When my friend Anne announced she was getting married in my neck of the woods and asked if I might be interested in making some apple pies in place of a wedding cake, I immediately called my aunt Marcy to consult. I hadn’t made a pie in a long time — years! — and I not only needed a refresher on the basics — how many apples? what spices? tapioca or flour? how much sugar? — I also needed help with the logistics: would I realistically be able to make, bake and store enough pies to feed an entire (albeit small) wedding? Could I face this challenge with grace and dignity?
The conclusion we came to pretty quickly was no. Absolutely not. In my wise old age I have learned that sometimes it just makes sense to accept my limitations. Deep thoughts by Ali.
After explaining to Anne that for the wellbeing of everyone in my house I would have to decline, we came up with a saner solution: I would make two ceremonial pies for the pie-cutting ritual. Two pies I could handle. Nobody in my house would be harmed.
In the past few weeks, I’ve done a few test runs, seeking guidance from my aunt, the pie master in our family, the entire way. When it comes to making pies, Marcy cuts no corners, uses refrigerated bowls, a chilled marble rolling pin, and cold cold flour and butter. She follows the fraisage technique, using the heel — not the palm! — of her hand to cut the butter into the flour. She seasons the apples with both cinnamon and cloves, lemon juice and zest, and prefers tapioca to flour as a thickener. She never uses fewer than 10 apples per pie.
Over the years Marcy’s pies have developed such a reputation that other members of my family are afraid to weigh in on the subject of pie. During these past few weeks, I’ve called both my mother and sister to seek their advice on various pie-making matters, but from both of them each time I faced the same response: Ask Marcy.
I have done my best to relay my aunt’s pie-making wisdom here, with the exception, however, of the fraisage method, a technique I have not yet attempted, one that, once conquered, elevates the pie maker to the pie master: Marcy’s pie crusts boast an unparalleled level of flakiness. And so, I’m afraid, I leave you today with a quandary: To fraisage or not to fraisage? Perhaps something to ponder while apple picking this weekend? Happy Friday, Everyone.
You can order one here:
A few other things: The next Baking Steel post is up: an Apple Galette made with the trimmings of this pie as well as a few leftover apples that couldn’t quite fit into the mound.
Basic Apple Pie
Yield = 1 pie
2 rounds pie dough (recipe below)
10 apples, whatever you like, I like Cortland
3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a grating of fresh cloves (optional)
zest of one lemon (optional)
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons tapioca (the minute kind) or flour
2 tablespoons butter (cold or room temperature)
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon cream for the egg wash (use whatever egg wash you like)
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF with racks in the lowest part of the oven. Line the bottom of your oven with foil to catch spills. If you have a pizza stone or Steel, place it in the oven. Peel the apples and cut into large chunks. Place in a large bowl and toss with the 3/4 cup of sugar, the cinnamon, the cloves (if using), the zest (if using), the juice of one lemon and the tapioca. Set aside.
2. On a lightly floured work surface, place one pie dough round in the center. Roll it out into a circle two inches larger in diameter than your pie plate. Fold the circle in half and in half again. Place in your pie plate and unfold. Press down gently so that the dough fits into the corners. Place pie plate in the fridge while you roll out the second round. Roll the second round out in the same fashion, making it a touch larger in diameter than the first round if possible.
3. Taste an apple. If it doesn’t taste sweet enough, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and toss. Dump the apples into the center of your pie plate, using your hands to keep as many apples from tumbling out as possible. Cut the butter into small cubes and scatter them over the apples. Lay the second round of pie dough over top. Using scissors, trim the overhanging dough and set aside. (Wrap these scraps into a ball to make cinnamon snails or an apple galette.)
4. To crimp the edges together, lay two fingers a finger’s-width apart from your right hand below the edge of the dough. Gently press down with your left finger in between the two fingers. Move two fingers’ width to the right and repeat — your left-most finger on your right hand will reinforce the impression made by the right-most finger from the first crimp — there is no possible way this is making sense. I’ll try to video document this soon. You’ll figure it out once you get going. Or just crimp the edges together however you wish. It all tastes the same in the end.
5. Brush the entire surface of the dough with the egg wash. Make slits using a sharp paring knife all over the surface.
6. Bake for 20 minutes at 425ºF. (If using a stone or Steel, you might consider lining it with parchment paper. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and continue baking until golden all over, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour longer depending on your oven. I Have been baking them closer to 30 minutes at 350ºF, but aunt Marcy, the expert, bakes them longer, so use your judgement.
No matter what pie dough recipe you use, the principles of making it will always be the same: keep the ingredients cold, cold, cold. Purists will say that making a pie dough in the food processor is a no-no, but I find it works very well, and if you are making a lot of dough, using a processor will save you a lot of time. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
•If you don’t store your flour in the freezer, consider placing it in the freezer the day before you plan on making the dough.
• To start the pie-dough making process, cut your butter into smallish slices or cubes, place them on a plate (or some other vessel) and stick them in the freezer. Fill a large liquid measuring cup with ice and water. Set aside.
• If you want to make several batches of dough, rather than multiply the recipe and shove all of the ingredients in the processor at once, make separate batches consecutively. For example, I recently tripled the pie dough recipe below. To start, I cut up the butter and placed each portion on a separate plate in the freezer. Then I filled a four-cup liquid measuring cup with ice and water. Then I lined up three big mixing bowls and filled each with 320g flour, 2 T. sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Then I made one batch at a time using the food processor, wrapping each batch in plastic wrap before proceeding with the next batch. I know I am stating the obvious for many of you, but sometimes these tips are helpful for others.
• On my local PBS station, I recently watched a Martha Stewart pastry episode during which she reminded viewers to: “Make it cold; bake it hot.” A good rule of thumb is to bake your pie on the lowest rack of the oven at a high temperature to start (around 425ºF for 20 minutes or so), and then to reduce the heat to a lower temperature (350ºF or so) for the remaining baking time, anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes longer. Every oven is different, of course, so this rule might not apply to you. I have been baking my pies directly on my Baking Steel, which helps produce a beautifully crisp bottom crust.
• When you are rolling out your dough, again, try to keep tools and ingredients cold — my aunt uses a marble rolling pin that she keeps in the freezer.
As noted above, you can use any pie dough you like. This is the one I use for everything: galettes, tarts, etc. Tart dough can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the fridge or made weeks in advance and stored in the freezer.
2½ cups (11.25 oz | 320g) all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
½ tsp. table salt
16 T. (8 oz | 227g) unsalted butter
½ C. + 2 T. (4 oz | 114 g + 1 oz | 28g) ice water
In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar and salt together (or pulse in food processor). Cut butter into flour and using the back of a fork or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter into flour mixture until butter is in small pieces. (If using food processor, pulse at 1-second intervals until butter is the size of peas.) Add ice water and continue to stir with fork until mixture comes together to form a mass. Add more ice water if necessary, one tablespoon at a time. Gently form mass into a ball, divide in half, flatten each half into a disk and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Chill until ready to use.
You don’t want to over-process the dough: it should come together when you pinch it with your fingers. And when you dump out the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap or a tea towel or whatever you are using to store the dough, it will look like a pile of crumbs, not a cohesive ball. It will come together into a cohesive ball when you pack it into a disk.
Update: October 12th, 2013, Anne & Matt’s Wedding: