Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apple Pie

Em's parents were in town this weekend. Just a short visit and lots of fun. John (Em's dad) and I always manage to get ourselves into shenanigans of some kind, mostly involving food and/or beer. We all went to the farmer's market on Saturday morning (sigh, it's almost over for the year) and found apples to be the plentiful item of the day. I mentioned we had a few at home still, so John thought it a good idea to use them all up. "Well, then we just have to make a pie". John's pies are quite a feat. He makes them all the time, even giving them away so people can have nice pies for the holidays. And we all love pie. So we picked up some apples for pie (and a half-bushel for purposes I will write about next time) and headed home.

Pie can be divided into two parts, crust and filling. The crust is by far the most important (at least it is to me), and recently pie crust has had somewhat of a renaissance. Thanks to science (yay!) some bakers figured out that replacing part of the water in pie crust with alcohol can lead to a flakier crust that is simple to work with. This is because while wet, alcohol has a much lower boiling point than water. Vodka, being 60% alcohol, evaporates in the oven during cooking and leaves you with much lower water content and thus a flakier crust. Cool, right? Also, I use a combination of lard and butter in my crust. Lard's fat structure yields a flaky crust, while butter gives great flavor. If you are opposed to using lard, you can use vegetable shortening instead.

And even sheepdogs love apple peel =)
Apple pie filling should be kept very simple. Apple selection is key, as you want a nice tart apple that bakes up well. Golden delicious, northern spy, granny smith (though make sure to combine those with a sweeter apple), or even gala. Past that, keep it really simple. Sugar, a few spices, and a bit of flour are all you really need.

We rolled out the crust, cracked a few beers while peeling apples, and proceeded to just have a blast baking. One of the great parts of baking pie is how it makes the house smell. I love it. The pie was especially delicious, especially after adding some vanilla ice cream on top.
Apple Pie

Crust (for a 9 inch, 2 crust pie)
3 cups flour
6 ounces lard or vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces and chilled
4 ounces butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.  Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work the lard and butter into the flour mixture until evenly distributed.  The mixture should have small, pea-sized bits of fat worked into the flour.  Alternatively, you can do this pulsing in your food processor.

Chill the water and vodka over ice.  Slowly drizzle the liquid while mixing the pie crust.  You may not need to use all of the liquid.  Slowly incorporate liquid into dry parts of the dough while keeping a constant stirring motion.  Once the dough just starts to come together into quarter sized clumps, stop adding liquid.  Using your hands, combine the dough into a ball.  If it does not stick together well, add a bit more liquid.  Roll the ball tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 1 day.

Filling (for a 9 inch pie)
2.5- 3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into 4 pieces
cream or milk for brushing
cinnamon sugar for top of pie

Peel the apples and place them in a large bowl containing water and the lemon juice to prevent browning.  Mix the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, allspice, flour, and sugar in a bowl together.

Remove pie crust from refrigerator, split it roughly 60/40, and rewrap the 60 portion.  Turn out the other portion on a lightly floured surface. Flour the top of the crust and roll the crust to about 1/4 inch thick or so it will cover the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie pan.  Drape the crust over the pie pan and fit it in, lightly pressing with your fingers.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Drain the apples well so no liquid is remaining.  Arrange the apples in a circular pattern, making sure to cover the entire layer evenly and mounding slightly in the middle.  Once half of the apples are arranged in the pie, sprinkle half of the sugar mixture over them and repeat with remaining apples.  Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture and dot with butter.

Roll out the remaining crust so it will cover the pie (it should be larger than the first and overhang the pie pan).  Fold in half and cut 3 vent holes for steam to escape.  Brush the edge of the bottom crust with cream or milk to help the crust adhere.  Lay the top crust gently over the apples.  Trim the crust so that 1/2-1 inch of overhang remains.  Gently tuck the crust under itself, rolling onto the pan.  Flute gently using your thumb, making sure you are sealing the two pieces of crust together. Brush the entire top of the pie with cream and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Bake in oven for 45 minutes.  The crust should be golden brown, the apples should be bubbling, and when pierced with a knife through the vent hole, the apples should yield little resistance.  Allow to cool for at least 4 hours before serving.