To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Scratch Apple Pie

As promised, here is my dad's wonderful apple pie recipe - the how-to guide to a from-scratch pie that is delectable to the last crumb. This is not an easy or a quick recipe, like most of mine. But it is something that everyone can do with the right amount of patience and the end result is entirely worth the time you put into it. A message from my father: "This recipe as all about exceptionally flaky flavorful crust that explodes in your mouth with each bite, and toasted brûlée-like apple filling throughout with a firm, filling texture. You will probably never get this in a restaurant, as it is a little more involved than commercially practical. It does not always look pretty since the dough breaks easily. This is something special you can only get at home."

Scratch Apple Pie
(serves 7-10, depending on slice size)

apples (6-8 large or 14-16 small - should reduce to ~8 cups after baking): Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala, and/or Braeburn - Granny for tartness, Braeburn for sweetness, Gala and Fuji for sugar (most of the 'apple flavor' comes from the Braeburn and Gala)
fruit fresh
white pepper
ground cinnamon
vanilla extract
whole nutmeg
zest of one lime
zest of one orange or tangelo
unsalted butter (frozen) [butter-flavor all-vegetable Crisco shortening can be used instead of butter for vegans and other non-dairy folk, in the same proportions]
superfine sugar
applejack (chilled in freezer)
brown sugar Splenda mix
pie crust mix (this is the cheatin' way. ask if you'd like the actual how-to on crust making)

Tools you'll need:
wax paper
aluminum foil
rolling pin
pie rim, optional (this is a circle of metal to protect the rim of your pie crust and keep it from burning while baking)
medium sized grater for shredding frozen butter
small-points grater for zesting and grating nutmeg
ceramic pie pan (12")

How to do it:
Preset oven to 440 F.
Cover a baking sheet with foil.
Spread out wax paper on the counter. Sprinkle a light powdering of fruit fresh on the wax paper. Core and peel the apples, slice into 8-10 slices per apple. Lay out the apple slices on the fruit fresh sprinkled wax paper. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon, superfine sugar, and a little more fruit fresh.
Spread shortening on aluminum-covered pan.
Transfer the slices and seasoned apples to the baking pan, laying them out so they all face the same direction and snugly cover the whole tray. Bake apples until browned.
Meanwhile, make the pie crust mix to direction, grate 1 stick of frozen butter, and replace the water with applejack (slowly add this into the mix until you get the right texture, it should be ~1/4 cup). Remember - butter before applejack; this is part of what makes this crust super flakey and delicious.
Knead that together, adding whole wheat pastry flour until you get a nice solid ball. Place the ball in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
In another bowl, 1/4 cup applejack, 1/2 cup Splenda brown sugar, zest of lime, zest of orange or tangelo (makes the pie taste fruity, not citrusy), 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg (a little bit of shell and a little bit of the inside), 3 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp arrowroot, and 1/4 tsp white pepper; this makes your slurry for the apple filling. When the apples slices have baked and browned, let them cool for a little while and then add them to the slurry. You want to coat the slices thoroughly and the best way to do this is by hand. It's messy, but it's fun. Cover with a bit of plastic wrap and let the apples soak up the slurry flavors for a bit.
Take the pie crust out of the fridge. Coat a large piece of wax paper with flour. Place 2/3s of the pie crust roll on top of it, sprinkle a little more flour on top, place another sheet of wax paper on top of that and roll out the crust. Now this part, you may have to redo a couple times. The trick is to make the pie crust all the same thickness - not too thin, not too thick. Crust flakiness is enhanced by a) alcohol, b) grated and folded in frozen butter, c) pre-baking the bottom crust part-way, and d) shortening between the folds. Quickly roll out and fold the dough 4 times, smearing just a trace of room temperature shortening between the layers of each fold before rolling again.
Place your pie pan over top the rolled out dough and flip the whole deal. The pie crust should fall to the pie pan. This is going to be a very flakey crust, so it's likely your crust will fall apart as you make the transfer. This is okay. You'll want to patch it together, Frankenstein-style, so there are no gaps and the crust covers the lip of the pie pan.
When the crust is suitably saddled in the pie tin, take your thumbs and press them around the edge to get that nice crimped-edge look. Bake the crust in the oven for about 20 minutes and remove to cool.
Next you layer in the slurry-soaked baked apples, by hand, forming a densely packed coil from the bottom up. Your goal is to make sure there is as little air as possible between the apples in the pie and that they fill the crust all the way up.
Now, take the remaining 1/3 of pie crust dough you set aside, roll it out, and cut it into slices about two thumbs' width wide. Criss-cross these slices of dough over the top of the apples, leaving gaps, and pressing the ends of the slices into the pre-baked crust.
Protect the edges of the pie crust with aluminum foil or a pie rim to protect the crust during baking so you can bake the pie to dark-golden brown without burning the edges.

Bake again, for about 40 minutes and hang out during this, checking in on the progress every once in a while and enjoying the amazing smells that are going to emerge from your oven. When it's finished, remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes or longer.

Go on. Have a peace. Tell me this isn't incredible. Enjoy!

1. Dark rum can be used as a substitute for the applejack - it's also tasty, but changes the flavor. The goal of using applejack is to add flavor to the crust and get a much more flakey texture than would have been obtained by using water. You avoid the polymer-like gluten goo with the applejack's 40% ethanol and water proportions instead of 100% water. The alcohol is all gone after baking. Using alcohol instead of water makes the dough more difficult to work with, but enhances the flakiness of the crust in an unbelievably tasty way... and the crust retains this airy texture for up to 2-3 days after baking (assuming it survives that long).
2. Put the dough in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to get it cold again after handling. It is best to start with all major dough components having been in the refrigerator long enough to get cold (flour, applejack, sugar). The dough needs to cool after picking up warmth from your hands and the room before rolling. *Even freezing the rolling pin ahead can make rolling this unique, extra-flakey dough go more smoothly.

*All butter-flavor shortening instead of butter
*Add sharp grated cheese in the filling (extra sharp cheddar or parmesan)
*Glaze by brushing the top crust with a fine grain sugar, beaten egg, and milk mix (1/3 - 1/3 - 1/3)
*Use a full-cover top crust with a pie bird to let steam escape


  1. WOWWEEE. That makes me hungry just reading it.

  2. My girlfriend says she doesn't love me enough to tackle this recipe .... so I might just try it myself! Love the applejack idea.

    ps - Are the rehearsals for the new 8 Sided Film project?

  3. I love this line "Remember - butter before applejack".