It’s that time of year when spices invade our hot beverages, rain boots are made for walking, and apples turn into pie.
Anyone able to get their hands on Transparent apples this past summer (seemingly so long ago, but actually it’s only been fall for four weeks), may have been baking apple pies already with those made-for-baking/cooking apples. Of course, apples are available in the grocery store year round and baking apple pies could run from January to December, but with leaves and the weather turning… apple pie makes the most sense now.
National Apple Day hits us today, October 21st, just a month into fall.
The Pacific Northwest boasts an exquisite amount of apples. This fruit does well across the state of Washington, as is demonstrated by the orchards of Wenatchee to the singular tree in your neighbor’s backyard. Our abundance of apples can sometimes feel like this fruit isn’t so special, and it might not be the most popular PCC kid’s pick, but it makes a really good pie.
There’s a lot of pleasure in baking a pie with apples grown close to home, whether a gift from your neighbor or maybe a gift from your own yard. You might know the variety, or you might not. How to tell if what you have on hand is good for baking?
Generally, a baking apple is one that holds its shape. Granny Smith, for instance, is the Washington Apple Commission’s favorite pie-making apple. It’s tart, holds up well to heat, easy to peel… and it’s kind of boring. This apple promises a fine pie! No offense intended to this workhorse of an apple! We have so many apples to choose from at the moment, save Granny Smith for the absolute dead of winter (unless you grew it or your neighbor grew it, then it’s probably way more interesting and delicious).
In Apples of Uncommon Character, Rowan Jacobsen runs through the science behind what he calls “bakers and saucers.” Apples have a cellular structure that includes trapped air, with more pectin and cellulose than most other fruits. As Jacobsen explains it, cellulose forms the cell walls and pectin binds those walls together. More cellulose yields a crunchier apple, which also means more structure will remain intact after baking. Good old Granny Smith is an excellent example, along with Jonathan, Jonagold (Jonathan and Golden Delicious cross), and McIntosh. Head to the farmer’s market for a unique selection, and ask which apples the farm recommends for baking.
Note that the accomplishment of pie will never be dampened by the use of year round supermarket apples. Although, we at City Fruit have hyperlocal apples, waiting for you at $1 a pound (baking quality/imperfect apples we are not able to share with food banks; all donations support our harvest program).
Getting down to the business of making pie, my advice has changed to an all-butter crust from the last post on Cherry Slab Pie. Why? Several reasons: butter is less expensive, if you can believe it. Also, everyone probably has it on hand at home, and making pie should not require a trip to the grocery store for a special kind of fat. Lastly, butter seems to fight me less when rolling out the dough. I’ve experienced some bad luck of late with extremely soft and unworkable dough using shortening and lard. Plus, I ran out of both. Therefore, all-butter pie dough is my new recommendation, somewhat by default.
Please consider purchasing a scale for baking. Measuring cups are cute, but not reliable, and weighing ingredients will save money in the long run. Check out Shilpa Uskokovik or Deb Perelman for more information. Also, having an oven thermometer takes some guesswork out of whether or not the oven is up to the correct temperature. Often when an oven indicates being at the program temperature, it can be anywhere from 20-50 degrees lower, and will take an extra 15 minutes to actually reach the correct temperature.
Usually pie is made in a pie pan or plate or dish or whatever name you give it, but I prefer more crust than filling, which is why I always use a sheet pan. Additionally, it’s much easier to throw some dough in a sheet pan than a pie pan. The photos are of the pie I made in a sheet pan, but the recipe is intended for the traditional 9-inch circular pie. I adapted The Art of Pie recipe for the dough and a Beat This! recipe for the filling.
360 grams all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
227 grams/two sticks butter (most recipes say to have the butter be cold or frozen; I used one from the fridge and one at room temperature) cut into little cubes
½ cup water (cold is good)
3 pounds apples (roughly 7-9 apples, depending on size)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
⅔-¾ cup sugar (this is dependent on how sweet the apples are and how sweet you want the pie)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom
Hefty grating of nutmeg, or ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
If you are making a sheet pan pie, halve the filling ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the middle.
Make the dough first, as you’ll want to chill it while making the filling. Add to a medium-sized bowl the flour, salt, and sugar. Give it a whisk. Throw in the butter, and either work it into the flour (by rubbing the butter and flour between your fingers) or use a pastry blender (if you have one). Ideally, the mixture will look shaggy, with little pieces of butter visible. Get a rubber spatula ready, and ½ cup water. You might not need all the water. Add about half the water to the flour/butter mixture, and mix everything around. Does it look dry? Add some more water. The dough should look like… dough. You don’t want it to be too dry, or rolling it out will be impossible. Grab a fistfull of the dough and squeeze. If it holds together, you don’t need anymore water. If it falls apart, add a little more water. If you accidentally add too much water, don’t panic! You’ll just need more flour when rolling out the dough.
Divide the dough into two pieces (a slightly smaller piece for the bottom), either covering with plastic wrap or stacking with parchment paper in between and leaving in the bowl that’s already dirty. Refrigerate while you make the filling. If you choose to leave the dough longer than an hour, make sure it’s covered.
To make the filling, mix the sugar, cornstarch, and spices in a small bowl. Have the lemon juice ready. Peel, cut, core, and slice your apples. The size of the slices should be thin, but not paper thin. Thick slices will take longer to bake in the oven. Think the width of a No. 2 pencil. Toss the apples in a large bowl with the lemon juice, then add the sugar mixture, and use your hands to evenly coat the apples.
Grab your rolling pin (or a clean wine bottle) and the dough from your fridge. Liberally coat a clean surface with flour, and roll out the smaller piece of dough into a circle roughly 12 inches in diameter. Don’t worry too much about making this perfect. Patching with dough is easy and still delicious. Transfer to your pie dish, and secure the dough to the dish by folding it over the lip. Roll out the second piece of dough in the same manner, but an inch or two more in diameter. Add the apple filling to the pie dish, and cover with your second piece of pie dough. Either use your hands or a fork to secure the lid to the base around the edges of the dish. Or if you are skilled and fancy, give it a crimp.
If you chose, like me, to make a sheet pan pie: roll the dough into a rectangle the same size as your sheet pan (maybe eight by ten inches), and the second piece a couple inches more (maybe 11 by 13 inches). The filling will be almost double what you need, unless you halved it at my suggestion, so add as much as fits and save the rest for another pie or crisp.
Ensuring your oven is at 350, place the pie on the middle rack, and set the timer for 60 minutes. Unless your oven is broken, after this amount of time, the pie will be done.
Making a round pie in the traditional dish means thinking about blind baking. To “blind bake” is to bake the bottom of the pie, the “shell,” without filling to ensure the bottom is fully baked. I avoid this by using the sheet pan, but it’s something to think about when baking in a round pie dish. The hour of time required at 350 also helps mitigate the “soggy bottom” scenario that fruit pies can yield.
Also, using a metal pie dish will better conduct heat, meaning your pie will have a nicer color and better texture than ceramic or glass.