Pie Time

The main-season apples are starting to appear at the markets, and this means it’s time for my husband’s absolute favorite food of all time:  apple pie.

My husband feels the same way about pies that I do about coffee.  You can’t rush these things.  Homemade is infinitely superior.  It has to be made from scratch, with freshly cut (or ground) ingredients.  And as there’s no substitute for half & half in my coffee, there’s no substitute for a lard pie crust around his pie.

I think I wrote about pie long ago but couldn’t find where I had written my crust recipe.  And if you have never tried a lard-crust pie, you are really missing out.  So in case it’s not out there, I’m going to bestow upon you this culinary gem in the hopes that more people will come to re-appreciate the beauty of a real, live, honest-to-goodness pie.

For The Crust:

ALERT ALERT ALERT!  UPDATED 1/2013!  I have changed crust recipes.  I will leave this one here for posterity, but now I am using a combination of lard and butter.  New recipe is here.

Old recipe (still very good, just know if you make it that it could be oh, so much better.)

  • 2 cups white, unbleached, unbromated wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup lard, slightly chilled
  • 1/4 cup ice-cold water

You will also need two pieces of waxed paper, each about a foot long or so.

In a very large bowl, combine the flour and salt.  Using a pair of forks or a pastry blender, cut in the lard until the dough is kind of coarse and there are no more large pieces of fat showing.  Please, don’t wimp out and use the food processor.  I know the likes of Martha and possibly even Alton Brown (bow in reverence) make crust in the food processor.  But you really ought to do it by hand.  The unevenness of the flour-coated fat globs will make your crust all the flakier, I promise.

Sprinkle the ice water over the dough (don’t pour it in just one spot) and mix quickly with your fork to incorporate.  Gently bring the dough together into a ball.  The more you work the dough, the less flaky and tender it will be.  The less you work it, the more awesome it is.  Use your hands to bring the ball together and incorporate the drier bits at the bottom.  It will be very crumbly, not smooth like bread dough.  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  Crumbly = flaky.

Divide the dough ball in half and put each half on the center of one of the waxed paper sheets.  I usually sprinkle a bit of flour on the waxed paper first to make the rolling-out part easier.  Flatten the dough gently, then fold in the wax paper from all sides to make a little packet.  Do the same with the other ball of dough, then put both dough packets in the fridge while you prepare the apples.

For The Filling:

Don’t rinse out that big bowl just yet.  Cut the apples into it, and the extra teensy bits of dough they’ll pick up will thicken your filling in an undescribably good way.  Plus, it’s much less work.

You’ll need

  • 8-10 apples.  I prefer Empire.  Crispin, Jonathan, Jonamac, Macintosh, or other firm, tart-ish apples also work well.  Whatever you do, DON’T use Red or Golden Delicious.  They are delicious, but not in pie.
  • a scant 1 cup of sugar
  • 1-2 tsp of cinnamon
  • a few grates of fresh nutmeg, or 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 T butter
  • a bit of lemon juice if necessary

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, spices and flour.  Mix well and set aside.  Peel, core and slice your apples.  If you are lucky enough to have one of those apple peeler/corer/slicer gadgets, you’re really in business.  Put the apple slices into the dough bowl.  To keep them from getting brown, peel and slice one apple at a time.  After you get a couple of apples into the bowl, sprinkle some of the sugar mixture over them.  If you really have problems with browning, you can sprinkle a bit of lemon juice instead.

Once you get the apples all sliced, mix in any remaining cinnamon sugar and toss very gently to coat all the apples.  Now, roll  out one of the dough packets.  I roll mine right on the waxed paper.  It makes it a lot easier to transfer the dough to the pie plate.  Line the pie plate with the bottom crust, pour in the apples, and then dot the filling with bits of butter.  (I usually don’t use the whole 2T of butter; more like 1 or 1 1/2 T.)  Then roll out the top crust and place it on the pie.  Crimp the edges, poke a few vent holes with a floured fork, and you’re almost done.

Before putting the pie in the oven, I like to brush it with an egg wash.  One egg beaten lightly with a tablespoon of milk makes a lovely egg wash.  Brush the whole top crust gently and then sprinkle about a tsp of sugar all over the top crust.  It will really brown nicely and be extra-flaky when you dig in.

Put the pie in a 425 F oven for 10 minutes.  Then reduce the heat to 350 F and bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is lovely brown and the apples are soft.  There’s no real way to check the apples without breaking open the crust, so I just bake until the crust is a nice brown shade.  Not too dark; just a little color.  Let the pie sit for about 30 minutes before digging in (if you can!) and then you will be in apple heaven.  I promise.


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