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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Traditional Apple Pie

"Easy as pie" is apparently a self-contradictory statement. Many people tell me they have never made a pie, or the one they made was such a horror that the dog buried it rather than risk eating it.

One friend tried to impress the man she was dating by making a pumpkin pie. the filling is just a custard with pureed pumpkin it it; that's pretty easy. She'd seen her mother make pie crust many times, and it didn't look like it took an advanced degree in engineering. So she pulled out the ever-faithful "Joy of Cooking" and got started.

First, the dough didn't want to hang together, so she added more water. This made it sticky, so as she rolled it out, she added more flour. And then some more flour. Then it was so stiff she had to bash it with the rolling pin to roll it into a circle big enough for the pie plate. The filling went in, she baked it as directed, and after a couple of grilled steaks and a nice garden salad, she served dessert.

The filling was great, she related. But the crust itself required a hacksaw. The pathetic empty crust had the same texture as an asphalt roofing shingle.

My father makes great pies, much better than my mother did. "Your mother was too impatient with it," he says. "You have to be gentle, gentle with it."

My Dad makes it sound like a Zen meditation, the Yankee equivalent of tea ceremony. Plan. Lay out the utensils and ingredients. Chill what needs to be chilled, including your attitude. Take your time. You can't rush a great pie crust.

Equipment: Mixing bowl, pastry blender, fork, pie plate.

Ingredients: To make a 9-inch double crust pie, 2 cups sifted flour; 1 teaspoon salt (or not if you prefer); 1/2 cup lard or vegetable shortening, cold; 1/4 cup or so of very cold water.

Do not substitute cooking oil for the solid shortening. I use lard because I am wary of how vegetable shortening is made to be solid at room temperature. Lard will make a flakier crust, too, but some people object to the subtle taste difference. Obviously, for a vegetarian pie you would use vegetable shortening. You can use fine whole wheat flour instead of white flour. I don't find a big difference.

Directions: Mix the salt into the flour in a bowl. Cut the lard/shortening into the flour with the pastry blender until it is pretty thoroughly mixed in. (Some people say until the particles are the size of small peas, or rough ground meal. It just needs to be well blended, but not so worked over that it gets warm and starts to melt.) Now add the cold water all at once, stir quickly with a fork to work in most of the flour/fat particles. Don't worry if there is some at the bottom of the bowl. Try not to add more than a tablespoon more, working quickly, if it seems way too dry. This will be a fairly dry dough.

Now turn it out onto a floured pastry board or counter top. Very lightly knead it gently to hold it together. It should look like layers of shale or something flaky, not like bread dough. With a floured rolling pin, and a little flour sprinkled over the top, work half the dough out into a round, rolling from the middle with a light touch. When it is big enough to fit in the pie plate and up the sides, lift it with the rolling pin and slide it in. Roll out the other half the same way, and set aside. I sometimes refrigerate the dough before rolling it out, and if the kitchen is warm, put the rolled dough in the refrigerator while you get the filling ready.

Apple filling:
Peel and core 7-9 medium to large apples. I used yellow transparent for this pie, as the flavour is old-fashioned appley, although the slices dissolve into a wondrous apple butter. If you want visible slices, use a firmer cooking apple. Slice into eighths or so, but not too thin. Toss in a bowl with about 2/3 cup of white sugar or, half white, half brown; 2 tablespoons flour; 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and allspice. Spoon into the prepared pie crust (don't prick the lower crust, though, or you will have a gooey mess), add some dabs of butter, about 4 teaspoon size pieces, then top with the crust. Trim the crusts around the outer edge of the pie plate, and fold the two crusts together inside the plate. My mother always crimped hers along the lip of the plate, and the filling always bubbled out and burned in the oven. Then cut slits in the top crust to vent the steam.

Bake for ten minutes at 400F, then turn down the heat to about 350F for 30-40 minutes, until the crust starts to brown. If you like a nicely browned crust, brush it after the first ten minutes with a bit of milk. My crusts don't brown as much in the wood stove as the heat is even all around and not concentrated at the bottom.

 That's a basic pie. You can use other fruit instead of apples, but berry pies usually need cornstarch to keep them from turning into soups.

1 comment:

  1. Nice looking pie I can smell it cooking.. All the way to Maine..