Memorize this fact about apple pie making, and you’ll be set for life: it’s not about the recipe, it’s about your state of mind.
That nugget comes from Craig’s dad, the master of apple pie (see here), who’s said to me, in the past: “I think you’re overthinking it.” And in the past I had overthought it over and over again. But the truth is once you understand the WHY of everything, the rest takes care of itself. And that’s what helped me produce the best apple pie I’ve ever made, the one you see above.
So how do you get into the right mental state? Let me walk you through it.
Pie experts tell you everything has to be cold. WHY? Because if the butter melts as you’re putting the dough together or kneading it, you’ll get a paste which’ll result in a stiff pie crust. If it stays cold, you get little pieces of butter scattered throughout and as they melt, they create layers and everything is flaky. So keep it cold and you’ll have a flaky, tender crust.
It also helps to use shortening. This time around, I used Kenji’s recipe for pie dough which is heavy on the fat (another boon to successful crust, because the more fat in there, the less crumbly it’ll be when you’re trying to bring it together) and smart on the the technique (it’s very scientific, though I was mostly interested in his ratios.) In fact, don’t sweat all the little details there; just put the flour, sugar, salt, butter, and shortening (yes, swap out 6 tablespoons of butter for shortening, it makes a big difference in the texture), pulse until pebbly, then just add the cold water through the tube and pulse until it starts to come together. Dump on to a floured board, fold over a few times with a pastry scraper, and then separate into two discs*. Wrap the discs in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or so, while you prep the apples.
* That’s another thing I’d like to talk about in this post, the discs. A lot of pie recipes don’t talk about what those discs should be like before you refrigerate. I think it’s important that they’re compact. If they’re cracking all over and falling into pieces, you’ll never be able to roll them out. So without warming up the butter to much, really pack those discs together tightly as you wrap. Make sense?
As for the rolling out, I wasn’t a total champ here, but I did better than I’d ever done before. The key was putting parchment paper on my big wooden cutting board, sprinkling it with flour, then putting the cold dough on there and whacking it a few times with my floured rolling pin. Each time I whacked it (don’t make the joke I know you want to make), I made sure the circle was spreading evenly. Then I made sure to press out from the center, rotating the parchment each time I did, so it would spread evenly too. I kept going and spreading and rotating and sprinkling with flour and pushing until it was a big wide circle, or sort of a big wide circle. Then I lifted the dough up by the parchment and flipped it upside down into the pie plate.
As for the filling, I used the filling from Steve’s recipe with a little less sugar (so like 4/5ths a cup of sugar, a big teaspoon of cinnamon, and lots of freshly grated nutmeg). Oh and the apples were really nice apples from my CSA; Fujis, with a Granny Smith thrown in for good measure. (About 7 to 8 apples total).
Then it was the same thing with the top crust. I laid it on carefully, though here’s where I could’ve been more Martha Stewarty. I had trouble making a decorative pattern, maybe because I didn’t leave myself enough dough to work with. Next time around, I’ll be sure to do that. But I made it look nice enough with a fork. I brushed it with some milk, sprinkled on some sugar, and then into a 425 oven it went for 30 minutes, then I lowered it to 375 for another 30 minutes. Out it came looking splendid and smelling like what heaven must smell like in autumn.
What can I say? It’s such a glorious pie that if our friend Brendan wasn’t coming over tonight to have a slice, I’m afraid Craig and I would easily eat the whole thing. The crust is tremendous, really right up there with the best I’ve ever had. And though the recipe is great, I credit my mental state more than anything. I attacked this pie like a pro and the results speak for themselves. Nomnomnom.