Monday, October 23, 2017

The BEST Classic Apple Pie

Just in time for another Thanksgiving - the beloved (and for good reason) all-American classic Apple Pie.

It really is just so good.

I don't make apple pie often enough, and when I make one I am reminded of just that. The way it smells as it bakes, and the combination of buttery flaky pastry with spiced stewed apples... Cinnamon and nutmeg are non-negotiable. They do things to apples in pie that trigger the most soothing emotions and create an entirely new flavour experience.

A great crust is the foundation of an outstanding pie. If you feel like amping your pie game then check out my post on How to Make Flaky Pie Crust.

Here's the debate:

Should you use corn starch or flour to thicken the filling?

The answer is: Both!

I prefer a blend of equal parts corn starch and flour. Corn starch lends a glossy thickness and adds sheen to the filling while flour adds opacity and some mouthfeel so that it has a sort-of creaminess. With all corn starch the filling reminds me too much of store-bought pies with that gloopy clear gel-like texture and with all flour it can get too lumpy and stodgy. A blend is best.

Corn starch also needs to reach boiling to thicken to its fullest capacity whereas flour will set the filling sooner so that there is less leakage.

As for apples, I prefer Granny Smith. Sometimes I use a blend of Granny Smith and Braeburn or Empire, but really a whole bunch of those bright green tart apples is my choice.

And apple pie doesn't need that much sugar - just 1/2 cup in total is plenty for 2 1/2 to 3 lbs of apples. Even for tart apples like Grannies! It's when the tartness is balanced by the sugar that makes this filling stand out. No need for lemon juice here. Just apples, white sugar, brown sugar and spice.


Classic Apple Pie
makes about 8 servings

For the pie crust:
3/4 cup (170g) very cold unsalted butter, cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 cups (284g) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
4-5 tbsp ice cold water

For the filling:
3 lbs tart apples (about 7), such as Granny Smith or Northern Spy
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp flour

For the topping:
1 large egg, well beaten
2 tsp granulated sugar

To make the crust, first place the butter in the freezer for 5 minutes. Mix together 4 tablespoons of ice cold water and lemon juice and place in the freezer.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add about 3 tablespoons of butter and rub it into the flour mixture using your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. The fat should be well dispersed so that the mixture feels mealy and the flour is less dusty. This will create a tender crust as the fat coats the gluten-forming proteins in the flour to prevent the dough from becoming tough and elastic.

Add the remaining cold butter and toss in flour mixture to coat. Using a pastry blender or a bench scraper, cut the fat into flour to break it down into hazelnut or marble-sized pieces. Turn this crumbly mixture out onto a clean work surface and use a rolling pin to roll over the whole mixture in several rocking motions to flatten pieces of fat into thin discs or sheets. Be sure to go over all portions of the dough. Scrape down the rolling pin and gather the mixture into a pile using the bench scraper. Repeat this process 3 or 4 more times until most of the flour is incorporated into the fat and the dough looks shaggy. You’ll notice that there is very little dusty flour. Run your bench scraper once over the entire mixture in a chopping-like motion to break down any excessively large pieces of fat. Scoop this crumbly dough back into the bowl and place it in the freezer for 10 minutes to allow the fat to firm up. Gradually sprinkle cold water/lemon juice mixture over the chilled shaggy dough, one tablespoon at a time, while gently tossing with a fork until the dough is moistened and it barely clings together in clumps. Add another ½ tablespoon of cold water if necessary. The dough will hold together when squeezed or pressed when it is ready and it will hold the impressions of your fingers, but it should not form a ball. Turn dough out onto a clean surface and bring it together with your hands, pressing in loose bits until it is evenly moist and cohesive but not completely smooth. Divide the dough almost in half (one half slightly larger than the other), flatten each portion into a disk, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 425°F and place a baking sheet on the bottom rack.

Peel, core and chop the apples and slice into 1/8-inch pieces. Place them in a large bowl. In a small bowl, blend together both sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, corn starch and flour so there are no lumps. Add this to the bowl with the apples and toss until evenly combined.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the larger half into a 12 to 13-inch circle, rotating the dough and adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Carefully drape the dough over an 8x2-inch glass pie dish. Gently press the dough into the bottom edges and up the sides of the dish. Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes, while making the filling and rolling out the top crust. This allows the rolled layers of gluten and fat to relax and firm up, creating a more flakey crust.

Once the bottom crust is chilled, begin to roll out the other portion of dough into a 10 to 11-inch wide round.  Lightly brush the rim of the bottom crust with beaten egg and pour the apple mixture into it, gently pressing and tucking the fruit in so it fits snuggly – this will help to reduce the gap between the fruit and top crust of the pie once baked since the fruit will shrink as it bakes. Carefully drape chilled top crust over the filled pie. Press edges of top crust against bottom crust edges to seal. Trim off excess dough around the edges leaving about ½-inch overhang and then fold and roll it over itself (the top and bottom crust together) so that it sits against the edge of the pie dish. This ensures a tight seal on your pie. Crimp decoratively if desired. using three fingers - your thumb and index finger on one hand and the index finger of the other hand. Place the pie in the freezer for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon for topping. Brush top and edges of pie lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Make three 1-inch incisions in the center of the top crust to let steam escape during baking.

Place pie on baking sheet on bottom rack of oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and bake until juices have been bubbling for at least 5 minutes, 50 minutes longer. Loosely cover the edges with aluminum foil midway through baking to protect them from overbrowning if necessary. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

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