“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness” ~Jane Austen
(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 10/26/14. Listen at 11:20 a.m. Sundays or via podcast.)
I like lots of apples in my pie, about 5 pounds worth, and I’ve found that by partially cooking the apples first in butter with sugar and spices, the apple flavor becomes concentrated, the apples reduce in volume, allowing me to pack a huge amount of flavor into a pie–and I don’t need to use any flour or cornstarch as a thickener. Another bonus, the apples will be tender. No crunchy apples for me, please.
Actually, making apple pie this way goes all the way back to 1796, when Amelia Simmons described the technique for all sorts of fruit pies in American Cookery, the first cookbook written by an American and published in America.
A bonus with this method is that the reduced water content results in leftovers that keep fresh for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. A quick reheating in a moderate oven restores a just-baked quality to the pie.
When making apple pie, I like to use a combination of 3 or more kinds. The apples should all hold their shape when cooked, and they should be a mixture of tart and sweet fruit.
With more than 7,000 known varieties of apples in the world, and from one to two dozen available at farmers’ markets and in supermarkets, it can be a daunting task to know which apples to select.
Fortunately, four major categories have recently come into use to identify apples’ taste and texture profiles: Firm-tart apples (Granny Smith, Idared, Goldrush, Rome); Firm-sweet (Braeburn, Cameo, Honeycrisp, Jazz, Pink Lady); Tender-tart (Cortland, Empire, Jonathan); and Tender-sweet (Fuji, Gala). I’ve listed only a few examples under each profile, but knowledegable vendors at farmers’ markets and in supermarket produce departments should be able to answer all sorts of questions for you regarding what sort of apple is best for a particular recipe.
For pies, I like a combination of one-half firm-tart apples, one quarter firm-sweet, and one-quarter tender-sweet fruit. All apple types within these categories hold their shape in cooking. Just a hint of vanilla added after cooking heightens sweetness.
Oh, the pastry for this pie is tender and flaky and crisp and foolproof. For best results, weigh your ingredients and do not handle the dough to excess. And if you want to substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the unbleached all-purpose flour and cake flour (2 1/4 cups total), it’ll work just fine.
Please let me know how you like this pie, and if you have any variety of apple you particularly favor I’d love to hear from you.
Classic American Apple Pie
As I said above, you can substitute whole wheat pastry flour for both of the flours below.
2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup plain bleached cake flour (1 ounce)
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 slices
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold vegetable shortening such as Earth Balance, cut into 8 slices
6 tablespoons ice water
1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar
5 pounds firm cooking apples, preferably a mixture of 3 or more varieties (see introduction)
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground mace
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup apple cider
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
For the pastry, measure the unbleached flour by spooning into dry measures to overflowing and leveling off with a straight edge. Measure cake flour by dipping ¼-cup dry measure into flour sack, filling too overflowing and leveling off. (If using whole wheat pastry flour, spoon into dry measures to oveflowing and sweep off excess, or weigh 10 ounces of flour).
To make the dough in a food processor, put both flours and salt in the work bowl fitted with the metal blade and process 5 seconds. Add the butter and vegetable shortening and pulse four times for 1 full second each.
Combine the ice water and apple cider in a small cup. While pulsing very rapidly, add the liquid through the feed tube in a steady stream, taking about 10 seconds. You will have pulsed the machine about 30 times. Pulse very rapidly only until the dough gathers into cottage-cheese-like clumps or slightly larger blobs. Don’t process until the dough forms 1 large mass.
Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and press lumps together into one mass.
Note lumps of fat that will flatten when the dough is rolled. Baking creates air spaces where there was fat, making the pastry flaky.
Divide the dough so that one piece is slightly larger than the other (11 ounces and 10 ounces), flatten each into a 5-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour. (May be prepared a day ahead to this point and refrigerated).
To make the dough by hand, whisk the flours and salt together in a large bowl. Add butter and shortening and cut into the flour with a pastry blender until particles resemble small peas. Add the liquid 2 tablespoons at a time, tossing well with a fork, until dough just comes together in one mass. If dough seems too dry, add cold water 1 teaspoon at a time. Follow directions above for dividing and chilling the dough.
Watch a video of me making pie dough by hand.
For the filling, remove the zest from the lemons with a rasper, put it into a small cup, and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Squeeze the juice and add to a large bowl.
One by one, peel the apples, then quarter and core them. Cut each quarter into 3 or 4 wedges, each about ½-inch wide, and add them as you go to the lemon juice. Toss to coat apples with the juice.
In a small bowl, combine both sugars, cinnamon, mace, and salt.
Add to the apples, and toss well to coat the fruit evenly.
Put half the butter into a 5 to 6-quart sauté pan and set over medium-high heat. When melted and bubbly, add half the apples and fold them into the butter with 2 large wooden or heatproof rubber spatulas. Cook, uncovered, 5 minutes, turning the apples about twice.
Add half the cider, cover the pan and cook 5 minutes more, turning the apples twice with the 2 spatulas. Uncover the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and continue cooking about 8 to 10 minutes more, turning the apples frequently until they are tender, and the liquid has thickened to a syrupy consistency and is almost completely absorbed.
Transfer the apples to a large bowl and fold in 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla and half the lemon zest.
Repeat with the remaining butter, apple mixture, cider, vanilla and lemon zest, and add to first batch of cooked apples. Cool to room temperature, stirring gently once or twice. (May be made ahead to this point one day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate). Bring to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.
Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a heavy baking sheet on the rack, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Roll the larger piece of dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch circle.
Notice the flattened pieces of butter and shortening that will make the pastry flaky. Smaller pieces of fat, not readily visible, make the pastry tender.
Fold the circle in half, then in half again to form a triangle, and place the point of the dough onto the center of a 9-inch oven-proof glass pie plate. Carefully unfold the dough and lifting the edges, nudging the pastry into the pan without stretching it. Pastry should fit snugly on pan sides and bottom. With kitchen shears, trim away excess dough, leaving ½-inch of overhang.
Roll out second piece of dough to a 12-inch circle. Refrigerate if not ready to finish assembling the pie.
Turn the cooled apples into the pastry shell and pack it down gently with a rubber spatula to remove air pockets. Filling should be mounded a bit in the center.
Lightly brush the overhanging edge of pastry with cold water. Cover pie with the circle of dough, centering it carefully, and trim it to match the overhang of the pastry crust. Press firmly to seal.
Fold top and bottom crusts together to make a standing rim and flute as you like. Slash the top of the pie in 4 to 6 places, brush with cold water, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Set the pie on the preheated baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and continue baking about 40 minutes more, until apples are completely tender when tested with the tip of a sharp knife, and crust is nicely browned.
Cool pie on a wire rack for several hours before cutting into wedges and serving. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.
Makes 8 servings.
NOTE: Leftovers keeps very well, refrigerated, for up to 5 days. To refresh, place slices on serving plates and reheat in a 300 degree oven for about 8 minutes. Handle plates with potholders.