“I can bake too ya know”…….
That’s what my 77 year old next door neighbor Roy said to me after bringing back our Tupperware container now full of some delicious bars he had made out of the bounty from his blackberry patch. Roy is a throwback. A widower, he spends most of his time cutting firewood, gardening and does a few odd jobs around town. He’s always been a self-employed carpenter and built his own house and almost everything in it. He can do most anything and do it well. Two summers ago he re-shingled his entire roof all by himself. This past summer he did the same to the house behind ours. Every two years a logger buddy of his drops him off a truck load of logs. Roy cuts, splits, stacks and stores around 12 full cord of firewood annually. He currently has 14 full cord stacked, off the ground and covered. He heats his home almost exclusively with wood. The woodstove in his basement is nothing fancy but massive. He made that too.
Roy had helped me cut up and split a massive beech log and also lent a hand making sure our chimney was clean. To thank him my wonderful wife did some baking. Banana bread, some cookies and a blueberry pie. This past summer was the summer of pies for my wife. She churned out a bunch of them depending on the fruit in season. She knows the way to my heart for sure. She became masterful at it and I gained weight. Great. Living in Vermont we have access to lots of local fruits ideal for baking in pies. Roy wanted to show off his baking prowess and he got me thinking that perhaps, in the spirit of a little household competition I would try my hand at baking my own pie. I could then say to my wife “I can bake too ya know…….”
Now I’ve baked pies before. Mainly fruit pies and they always seem to taste fine but come out way too soupy or juicy. You want a pie moist, but not soggy. The crust should be flakey, not doughy. Everyone has their methods of thickening the fruit (flour, tapioca, corn starch) and I’ve tried them all. Most of my pies have ended up watery and undercooked on the bottom. I set out to redeem myself and give it another shot. But what kind of pie?
It was late October in Vermont and apples are abundant that time of year. The local orchards were winding down their season and the cider presses were working full time. We had picked up a bag of Macintosh and a bag of Cortland (and some fresh doughnuts…..and a candy apple…..and some cider) with the intention of doing some baking. I saw my wife’s eyes light up when I mentioned a pie. She had first made a batch of delicious turnovers and we were still left with a bunch of apples. I decided to beat her to them and had found the fruit for my pie. It’s cliché I know, but there’s nothing more American than Apple Pie.
Yup. I’m making it from scratch. Using flour, butter, salt and water. Most people are fearful of trying to make their own crust but it really is simple if done properly. It’s all about the temperature of the butter and water. Since we’re making a “whole top” apple pie you will want to double this recipe so you end up with a bottom and top crust.
For 1 round 9” pie crust you will need the following ingredients:
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes……It is crucial that your butter is cold and firm, not room temperature. Keep in fridge or freezer until just before cubing and afterwards if you need to. I cut mine with a wire cheese cutter out on the back deck with the temps in the mid-40’s and that worked great!
- 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed…..Be careful not to use too much water here. Add in 1 tbls. increments.
- 1 egg
Remember, you need to either double the above or do it twice, whichever is easier.
We’ve already covered the varieties of apples we’re using. Preferably you are using apples bought or picked at a local orchard that has a “low” or “no spray” growing process. Apples you buy at the local supermarket are generally from huge apple farms that use pesticides. Again, we’re using Macintosh and Cortland apples because well……….just because.
- 6-8 Cups chopped or sliced apples (peeled). If you choose to slice, make sure you’re slices are on the thin side, no more than ½ inch thick. You don’t want “chunks” of apples. Chopped or thinly sliced works best. The more apples you use the “higher” your pie gets.
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
When you have all your ingredients you are ready to make the dough for your pie crust. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour and sea salt. Take your chilled butter cubes and with a pastry knife combine the butter with the flour and salt mixture until it forms lima bean size pieces. Slowly add the water, 1 tbls. at a time and with your hands mix the dough until it comes together. Be careful not to over mix. You want to see little flecks of the butter in your dough. It should be moist but not wet. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack.
After chilling your dough ball(s) now it’s time to roll out the dough. Lightly dust flour onto a clean counter and onto a rolling pin. Put the dough on the floured surface and, using the pin, roll away from you, applying pressure evenly. Rotate the dough clockwise as you work so it’s uniformly thin and isn’t rolled irretrievably into the counter. Lightly dust the counter with flour as you work. But don’t overdo it with the flour. Too much flour all at once makes a tough crust.
Continue to roll the dough in all directions until you have a 12-inch circle. (If your rolled dough doesn’t end up in a neat circle, you can trim it, and use the trimmings to patch up any rips, holes or bald spots.) Transfer crust to a 9-inch pie pan by gently rolling it up onto the pin, then carefully unfurling it into the pan. Fold over any excess dough. If you’re not making a top crust, then the crimp edges now. We are, so we’ll crimp later.
The filling of the pie is very easy to make. Combine all the ingredients except the butter in a large bowl. Mix until the spices and sugars are dispersed evenly. Dump apple mixture into your dough-lined pie pan. We like ours piled nice and high.
Take your second ball of dough and roll that out as outlined above. This is the top to your pie. Carefully lay your top on and pinch then crimp the top and bottom together. Make sure you pinch first and then go back around and with the thumb and index finger of one hand and index finger of the other crimp the edges of the crust.
Once your top is secure take a sharp knife and cut four inch long slits near the center to allow some of the moisture to escape during baking. The last step is an egg wash. Beat one egg and 2 tablespoons of water well and brush the top of the pie.
Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake at 425 degree for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temp down to 350 and continue for another 35-45 minutes. Check your crust at about the half way mark, you may have to cover the edges with tin foil to avoid burning.
Remove from the oven and let cool at least 2 hours before serving. The crust should come out flakey and buttery and if it breaks apart that’s totally acceptable. I like my apple pie with some Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla and like any true Vermonter with a couple of slices of extra-sharp cheddar cheese. On a cool and crisp Fall night this classic really hit the spot. I have to say this was my best pie yet. I’m not sure my wife will admit it but it might be better than hers.
Maybe I’ll invite Roy over for coffee and see what he thinks…….