I've come to the conclusion that apple pie is all about subtlety. There's a basic ratio of apples to sugar to spices to crust, but these simple numbers tell you nothing at all of the flavors, smells and textures you can create with just a flick of a measuring cup. For this - my first apple pie - I wanted the flavors to be mine, just the way I like them. I wanted the crust to be flaky, tender and interesting. I wanted the apples to have that perfect balance of tart and sweet. I wanted the filling to be a little spicy, fork-tender and just a little gooey. Most of all, I wanted that smell, the apple pie, autumn leaves, refuge from the chill, begging for some ice cream smell that I dreamt would float out of the windows and make us so so happy.
Oh, I was so excited when I took this pie out of the oven. "Look," I said to A., "it looks and smells just like real apple pie!" He laughed, but he knew what I meant. Not having grown up in this country, it's always been a struggle to accept the best parts of American culture while keeping our own identity intact. Being able to re-create a dish that is so intrinsic to this part of the world (that over the years has become our very beloved home) while putting my own personal touches to it gave me a wonderful sense of completeness, of finally merging my two worlds into one (deliciously warm and spicy) whole.
Crust (one double-crust pie)
3 cups all purpose flour
2 sticks (8 oz) butter, very cold
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar*
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1-2 tablespoons turbinado sugar for topping
*Helene, who is a reader and a wonderful baker, tipped me off that adding cider vinegar helps relax the dough for the rolling
Filling (for a deep dish pie)
1.5 lb Granny Smith apples (for tartness)
1.5 lb Golden Delicious apples (for sweetness)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar (to make it a little gooey - if you don't like that, use all granulated sugar)
3-4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of ground cloves
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into little pieces
People - do not be afraid of a pie crust. It's really not that bad. There's no secret to it - just be prepared and work quickly. Here's what I want you to do:
1. Take out the butter and cut each stick into 16 little cubes. Put them in the freezer for at least 5 minutes.
2. Whisk the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Take a glass, fill it with water and put some ice in there to make it extra cold.
3. Take out and get ready your pastry cutter, rolling pin, a pastry scraper and a tablespoon for the ice water.
4. Drop the butter pieces into the big bowl with the flour, and working quickly, cut the butter into the flour until there are large pieces and small pieces. The smallest pieces should be about the size of a pea and the largest the size of a pecan.
5. Dribble about 3 tablespoons of ice water and 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar into the flour mixture and toss it gently with your fingers until the dough stays together when pinched (there will still be dry patches, that's ok). Add more water if you need to, in 1 tbsp increments. Do this quickly so the butter doesn't get a chance to melt. Pop the bowl into the freezer for 5 minutes and take a coffee break.
6. Dump the contents of your bowl onto a large counter, flour your rolling pin and pass it back and forth over the barely-together dough. What this does is flatten out the butter and coat it with the flour so that you ensure flakiness and tenderness. Using a pastry scraper, turn over the mixture so you get to roll the butter that's on the bottom as well as what was on top.
7. Gather the dough into a ball, divide in two, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
8. Make the filling - peel and core the apples and slice into 1/4 inch slices (I like my slices pretty thin so they become very tender and don't slide out). In a large bowl, toss with the sugars, spices, vanilla, lemon juice and flour. Turn to coat and let stand for 15 minutes, mixing several times to soften the apples. When you're ready to fill the pie, drain about half of the juices.
9. Preheat the oven to 425F, arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven, butter a pie plate.
10. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, let it rest for 5-10 minutes to become pliable and roll out each piece between two sheets of plastic or parchment paper (I can't tell you how HUGE a fan I am of this method - no sticking, no mess, ahhh). After rolling, I like to put the crusts into the freezer for 2-3 minutes so that they are easier to transfer. Transfer one of the crusts to a buttered pie plate and prick it a few times with a fork.
11. Fill the pie with the apple filling (below), dot with the two tablespoons of cold butter and cover with the second crust. Crimp the edges together. Cut a few steam vents and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
12. Bake on 425F for 30 minutes; then, slide a baking sheet under the pie pan to catch the juices, turn the heat down to 350F and bake for another 30-45 minutes until the crust has browned and the juices are bubbling (I found this method in Joy of Cooking and the combination of temperatures, as well as baking in the lower third of the oven, produces a perfectly baked, non-soggy crust).