pie and community
When friends ask me if homemade pie crust is really essential to a good pie, this is what I tell them. Look – a pie is made of just two things: filling and crust. You can have the most amazing, handcrafted pie filling in the world, but if your crust is lousy, your pie will be lousy. Also, making your own pie pastry is insanely quick and easy.
But – and there is a but – the craft of making pie pastry is much better learned in person than through a cookbook (or blog). Many beginners don’t keep the butter cold enough; or they overmix the pastry by approaching it like cookie dough; or they don’t know how to transfer the rolled out pastry into the pie dish and end up tearing holes in it and making it into a big ol’ mess. (I’ve been guilty of all of these things.) Plus, the soul of pie-making is oral tradition and inherited wisdom. Even if pie-making knowledge skipped a few generations in your family, pie is a very old artform with a very long history. There’s something magical about this knowledge being passed down through process rather than a written recipe.
With these thoughts in mind, I hosted a pie-making class for a few close friends one Sunday afternoon, and we made a classic apple pie from start to finish.
First, we rolled out some pastry I’d made the night before, so everyone could get a feel for how to roll out the pastry evenly and place it properly in the pie plate. The pastry could then rest in the refrigerator while we went to work slicing apples and preparing the filling. Pie pastry likes her beauty sleep, just like everyone else – but really, this rest period allows the gluten to relax and prevents the crust from shrinking too much in the oven.
We then assembled the pie, decorated the top with a lovely lattice top crust, and placed her in the oven to bake. Meanwhile, everyone made their own double pastry crust and wrapped up the pastry disks tightly to take home and bake their own pies themselves.
And then we ate our creation.
Now that I’ve spent this entire post completely dissuading you from learning to make a proper pie from a blog or cookbook, let me provide you my recipe for apple pie! But really, if you don’t know how to make a pie crust, find a friend or a family member who can show you how. It’s like riding a bike – once you learn, you never forget.
(makes two six-inch disks)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1 cup *cold* unsalted butter
1/2 cup ice water
1 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice (pour it into the ice water)
Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter with your fingers until there are pea-sized bits of butter distributed throughout. If the dough gets greasy or warm, stick it in the fridge for 15 minutes. Dribble in the water/lemon juice mixture slowly, incorporating it into the dough with a spoon. Dump the dough onto the counter, knead together a few times, then divide into 2 balls. Flatten the balls with your hands, wrap tightly in cling wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour before using (ideally overnight). Keep refrigerated up to 3 days, or freeze in a freezer ziploc bag for 4 months.
(adapted from Yossy’s apple pie at Apt. 2B Baking Co.)
4 – 5 large apples (taste for sweetness. good baking apples: golden delicious, cortlands, winesaps)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
zest and juice of 1 lemon
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t cloves
1 scraped vanilla bean
pinch of salt
one beaten egg
Preheat the oven to 400 F and place a rack on the bottom of the oven. Roll out both pieces of dough. Layer one in the pie pan, and lay the other on the back of a baking sheet. Chill both while you prepare the filling.
Peel, core and slice the apples 1/4 inch thick. Taste for sweetness and adjust sugar measurements accordingly. Toss with sugar, flour, lemon juice and zest, and spices. Dump into the pie pan. Cover with the other pie crust and cut a slit in the top, or make a pretty latice top. (Great image tutorial here). Brush the top with the beaten egg and dust with sugar.
Bake on the lowest rack of the oven for 15 minutes, then lower the oven heat to 350 F and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until the apples are bubbling and the top is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for a couple hours before serving.