Perfect Apple Pie

At Thanksgiving this year, my apple pie was the star of the dessert tray. The whole thing was sliced up and served out in about eight minutes flat. Poor X wasn’t fast enough to get a piece.

I’ve been perfecting the recipe for a couple of years, and now it’s just right. Try it out yourself, after you’ve cleared about four hours from your schedule. Hey, perfection takes time.

The Crust

A pie lives or dies by its crust. This is why store-bought pies often fall flat, because so many of them use preservatives and other junk in the crust to extend shelf life. Here’s how to do it right. I learned this method from Saveur magazine, although I’ve added one step to improve it.

First take 14 tablespoons butter (nearly two sticks) and dice them up into small rectangles. Don’t spend all day doing this because the butter will start to melt and get slippery – but don’t go too fast because you’ll slip and cut yourself. Put the diced butter into a bowl and put the bowl back in the refrigerator. Go and have a cup of coffee. We need the butter to be as cold as possible when making the dough.

Clear some counter space and wipe it down, make sure it’s clean enough to eat off. Dump three cups of flour on the counter and sprinkle two teaspoons of salt on top. On the side, leave yourself a little bowl with about half a cup of flour, and a glass of ice water. These will come in handy later.

Mix up the flour and salt with your hands. Then get your butter from the fridge and throw that in. The butter is going to start getting warm, and we don’t want that, so it’s crucial to work fast now. With your hands, squeeze the butter into the flour mixture, smash it into the table, and do your best to combine everything quickly. It will become crumbly and not stick together well. This is when you start adding ice water. Form a little volcano with the flour/butter and pour the water into it – keep mixing everything together. Once the water gets in there it will start to look and feel like dough. If it’s not combining well, add a little more water. If it gets too wet and sticky, add a little more flour from your bowl. This whole process should take five minutes or less – you don’t want to overwork the dough, because that will kill your chances at perfect, flaky pie crust. When you’ve got it, split your dough into two halves, shape them into discs, wrap them with cling-film and put them in the fridge. Go and have a beer.

The Filling

You want your dough to sit in the fridge for at least an hour. While it’s in there you can clean up your dough area (just a little, because we’re still going to use it), have a drink, watch some television, and make your filling.

Take six Golden Delicious apples, skin, core, and slice them. Put them into a large mixing bowl. This is a hassle and probably will take twenty minutes. Skinning apples is a pain. If you have one of those fancy apple-coring devices, congratulations, you have too many kitchen machines and likely have wasted money in many other ways as well. You probably have a quad-chambered chestnut roaster.

Take one whole lemon, slice it in half, and squeeze both halves over the apples in your mixing bowl. To avoid having lemon seeds in your pie, squeeze the lemon with one hand, into the other hand, over the bowl. Let the juice through your fingers while catching the seeds. This is a clever yet obvious trick that I learned from Ina Garten.

Add half a cup white sugar, and almost half a cup brown sugar. A good way to achieve this is to pour the white sugar into your measuring cup first, and then put the brown sugar on top of it. Without packing it down, let the brown sugar reach the one-cup mark. Then dump the whole thing into your bowl. Lastly, add a quarter-cup of flour to your mixture, and then stir it all up vigorously. Don’t be afraid to break the apple slices with your stirring spoon – this helps to release some apple juice, and makes for better bite-size pieces anyway. Your filling done, you may return to watch the conclusion of the Simpsons or whatever has been going on in the background. Do not continue until your dough has been sitting in the fridge for at least an hour, and maybe a little more. Leave the filling out on the counter.

The Conjugation

Heat your oven to 425°F. Note that we do not “pre-heat” the oven, because that is a meaningless term. An oven is either heated or it is unheated, and naturally for our purposes it will need to be heated.

Take out your dough and roll out one of the discs with a roller. You’ll need to sprinkle it with some of the flour you set aside earlier. Always roll from the middle toward the edges – don’t just roll back and forth. This is how you stretch out the dough properly. When you have it stretched out nice and big, and you have made it sufficiently thin (too thick and the crust will not cook thoroughly, and your pie will be ruined), place it into your pie pan with all the sides overhanging, and pour the filling into it. We are nearly there!

Roll out the other disc. When it has achieved size, cut some vents in it. These can be done in any kind of pattern you like, but don’t overdo it. Any small incision you make will be made larger while the pie bakes. Carefully place the top over the pie. Now crack an egg yolk into a bowl to create an egg wash. Using a brush, get the egg wash underneath the edges where the bottom and top crusts meet so that they will be sealed. Then crimp the edges of the pie however you’d like (perhaps with a fork, perhaps with your fingers) and trim the excess crust off. If you want to get fancy, you could roll out the excess dough and cut shapes out to put on top of the pie.

The last step is to brush egg wash over the entire top of the pie. This is what gives your perfect apple pie that shining, golden glow that really makes people want to eat it. If you have cut out shapes, use the egg wash to make them stick to the top of the pie, then brush egg wash on top of them as well. Sprinkle a pinch of white sugar over the entire pie and put it in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425°, then lower the heat to 350° and cook for another 40-45 minutes. Keep your eye on it, because pie filling is going to bubble up out of the vents and spill onto the oven floor, which is a real pain to clean. When your pie is done baking, it needs to cool for at least a half hour before eating or traveling.

Ingredient List

  • 14 tablespoons (nearly two sticks) butter, COLD
  • 3 cups flour (plus another half-cup for throwing around)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 Golden Delicious apples
  • 1/2 cup white sugar (plus a pinch for sprinkling)
  • Nearly 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 egg yolk (for egg wash)

Nota Bene

Some will say the missing ingredient is cinnamon, and some others will say both cinnamon and nutmeg are necessary. The truth is that neither is required, but add a little of each to the filling if you desire (1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg). X hates cinnamon so I make my apple pies without it, and I’ve found that I like them just fine.

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