Sunday, January 13, 2008

A's Top Secret Apple Pie

There’s nothing better than the aroma of an apple pie baking. (Except maybe the aroma of a batch of cranberry–orange relish simmering on the stove.) So I offered to take an apple pie to our Thanksgiving dinner (and I’m sorry for the delay in getting this recipe posted; the holidays are always hectic). The recipe I use is one I came up with after some experimentation. It’s basically a combination of several recipes with some tweaking of the spices. I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon, or more accurately, I prefer more complex flavors, so my recipe has more than just cinnamon in it. I saw lemon juice and zest used in another recipe and added them to mine as I’d already learned the value of lemon zest from my experiences with German cookie recipes. Germans use lemon zest in recipes a lot; it adds a wonderful, sweetish touch, not sour like you might think.

This may sound odd, but I’m not particularly picky about a) the crust recipe, or b) which apple varieties I use. I haven’t done a lot of experimenting, but I can’t say I’ve noticed a huge flavor difference due to variety. As for the crust recipe, this one is from, but feel free to use your own favorite. I know people have serious differences of opinion as to whether crusts should be made with lard or butter or Crisco or what, but I’m not going to go there. I usually use margarine simply because that’s what I usually have on hand. I have noticed, though, that dough made with margarine seems to need considerably less water. In case you aren’t already familiar with my favorite trick for moving pie crusts without cracking them, you can read about it in this post.

Then there’s the issue of baking temperature. My Better Homes and Gardens cookbook says to bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes. Other recipes I’ve seen suggest baking at 400 for only the first 10 or 15 minutes, then turning the oven down to 375 and baking for an hour or more. I don’t have a strong preference on this point either. The main thing, I’ve found, is to get the pie to the point where the juices are bubbly and thickening, otherwise the pie will be runny. Of course, you also have to watch so the crust doesn’t burn!

One final note: When I started baking apple pies, they would end up with a huge gap between the top crust and the fruit, because the fruit cooks down as the pie bakes. I eventually discovered that this can be mitigated by carefully arranging the apple slices so they’re packed in well, rather than just dumping the slices in the crust.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

A's Top Secret Apple Pie

Crust: (source: Jasper White's Cooking from New England | June 1998, via

2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold
about 7 tablespoons water, ice cold


2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup sugar
grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
5-6 apples

1. Mix together the flour and salt. Cut the butter into pieces the size of a walnut (about 1 1/2 tablespoons). Mix the flour and butter together in a large bowl, using only your hands, until the butter begins to break up.

2. When the flour has just begun to pick up a little color from the butter, add the water, a bit at a time, and mix until the dough starts to come together. Since the exact amount of water needed will always vary, you have to develop a feel for how much to use.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl to a floured surface and knead briefly, just until the dough begins to smooth out. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate immediately. Allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes.

4. Mix together all the filling ingredients except the lemon juice and apples in a large bowl. Peel, core, and slice the apples . Add the apples to the bowl, squirt with lemon juice, and stir to coat with the other ingredients.

5. Divide the dough in half. Place one half on a floured surface; return the other half to the refrigerator. You may need to let the dough warm up for a few minutes until it’s pliable enough to be rolled without cracking. Pat it into a flat circle, then roll it into a thin (about ¼ inch thick) circle. Line a 9” pie pan, then add the filling.

6. Roll out the other half of the dough. Transfer it to the pie plate and cut vents, for a solid top crust. For a lattice top, cut the dough into strips and lay them evenly vertically across the pie. Then lay the remaining strips horizontally, carefully flipping back alternate vertical strips to “weave”. Then wet the edges where the two crusts join, to form a seal. Using your thumb and index finger, crimp them together.

7. Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until the juices are thick and bubbly and the crust is golden. If parts of the crust brown too quickly, cover with foil.

Recycle: vanilla bottle, spice containers (if glass or plastic)

Compost: apple peelings and cores (Note: I understand you’re not supposed to compost citrus peels; the bugs don’t like them.)

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