This pie recipe is cobbled together from family lore and personal experimentation. The crust is the one my mother baked when I was growing up; I like that it’s not very sweet, so it works well for fruit pies like this one or savory pies (just add thick chicken stew for pot pie or egg custard and fillings for quiche). The apple filling has taken me a while to get down, including a new innovation cribbed this year from America’s Test Kitchen.
Here’s the really good news about this pie: Once you’ve rolled out the crust and filled your pies, you can freeze the unbaked pies. Just wrap them well in tin foil and put into the freezer uncooked. When you want a warm dessert but don’t have time to start from scratch, pop one of the frozen pies in the oven and give it just a little extra cooking time (I judge doneness by a scientific combo of how golden the crust is, whether the filling is bubbling at the edges, and how fragrant my house has become).
Some people are intimidated by making pie crust. I promise, it’s not that bad. Once you’ve done it a few times and know how the dough should look and feel at each step in the process, you’ll be fine. It’s a little like riding a bike in that once you conquer it, it’s yours forever.
- 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup Crisco (shortening)
- 1 cup milk (any kind will do; I used 2% in my most recent pies)
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
Mix the Crisco and flour together until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with clumps no bigger than peas (see photo). I like to use my (clean) bare hands for this. Pro tip: remove any rings first.
Meanwhile, put the tablespoon of vinegar into the cup of milk and allow the milk to sour (this basically mimics buttermilk; although I haven’t tried it, I bet you could sub a cup of buttermilk for the milk and vinegar here). Once the flour and Crisco are combined, slowly add the milk and mix to a wet dough consistency (again, I use my hands here).
This is where experience starts to come into play. I find that the dough is usually a little too wet once I mix all the ingredients, and so I will slowly add a little more flour until the texture feels right, which is damp and sticky but also cohering as a dough. You don’t want to make it overly dry, though, because it will pick up more flour during the rolling.
When you’re ready to roll, cover a clean smooth surface like a counter with a dusting of flour and put a small amount (softball-sized) of dough on top. Flatten the dough with your hand and sprinkle more flour on top. Then, use a rolling pin (or a wine bottle!) to roll the dough out to a size large enough to cover the bottom and sides of your pie pan.
Once it’s in the pie pan, break off excess dough hanging over the sides and patch any bare areas. I’ve seen people in magazines use kitchen shears to trim the dough for a neater look, but what are we, Martha Stewart? Your hands will do just fine.
After you’ve filled the pies, you’ll want to repeat the rolling to make the top crust. Drape the rolled dough over the filled pie and create a seal between the top and bottom crust with your fingers. Again, don’t worry too much about making it look perfectly symmetrical. People eat with their mouths, not their eyes.
- Apples (I mix Cortland and Braeburn; MacIntosh have a delicious sweet flavor, but cook down too mushy, so if you pick Macs, combine them with a firmer apple like the Cortland)
- Optional additional spices: Allspice, cloves, ginger, brown sugar, sugar
First, you’ll notice I didn’t give you a quantity on the apples. That’s because the quantity really depends a lot on the types of apples you’ve gotten, as well as the size of the particular apples (smaller apples have more core). My MO is to buy a ton of apples and freeze and leftover for use in other recipes. As a rule of thumb, I guess I’d say it’s about 4-5 lbs of apples per pie.
Peel, core, and cut the apples. I like to cut them into pieces that are about an inch cubed, but wedges also make an attractive pie.
Here’s the new innovation I picked up from America’s Test Kitchen: Pre-cooking the filling. ATK claims that doing this allows you to cram more apples into the pie, because they’ve cooked down, and minimizes that annoying liquid that can leak out when you cut the pie. So this year, I put my cut apples, seasoned liberally with cinnamon and other spices, into my Dutch oven and cooked on low heat for about an hour while I made my crusts. I stirred occasionally to circulate which apples were on the bottom, and kept the cover on the pan while the apples simmered.
Once I was ready to fill my pie crusts, I turned off the heat and ladeled the cooked filling into the waiting dishes. I filled each crust completely, with a rounded mound of fillings. I like my pies to have a domed top, plus the fillings tend to bake down a little bit (even with the pre-cooked apples).
Drape your pastry lid on top, crimp the edges, and use a butter knife to cut vents along the top. These vents will allow steam to escape during cooking. While I don’t think the pie will explode if you don’t have vents, this step is so ingrained in me that I am afraid to see what happens if you skip it.
Baking the Pie
You’ve pre-heated your oven to 425 degrees (I’d have put this earlier, but the timing of when you start the oven depends. Are you making the filling first? The crust? Are you a slow worker? Just don’t put the pie in the oven until it’s actually at 425, and we’re good). Bake the pie for about 45 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the top is golden brown and there are juices bubbling at the edges. Since the pie may leak in the oven, you might want to put a baking sheet underneath to collect the delicious drippings.
Leftover dough? Fold it around some jam and bake on a doubled sheet of aluminum foil next to the pie. Yum!