Basic Apple Pie

ready for the oven

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.

pie3

I actually prefer my apples cut into bigger chunks than pictured below. Will update photo as soon as I can:
apples

making the pie

10-apple apple pie

pie, ready for the oven

just baked

A dear friend living in Chicago gave me this piebox this past summer. Isn’t it fun?
pie in piebox

Wouldn’t this be more fun?
bike

You can order one here:
piebox

apple pie

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.

I recently was interviewed over on MommyPages and also shared an article over there on cloth diapering (random, I know, but on the off chance you might be interested, I thought I’d share.)

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.

Pie Dough:

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.

Pie Dough
Yield = Two 9-inch rounds (enough for 1 pie + a nice amount of trimmings (for cinnamon snails or an apple galette) or 1 sheet pan for something like this)

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.

butter

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.
food processor

tart dough

pie rounds

Wouldn’t it be nice to head into the holiday season with a freezer full of pie dough? It’s just as much work to dirty your food processor for one batch of pie dough as it is for 5. Just a thought.
freezer

Update: October 12th, 2013, Anne & Matt’s Wedding:

Wedding Pie

Wedding Pies

Anne & Matt

Comments

  1. says

    You must have read my mind! I am planning to make an apple pie this weekend – very excited to try your recipe! Also, I LOVE when I have pie dough in the freezer. It makes it so easy to throw dessert together anytime. I need to get on making a few batches!

    Also, that piebox is AMAZING.

  2. Dana says

    Alexandra – First off, you’re awesome. Thank you thank you thank you for this wonderful blog. The pie looks delish and I will most definitely be making it. I love apple pie and trying new pie recipes. Secondly, can you really freeze pie dough like that? I would love to premake my Thanksgiving pie dough. It’s probably the most labor intensive part of my Thanksgiving. (We eat a lot of pie.) I love the holiday season! Thanks a bunch!

    • says

      Oh, Dana, thank you. You are too kind! And yes, absolutely in regard to freezing pie dough. I would just thaw it in the fridge the day before you plan on baking the pie — overnight would be plenty of time. We LOVE pie in my family too. I’m enlisted to make apple pie for Thanksgiving. I can’t wait. Let me know if there is anything else!

  3. Nann says

    LOVED your tutorial and of course your pie looks A m a z I n g. Your aunt sure knows her stuff. Am anxious to try all your suggestions. Pie crust can be daunting. Thanks for doing it.

  4. Laurie F says

    Soooo beautiful….sigh….and what a nice surprise to see a new post this soon….That is the prettiest pie I’ve ever seen and as always, the photos make me want to rush to the store for apples! Don’t you just love, love, love Fall?!

  5. says

    Yes, I have spent a whole afternoon making pie dough. Last year I even gave my Mother 12 rounds of pie dough, which brought a smile to her face. It is well worth the effort. I have been slacking this year (still recovering from shoulder surgery done last Oct. 31) but I will definitely be making pie dough this week. Thanksgiving Day will be here before you know it. ❤️ P.S. My Mother loved the Mullet Muffins! ❤️

    • says

      Wow, what a generous and beautiful gift! I don’t know what I would do if someone gave me 12 rounds of pie dough?! Amazing. Hope your shoulder feels better soon. So happy to hear about the millet muffins.

  6. Mama Poule says

    Looks awesome! I so have to make this, it will be a great “answer” to my husband’s French apple tart!
    Thumbs up on cloth diapers, I do the same and could not agree with you more, particularly on the “wash at night, dry the next morning” thing!
    Let me know how your mom liked the cheese!

    • says

      Mama Poule, I think we need to hang out :) So glad you approve of the cloth diapers. I cannot wait for my mom to try the cheese…wish I had some right now to give her. I sent one to my aunt Marcy (also here for the weekend to watch the kids), too. They are going to be in heaven.

    • says

      So, Marcy happens to be visiting right now, and she is partical to chunks vs. slices. She finds that slices tend to get to mushy. That said, she understands using those turning slicers especially if you need to peel and cut a lot of apples. Hope that helps!

  7. says

    G’day! Loved your step by step photos, very inspiring, true!
    I could almost smell your pie through the computer screen and thank you for allowing me to learn something new! Cheers! Joanne

  8. says

    you didn’t want to put Ella and Graham to work on a pie assembly line? I can imagine with their help you’d have some *lovely* and quite *creative* pies. This pie of yours is absolutely stunning. So gorgeous in fact that I worry it might upstage the bride and groom. That rippling ridge! the golden crust! those darling slits! Sigh, heaven. I think every family needs an aunt Marcy, perhaps you can lend her out? Or better yet, keep posting her tips here on your blog, especially as the holidays approach.

    • says

      Oh, Talley, it’s always so nice to hear from you. Aunt Marcy would jump at the chance to come lend a hand, especially with Alice around. Seriously. You would have so much fun together.

      PS: Please post more pics of Alice immediately!

  9. says

    Hi Ali. That is one good looking pie! I have made a lot of pies, but pie dough has always given me trouble. I admire your aunt for being a pie genius. Few are. I have turned to pat-in-the-pan crusts. I like the shortbread-ness of them and you don’t have to roll them out and they don’t tear and they don’t give you any trouble. They are not flaky, true, but they are tasty. A freezer full of pie dough? That could be really fun.

  10. says

    I made this last night and it was delicious and a hit – our guests were impressed by how tall it was. Mine took about 45 minutes to bake at the lower temperature, FYI. I love the dicing of the apples rather than leaving them in slices – it makes the pie easier to eat! Thanks for another great recipe.

    Also, I have dough for 2 more pies waiting in my freezer now :)

  11. Julia says

    On your recommendation I bought a PieBox. There was an issue and their customer service is top-notch!

    Did you know they make a CakeBox too? It can hold 18 cupcakes or a 9 inch cake. Love it!

  12. Laurie F says

    I’m gonna make pie dough tomorrow….have you ever heard of butternut squash pie? It’s my fav this time of year….I got the recipe out of one of my favorite books, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball….the pie is called “Ronnie Hollingsworth’s Most Excellent Squash Pie” and it is AWESOME!

  13. Kate Bayless says

    That pie box is amazing! Makes me want to make a bunch of pies and leave them on unsuspecting people’s doorsteps. Though I probably wouldn’t eat a surprise pie I found on my porch….

  14. Laurie says

    Ali, do you have any suggestions for a way/s to keep pie dough from shrinking when you blind bake the crust? I’ve always had that problem and as of yesterday I still do! lol!

  15. Aminah says

    Hi Alexandra!! This looks absolutely DELISH!!! I have a VERY dumb question but is the sugar normal or confectioners sugar? Because the pies I’ve previously made all had normal.
    Going to make this one for my cousins fiancés family visiting tomorrow for the first time!!!! Hope it’s a hit *fingers crossed*

    • says

      Fun! I hope it turns out well. Let me know if you have any other questions along the way — I’ll try to check my email during the day. It is normal sugar, not confectioners. Good luck!

  16. says

    What a gorgeous Apple Pie! I love having pie dough in the freezer. The only thing better is having it already rolled out, set into a pie pan, all ready to go in the freezer! That makes pie making a snap. This is an inspiring and beautiful post.

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