Puff Pastry:
Click here for from-scratch recipe or
1 box of high quality pre-made puff pastry, such as Dufour’s
1 egg + 1 tsp. water, mixed, for eggwash
Serve with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or Whipped Cream.
To make the caramel sauce, use a clean, heavy skillet. Put the sugar in, add the corn syrup, then stir in just enough water to bring it to the consistency of wet sand. Place the skillet over medium heat and let it boil. Most cooks are inclined to stir it, but if you do, you run the risk of crystallizing the boiling sugar, a common problem of early caramel practioners. Just let it boil. When it starts to turn honey color (about 10 minutes), turn off the heat. Toss in the butter and room temperature cream and stir like crazy. It will sputter – just keep stirring until you have a smooth amber-colored sauce. Allow to cool.
Place the apple slices over the caramel sauce in a fan pattern. Then top with the disc of puff pastry (brush the top with eggwash for extra golden color). Bake (still in the original skillet) at 350 for approximately 40 minutes. You will see the patry rise and turn brown. Invert the skillet quickly and allow the pastry to fall out onto a flat serving plate. Slice and serve.