Monday, May 28, 2012
There is nothing more quintessentially American than apple pie. It's the cliche standard, for cryin' out loud.
My mother, who raised 5 kids, and is in the process of spoiling 14 grandchildren, is an award winning pie baker. Her crust, taught to her by her Czech immigrant Nana, is flaky, light, and perfectly browned. Most of the time, her fillings are seasonally driven--peach and blueberry in summer, apple and pumpkin in fall, but she'll churn out a pecan, or chocolate cream or lemon meringue upon request.
For Mothers' Day, Mom baked a rainbow of pies, in spite of the fact that it should have been her 'day off'. We shot the apple "in progress" and took notes on her methods. Since she doesn't follow a recipe, we had to watch and record.
Mom's Apple Pie
Heat oven to 425
NOTE: this makes 3 crusts, which means you can do a pie with a bottom and top crust (like the apple detailed here) as well as a single crust pie like a pumpkin or lemon meringue. If you don't want to make the second pie, the dough can stay in the fridge for a few days or freezer for a few months.
For the pastry:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup Crisco
6 TBSP butter
9 TBSP ice water
For the apples:
5 or 6 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced--Mom uses a variety of types for optimal flavor and texture.
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 TBSP butter
Cut butter and Crisco into flour with pastry cutter or two butter knives. When it forms a coarse meal, stir in ice water 1 TBSP at a time, stirring until dough forms. Knead briefly to completely blend. Cut dough into 3 equal pieces, roll each into a ball and then flatten into a disk. For the apple pie you will need 2 of the discs; reserve the other for another pie or quiche. While you prepare the apples, refrigerate the dough. Mix all ingredients except butter, and toss well. Back to the dough: roll out the disk on a floured surface or pastry cloth with a floured rolling pin. The circle needs to be several inches larger than the pie dish and no more than 1/4 inch thick. Carefully lift the pastry round and gently place it into a 9 inch pie dish. Fill with prepared apples, and cut the remaining 2 TBSP butter into pieces; place atop apples.
Roll out second disk of dough and place on top of the pie. Wrap the overhanging dough together and pinch it to seal. Mom makes a sort of wavy, ruffle pattern, but she said you can also mash it down with a fork if you are not inclined to the decorative. Once the pie is sealed, poke about 10 holes in the top crust with a fork; this will allow steam to escape and avoid a crack or worse.
Bake pie for about 40 minutes. You may want to wrap the crust edges with foil to prevent overbrowning. Remove when crust is a beautiful golden color and edges are just slightly brown. Serve warm, topped with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.
And now for the true confession: I am not a great lover of pies, despite my mother's prodigious skill in creating them. To me, if a dessert doesn't contain dark chocolate, it better have a caramel center, some rich, buttery cake or at least a hefty scoop something gooey and custardy oozing over the top. Pies, to me, are an awful lot of work for something that kinda resembles breakfast. But I am definitely in the minority; my mother's pies invoke raptures in most people. Perhaps it is due to the fact that they were commonplace in my childhood; whereas scarcity breeds desire, their near daily presence in our kitchen made them not so rarified. But that does not diminish my my appreciation for her gift, or my awareness that perfect pastry is really difficult to execute. I strenuously disagree with the adage "easy as pie."