Apple Pie: A Perfect Ending To A Perfect Meal

Friday, November 12, 2010

Honestly, who doesn't love a piping hot apple pie? Ok, maybe Little Girl since she's kind of not that into cinnamon these days. But most of us (and her eventually) do. And it's a perfect dessert for Thanksgiving especially if pumpkin pie isn't your thing.

Apples are in season in fall, and many markets boast an influx of many different varieties as well to choose from. A classic apple pie involves the perfect balance between the sweet and tart, soft and flaky, and brought home with the warming spice of cinnamon. Apple pies, like most pies, seem daunting to make for an inexperienced baker. And frankly for experienced cooks like myself who don't do that great with baking. But once you get into it, it's actually not that hard. Fruit pies in particular offer a less-experienced cook/baker a great chance at success. If you let the quality of your ingredients do the talking, you don't need as much effort to force something great to happen.

There are many different kinds of apples you can work with. Some are naturally sweeter like Honeycrisps, while others are decidedly tart like Granny Smiths. The art in apple pie making comes in how to balance out these flavors. By adding lemon juice you can make the overall filling more tart; or sugars and honey more sweet. You need to taste the apples you plan to use first to determine how sweet or tart they are, and then adjust from there.

Here's my recipe for a basic apple pie. I generally like to use Fuji and Honeycrisp apples for my pies. I find they keep their texture and have the perfect natural balance between sweet and tart.  If you can't find Fuji or Honeycrisps, then I like using Braeburns and Pink Lady's, although definitely make sure to taste them first and adjust with lemon juice as needed as these variations in my opinion taste a bit sweeter. Apples to avoid using for apple pie inlude the McIntosh and Golden Delicious because they will not keep their texture during baking and instead turn to mush, and Granny Smith. Yes, I said it. I abhore using Granny Smith apples in pies. Unless they're organic from a local farm and just-picked, then forget it. Most commercially sold Granny Smiths are underripened and taste like styrofoam soaked in lemon juice. You'll find yourself adding at least a cup of sugar to the recipe and at that point, it's just a caloric mess. Just use apples that are naturally sweetened!

Apple Pie
1 recipe basic pie crust (recipe here) or store-bought pie crust, chilled
8 medium sized Honeycrisp or Fuji apples
1 tsp orange or lemon zest

1 Tbsp lemon or orange juice
1/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp brandy or cognac (optional)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 small pinch (1/4 tsp) ground mace or nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and core the apples. Cut them into 1/4 inch thick slices and place in a large bowl. Immediately add the zest and juice, and toss well making sure the apple pieces are coated in the juice. The juice will help prevent the apples from oxidizing and turning brown while you prepare the rest of the dish. Add the flour, sugars, vanilla, spices, and brandy or cognac if using. Toss well to incorporate flavors and set aside. Don't worry if the juices seem rather thin -- the flour and brown sugar will help thicken the juices during cooking.

Cut the chilled dough in half -- you're going to use one half to make the bottom of the pie and the other half to make the top of the pie. Take one half of the dough and roll it out on a floured surface with a rolling pin until it's 1/4 inch thick. Don't worry if it's round or oval or even rectangular -- just make sure its going to fit into your pie pan! Carefully lift and place your dough into your pie pan, and using your fingers, gently form the dough into the pan's shape. Cut off the excess dough. Check out this previous posting on rolling out pie crust dough for help and pictures.

Pour your apple mixture inside the pie pan, juices and all. Then roll out the other half of the dough like you did before. Then gently lift the dough and carefully place it right on top of the apples. Trim off excess dough, leaving about 1/2 inch - 1 inch around. Take that extra dough and crimp it around the edge of the pie pan or make a decorative pattern. Whatever you like. Then take a knife and make 4 2-inch long slits in the top dough -- this will allow steam to escape during baking so your pie doesn't die.

Place pie pan on top of a baking sheet in case juices spill up and over -- the sheet will catch these instead of the bottom of your oven which is considerably harder to clean. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until crust is golden. Let pie cool 20 minutes before cutting. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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