In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday that just passed and in anticipation of holiday dinners in the near future, I decided to do a post on pie. While I love baking cakes and consider them my go-to baked good, I grew up baking pies with my dad so I’ve got a special place in my heart for pastry. My favorite to bake: good old-fashioned apple pie, with a few tweaks I’ve added over the years.
Pies are not as complicated as people think! I hear people all the time talking about how they get their pie crusts from the pre-made stuff that comes in a box or a tube at the store because making the crust from scratch is “too hard” or “too tricky.” That is just not the case!
First things first, gather all of your ingredients to be sure that you’ve got everything you need.
For an 8 or 9 inch two-crust pie you will need:
2/3 of a cup plus 2 tablespoons of shortening
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 – 5 tablespoons ice cold water
Mixing bowl, pastry cutter, wooden spoon, rolling pin
Four ingredients! How hard is that? There is one teeny-tiny thing about making pie crust that makes it a little complicated – everything has got to be COLD. I’ve done without this step with my shortening recipe and it works out fine, but it is definitely a MUST if you use a butter-based recipe for pie crust.
For example, measure out the flour and salt and whisk thoroughly in your mixing bowl. Measure out your shortening and measure out your water as well. Put all the separate ingredients in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes, including the pastry cutter! If you don’t have a pastry cutter, take 3 butter knives and tie the handles together with a rubber band, and put that in the freezer instead.
The reason everything needs to be cold is to make sure the fat (shortening or butter) in the recipe stays semi-solid until you are ready to bake the pie which will result in a flakier texture for the crust. This is especially true when you use a butter-based recipe. It doesn’t complicate things too much because while you’re chilling your crust ingredients, you have time to get started on the pie filling. As always, lay it all out to make sure you have everything you need.
For Awesome Apple Pie you will need:
One batch of two-crust pastry
About 3# of apples, which is about 5-6 big apples. I love to use Granny Smith and/or Honey Crisp apples. I think the tart flavor of the Granny Smith apples really balances well with all the sugar you add for the filling and Honey Crisp also brings out the sweetness and makes it nice and juicy. If I use both apples, I generally use more Granny Smith than Honey Crisp, i.e. 4 Granny Smith and 2 Honey Crisp.
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus additional for garnish
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
2 tablespoons margarine or butter, diced
lemon juice, to prevent apples from browning
1 egg for garnish
Pie plate, aluminum foil, toothpicks
Optional Ingredients that I highly recommend you play with:
1 cup raisins, cranberries, dates, apricots, or other dried fruit.
1 cup walnuts, pecans, almonds, or your favorite nut not listed.
I typically go the raisin and walnut route. As the pie bakes, the dehydrated fruit soaks up the yummy, sugary apple juice and the nuts add a woodsy flavor that pairs beautifully with the spices in the pie. Be sure to keep the amount of “extras” in the pie to about 2 – 2 1/2 cups total.
Now, back to the crust. After you’ve laid out all your filling ingredients, your crust ingredients and equipment should be sufficiently chilled. First, add the shortening to your mixing bowl and cut it into the flour and salt mix using your pastry cutter (or butter knives) until it forms fine crumbs. Then, add water, about a tablespoon at a time, and use a wooden spoon to incorporate it into the dough. Keep adding water until the dough begins to leave the side of the bowl and form a ball. At this point, you can use your hands to quickly form the dough into a tighter ball. Separate the dough into two even balls for a full-coverage top crust, or make one ball slightly larger if choosing to make a lattice top crust. I elected to do the lattice top.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place the dough in the refrigerator while you work on the pie filling.
Wash your apples before you begin prepping them. Prepping the apples takes the longest amount of time, and just how long depends on what kind of equipment you use. My dad has an awesome apple prepping machine that peels, cores, AND slices the apples simultaneously. I, unfortunately, do not have such a contraption. I am ashamed to say I do not even own an apple corer. However, there are ways to improvise. If you are lucky enough to have a apple machine, use it! If not, read on.
You’ll be prepping one apple at a time to lessen the chances of browning. Peel one washed apple and then slice it into sections using a sharp knife or an apple wedge cutter. I have a wedge cutter, but I find the wedges are a little too thick so I end up cutting the individual wedges in half. I find that when using the apple machine, the slices are a little too thin for my liking, but you don’t want the slices too thick or they won’t cook down properly. My apple wedge cutter yields 8 pieces and I end up cutting them in half, so aim for 12 – 16 slices out of each apple and do try to make them uniform.
Place the apple slices in a large bowl and squirt generously with lemon juice and toss the apples to coat. This applies to using the apple prepping machine as well – the lemon juice helps prevent browning.
After you’ve finished peeling and slicing all your apples, add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss together.
At this time, turn your oven on to 375 and turn back to the pie crust.
Remove the crust from the fridge and place one ball on a lightly floured surface. Use your rolling pin, also dusted with flour, and roll out the pastry into a circle. Turn your pie plate upside-down and use that to check the size of the crust. The crust should be at least 2 inches larger than the circumference of the plate all around.
Next, dust the surface of the crust with granulated sugar and press the sugar into the crust. This adds a hint of sweetness that I like. Fold the crust in half and then fold in half again. Place the center point of the folded crust in the middle of your pie plate and unfold. Gently maneuver the crust to ensure even placement and ease it into the bottom of the plate. Leave excess crust attached for the moment.
Pour the pie filling into the waiting crust. It will seem like a LOT of apples, but they will cook down quite a bit. I usually move the pieces around until they interlock, like a puzzle, to fit them closely together. Be sure to try to evenly distribute the spices and additions throughout the layers of apple slices. Place diced butter or margarine on top of the filling.
I forgot to do this, so I just placed the margarine through the holes in the lattice top. With a full coverage crust this is a little trickier, but you can always slip the butter through the slits you cut in the top of the pie to let out steam.
Now that the filling is in place, you can roll out the dough for the top crust. For a full coverage top, make sure the crust is larger than the circumference of the pie. For a lattice top it can be about the same size, but a little extra always makes it easier to work with.
If you’re doing a full coverage top, repeat the folding procedure and place the crust on top of the filling. Trim the edges of the top and bottom crust using a sharp knife and then crimp the edges together using your preferred method. Check out this website or your favorite cook book for ideas. Cut at least three 1″ long slits in the crust to let out steam as the pie cooks.
For the lattice top, keep the crust flat and using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, slice the crust vertically into fairly even strips. Place five strips of pastry vertically along the surface of the pie. First, pull the longest strip of pastry from the center of the crust and place that on the center of the pie. Next, pull up strips # 1, 3, and 5, and lay another long pastry strip horizontally across the pie. Then, you will fold the vertical strips back down and fold the other two vertical strips up while you place another strip horizontally below the first horizontal strip. Fold up 1, 3, and 5 again and lay another horizontal strip. Repeat the process on the opposite side of the pie. Make sense?
After you’re done placing the strips, go a head and trim the extra crust so it just barely hangs over the edge of the pie plate. If you’re a little patchy in places, brush the crust with a little bit of water and attach a piece of extra crust you trimmed off. The water will “glue” the pastry together. Crimp the pie crust via the method of your choosing and you are almost done!
After you have crimped the edge of the crust, take about four – five toothpicks and put them in a bowl of water to soak for a few minutes. While they soak, lightly beat the egg and mix with about 2 tablespoons of water to make an egg wash. Brush this over any exposed crust and sprinkle with granulated sugar. This will make your crust sparkly when it is done. The same can be done with a full coverage crust.
Following the egg wash, cover the edge of your pie with aluminum foil to prevent the edge of the crust from burning. This is where the toothpicks come in. I have struggled with this for years – how do you get the damn aluminum foil to stay put on the freaking crust? I have ripped my hair out many times trying to get it to stay put and just this summer my aunt clued me in to an awesome tip – use toothpicks that have been soaked in water to hold the aluminum foil in place. GENIUS! Talk about a game changing moment! It works really nicely. You can use those pie-shield devices, but unless yours is adjustable or is made for your pie plate, it can be a little tricky to get the right fit. When using either method, don’t forget to use cooking spray to make sure the crust doesn’t stick to it! I’m notorious for getting the foil in place only to have the dang crust stick to it and get torn.
Once the foil or shield is in place, your pie is ready to go in the oven! I bake my pie for 55 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly, at 375. Do keep an eye on the uncovered crust to make sure it’s not browning up too fast. If it seems to be getting a little dark, place a small circle of aluminum foil over the top of the pie as well. I never had this problem with my old oven, but since I moved, the center of my top crust tends to brown up too fast. Luckily with this pie I caught it before it got burnt too badly.
Remove the aluminum foil from the edge of the pie when there’s 15 minutes left on the timer. After the final 15 minutes, your pie is a masterpiece ready to eat!
It is true that pies are definitely time consuming, but I would not say that they are too “tricky” or “complicated” for anyone to make from scratch. Some people may be leery of the time commitment, but isn’t there a phrase that says something along the lines of “the best things in life are worth waiting for?” I must say I wholeheartedly agree; homemade pies and cakes are definitely worth it.
Happy Pie Baking!